RsL: In 2011, Angelina Jolie began to support the Naankuse Foundation and together you’ve founded the Shiloh Wildlife Sanctuary. How did this partnership come about?
Marlice van Vuuren: In 2003 I worked as an animal wrangler on the movie “Beyond Borders” that was filmed with Angelina Jolie in the vicinity of Swakopmund in Namibia. I wrangled a vulture on this shoot, and that was the first time I met Angelina Jolie. Angelina Jolie first visited the N/a’an ku sê Foundation in December 2010, and it was then that she committed funds for various designated projects.
RsL: What is the difference between the Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary and the Shiloh Wildlife Sanctuary?
Rudie & Marlice:TheN/a’an ku sê Foundation Wildlife Sanctuary was established in 2007 and caters to any wildlife in need. We are not species specific. As many animals as possible are released back into the wild, only those too old, injured or habituated to humans remaining at the sanctuary. Their captive habitats are as natural as possible and accommodate their instinctive needs within financially attainable parameters.
The Shiloh Wildlife Sanctuary is a facility for rhinos and elephants having been injured or orphaned through incidents of poaching, conflict or otherwise.
Large holding pens have been constructed here specifically to accommodate rhinos and elephants, and a 4×4 truck is also available for the transport of these massive animals. We also have the services of a full-time veterinarian. Once rehabilitated and nursed back to health, the rhinos and elephants are either returned to their place of origin or released onto the Zannier Reserve by N/a’an ku sê or another protected reserve.
RsL: What is your impression of Ms. Jolie?
Rudie & Marlice: Angelina Jolie’s support has put both the N/a’an ku sê Foundation and Namibia on the world map. Her name has opened so many doors in conservation for us and has also led to many more people learning about Namibia and the conservation work that is accomplished in this country. We highly value her commitment to the N/a’an ku sê Foundation, her understanding of the needs of Namibia’s people and wildlife and her passion for both conservation and humanitarian projects worldwide.
RsL: What was is it like to work with her?
Rudie & Marlice:Angelina is someone who works with you, she listens first and tries to understand what happens on the ground. You can also learn a lot from her, she has wisdom.
My thanks go to Dr. Rudie and Marlice van Vuuren for taking the time to answer all my questions and to Colette Massier for her support and patience!
For more information and videos about the N/a’an ku sê Foundation:
In part two of our interview, Dr. Rudie and Marlice van Vuuren talk about the Naankuse Lifeline Clinic and Primary School, their film & TV work, the impact of the Covid crisis on ecotourism and their future plans.
RsL: Besides the Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary you also established the Naankuse Lifeline Clinic and the Naankuse Primary School. Can you tell us a little bit about these projects?
Rudie and Marlice: Well, we did mention quite a lot about the N/a’an ku sê Lifeline Clinic in answer to your first question. The clinic itself is based in the east of Namibia in Epukiro, Omaheke Region. This area is home to a large number of San communities, most of the San living in poverty. It is important to note that the Lifeline Clinic continues to grow in its many humanitarian projects. In January 2022, a chapel will be built on the clinic grounds, and on weekdays this chapel will also function as a school.
We have also established an agricultural project at the Lifeline Clinic. This project will aid self-sustainability by providing a variety of fruits and vegetables. We also deem it vital that community members be encouraged and supported through the teaching of practical vocational skills. We plan to start with vocational skills training in the future. Our “Housing and Clean-Up Project” at the Lifeline Clinic is proving immensely successful. For every 10 bags of rubbish picked up by community members, a roofing sheet for a house is provided to the person concerned. Once enough roofing sheets for a house have been earned by the community member, the Lifeline Clinic builds a house. This project is aiding the environment and bringing a steady end to the issue of so many San not having access to shelter. All in all, the Lifeline Clinic not only provides free healthcare. The clinic exists in support of a people who have been marginalized for far too long. Healthcare aside, the San deserve that which most other Namibians have access to – education, training and a future in which they can readily cope.
With an ever-increasing workforce at N/a’an ku sê, the need to provide education to the many children of our valued staff members became evident. This led to the N/a’an ku sê Primary School, previously called the Clever Cubs School, being established in 2009. Furthermore, San children too often face bullying when attending mainstream schools, and at N/a’an ku sê Primary School we are able to ensure that San pupils are not ostracized or unfairly treated by their peers. The school accommodates Grades 0 to 7, and not only places emphasis on academic subjects. Being located at the heart of a wildlife sanctuary provides the opportunity to teach the children about animals, nature and conservation as a whole. After graduating from Grade 7, the children attend mainstream schools, this fully funded by the N/a’an ku sê Foundation through our “Sponsor A Child” initiative and the support of donors and partners. We believe that every child has the right to education, and the N/a’an ku sê Primary School enables us to provide just that – a free-of-charge educational foundation.
RsL: What were your biggest setbacks you have experienced with regards to either the Wildlife Sanctuary or the Clinic or the Primary School?
Rudie and Marlice:Covid has been very challenging for us it had a negative impact on the school the sanctuary and the clinic. The long periods of draught and global warming also have massive impacts on our work.
Corruption in Namibia is a big concern, and if you are not willing to be part of corruption you often encounter resistance to do the work you want to do.
RsL: You are also producing a local television series “Groen: Namibie” and you support other film productions via your own company – Naankuse Films. What made you decide to start the company?
Rudie and Marlice:Filming is a vital source of funding for the N/a’an ku sê Foundation’s many conservation and humanitarian projects. Renowned international production companies film with us, relying on our expertise with those animals within our care. Our ambassador animals – those animals unable to be released back into the wild, mainly due to their habituation to humans – now act as ambassadors for their wild counterparts.
Cheetahs, caracals, painted dogs, leopards, lions and chacma baboons are just a few that have been used in a range of natural history documentaries, not only earning funds for the foundation, but also educating a global viewing audience into the magnificence and significance of these animals.
Some of our filming partners have included SKY, ITV, CNN, BBC, Animal Planet and National Geographic. Having the foundation itself and the animals of N/a’an ku sê appear on the small screen at an international level, provides unpayable promotion. Filming projects also include news segments for CNN and other global news broadcasters, as well as reality-based series for a variety of networks world-wide.
Groen Namibiëis a reality-style series focusing on our work and is aired on Africa’s largest satellite broadcaster, DStv. This means that our work is showcased on a host of channels, the educational value yet again being unpayable.
RsL: How do you finance all of your endeavors?
Rudie and Marlice:Through constant fundraising efforts, innovative fundraising campaigns, international film crew, our volunteer projects and our guests. Being an NGO, we do not receive any government funding. Ecotourism is that which ultimately keeps our conservation projects alive, responsible ecotourism being fundamental to our efforts. Today’s traveler is far more “educated” about the finer nuances of conservation destinations. No longer can irresponsible and ultimately cruel wildlife practices be “packaged” as an exotic experience. Correct ethos and animal welfare is crucial to the responsible traveler, this making corresponding responsible ecotourism irreplaceable.
At N/a’an ku sê we have always placed ethics ahead of frivolous wildlife “fun”, the welfare of our animals and the offering of a true conservation experience priorities that will always remain at the top. Our lodges offering this responsible, authentic conservation experience include N/a’an ku sê Lodge, Neuras Wine and Wildlife Estate, Kanaan Desert Retreat and, currently in construction phases, the lodge at TimBila Nature Reserve by N/a’an ku sê.
Namibia’s capital city of Windhoek is home to another two N/a’an ku sê establishments, Utopia Boutique Hoteland Traveller’s Inn. All of these accommodation and tourism facilities keep our conservation endeavors afloat. Of course the support of our valued conservation partners and donors is crucial too, but the element of ecotourism provides the sustainability that a charity organization cannot do without.
RsL: Additionally to your TV and film production, you also use a variety of social media channels to spread your message and increase public awareness.
Rudie and Marlice:We do what we can. In addition to our social media platforms and television appearances (both national and international), we attend as many virtual/online conferences or expos as possible. Recently we had a virtual booth at the WCN 2020 (Wildlife Conservation Network). The WCN joins global conservation organisations with a host of relevant stakeholders.
The coronavirus pandemic caused a much-needed shift in how tourism destinations, conservation organisations and the interested traveler or stakeholder connect. It has become a far more virtual experience, which allows for more “immediate” professional relationships to be made and connections nurtured. Furthermore, the cost of attending international conferences is now minimized, a stable internet connection making connecting more convenient and accessible to many more.
As previously stated, we have seen how the mindset of travelers has changed – responsible conservation travel now a priority. This trend, thankfully, has a “policing” effect on wildlife organisations. Conservation messages spread through social media must adhere to ethical wildlife practices and not put the animal in an inadvertent place of peril.
At N/a’an ku sê we do not permit any photography, for example, of a person and sanctuary animal in close proximity. This encourages the mistaken belief that essentially wild animals are nothing more than mere pets. The ongoing development of social media and the increasing global awareness of ethical animal practices is the “policing” force that was lacking in the past.
The majority of promotion of our conservation work remains online and on small screens across the world. Natural history documentaries seem to increase in popularity each year, with our filming client base continually on the increase. Requests for interviews and appearances in reality-based online or television series is also constantly on the rise.
RsL: Your Foundation’s slogan is “Conservation through innovation”. What type of innovation do you mean?
Rudie & Marlice:With “innovation” we mean new and original ideas on how to raise awareness and funds for our conservation and humanitarian projects. One such innovative technique is the production of organic and hand-crafted Namibian wine at Neuras Wine and Wildlife Estate. This reserve lies south of Windhoek and is one of the world’s driest vineyards. Brandy and rum complement the range of wines, and the profits from every purchase of a Neuras product get fed back into our conservation projects.
“Innovative” also means reacting to conservation challenges as they arise and, when possible, preempting a challenge before its very existence. OurRapid Response Unit work arose from the need to mitigate conflict between humans and wildlife, this perhaps being the main cause of global species demise. Empowering communities is another innovative conservation tool. Impoverished, suffering people are unable to worry about conservation concerns. People with the means to survive have the inclination and ability to rise to conservation challenges and make a difference.
RsL: What are the Foundation’s plans for the rest of 2021? What can we expect?
Rudie & Marlice: The 30,000-hectare TimBila Nature Reserve by Naankuse will act as a release site for animals removed from conflict. Various species are earmarked for this, all rehabilitated at the N/a’an ku sê Foundation Wildlife Sanctuary. The release process is a complex one, with many factors needing to be considered. Overall, we hope to increase the size of the TimBila Nature Reserve even further, making more protected territory available for conservation purposes, and giving more conflict animals a second chance at life.
Our Neuras wines are popular in Namibia, and we intend to increase the scope of sales, and the resulting profits benefitting conservation, by expanding sales to Europe and ultimately, the USA. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, we were forced to close our desert lodge in southern Namibia, Kanaan Desert Retreat. In June, this spectacular lodge will be reopened. For the rest of 2021, the N/a’an ku sê Foundation will focus on attaining, and surpassing, the guest and volunteer numbers that profited our conservation efforts pre-covid.
RsL: Where do you see the Naankuse Foundation and all its branches (Clinic Primary School, Naankuse Films) in the next 10 years? What are your hopes, dreams or even fears?
Rudie & Marlice: Everything we do comes back to our purpose as an organisation: We strive to help conserve the landscapes, protect the wildlife, and improve the lives of the people we work with through innovative sustainable commercial activities.
In a decade we hope to have more schools and clinics established, in those areas of Namibia that need it most. The N/a’an ku sê reach and resulting impact should extend nationwide, both conservation and humanitarian aid being readily available in even the remotest locations. The current 87,000 hectares of protected habitat under the conservation management of the N/a’an ku sê Foundation will be significantly increased.
We definitely have to help legislation in Namibia. Currently we have outdated laws and there are no up-to-date laws to protect the welfare of animals, and to us this is unacceptable.
The publication of annual scientific papers, based on the conservation research performed by the N/a’an ku sê Foundation, will also prove paramount. After all, evidence-based conservation techniques, decided by scientific substantiation, could ultimately positively influence conservation legislation in Namibia, and perhaps the world.
And fear? The fear of failure makes a dream impossible to achieve. Our dream is a peaceful co-existence between man and wild… an Africa, and a world, where humans and wildlife live and thrive together. This may seem unattainable, but the “seemingly unattainable” keeps us driven.
You can read the third and final part of the interview HERE
For more information and videos about the N/a’an ku sê Foundation:
In 2007, Dr. Rudie and Marlice van Vuuren established theNaankuse Wildlife Sanctuary, an animal conservation project in central Namibia. The Naankuse (original: N/a’an ku sê) Foundation serves as a safe haven for injured and orphaned animals like cheetahs, leopards, rhinos, elephants, meerkats and many more.
In the first part of the interview, Dr. Rudie and Marlice van Vuuren talk about the origin of the Wildlife Sanctuary, their work and one of the most endangered species of Namibia.
RsL: Why and how did you start the Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary? Can you tell us about the early days of this endeavor?
Rudie van Vuuren: After Marlice and I got married, we lived in the city of Windhoek to accommodate my profession as a medical doctor. Marlice had spent most of her life in the heart of the Namibian bush, growing up on the wildlife sanctuary owned by her parents in the east of Namibia. To keep my animal-loving wife as happy as possible, we would visit her parents’ wildlife sanctuary whenever we could. It soon became known among the San people living at the sanctuary that I could offer medical advice and services, which I did free of charge.
In 2003, when we were enjoying a long weekend and public holiday at the sanctuary, a San woman came to our door with a young child. The child was desperately ill, and hospitalization was crucial. We called the hospital in Gobabis, an approximate 2-hour drive away, requesting that an ambulance be sent to the sanctuary as quickly as possible. However, the ambulance failed to arrive. Instead, Marlice and I, together with the ill child and her mother, made the journey to Gobabis. Despite our best efforts the child passed away that day – a tragic incident that could so easily have been avoided. During the ordeal of doing our best to save such a young life, it became clear that the San in Namibia are heavily ostracized, being considered a third-rate community by so many and subsequently marginalized. Marlice grew up with the San and has a beautiful affinity to them. She also speaks the San language fluently and fully understands and respects the significance of their ancient culture. The child’s death severely impacted us both, and we were prompted to take action.
A philanthropic couple from the Netherlands, Jan and Tineke Verburg, funded the start of what has grown into the N/a’an ku sê Lifeline Clinic. Since 2003 this facility has been providing free healthcare to almost 4,500 patients annually, the majority being San and approximately 40% children and babies. Over and above medical treatment, the Lifeline Clinic provides many other supportive services including the treatment of malnutrition, TB screening, the provision of food, outreach services to communities in remote locations, and much more.
The Lifeline Clinic was the start of the N/a’an ku sê Foundation as a whole, humanitarian effort triggering the beginning of what was to become one of Namibia’s most active and well-known conservation foundations. Jan and Tineke Verburg remain valued conservation partners of the N/a’an ku sê Foundation, together with a number of other Dutch partners who chose to join the Verburgs’ drive to assist the people of Namibia, as well as the wildlife and habitats. We couldn’t do our work without the support of the van Uden Group, the Ten Brinke Group and many other donors and partners. Namibians also complement our conservation efforts, Dr. Jannes and Mrs. Diene-Marie Brandt proving crucial to our endeavors too.
The N/a’an ku sê Foundation has expanded extensively since 2003, a charity lodge and the N/a’an ku sê Wildlife Sanctuary opening their doors in 2007. We now manage a total of 87,000 hectares for conservation. These hectares are protected land, also ideal for the relocation of conflict animals, and are comprised in the following reserves:
Zannier Reserve by N/a’an ku sê: 7,500 hectares
Neuras Wine and Wildlife Estate: 14,500 hectares
Kanaan Desert Retreat: 35,000 hectares
TimBila Nature Reserve by N/a’an ku sê: 30,000 hectares
We certainly have come a long way since the start of the Lifeline Clinic itself in 2003.It was tough in the beginning but we kept trying to address social and conservation needs and we firmly believe if you keep doing good, no evil can derail you.
RsL: What are some wildlife conversation tasks you’ve accomplished over the years?
Rudie & Marlice: A key conservation research focus of the N/a’an ku sê Foundation is that of human-wildlife conflict mitigation, especially with regards to carnivores. Namibia has a high number of free-roaming carnivore populations, and indeed, Namibia boasts the highest population of free-roaming cheetahs in the world. Conflict with man and carnivore is inevitable, especially with farmland having encroached on what previously was wild habitat. We started with what we term the “Rapid Response Unit” in 2008. An increasing number of Namibian farmers are buying into conservation, no longer opting to shoot predators they encounter on their lands.
Namibian landowners, usually livestock farmers, having trapped large carnivores such as leopard, cheetah and brown hyena in capture cages, call us for assistance. The Rapid Response Unit immediately reacts, travelling to the site in less than 24 hours. The animal is immobilized by our veterinarian and fitted with a GPS tracking collar. Ideally, the animal is then released back onto the farmer’s land and not removed from the territory. This is in line with the N/a’an ku sê motto of “keeping the wild in the wild”. We then intensively monitor the animal using the GPS data. This is important to both N/a’an ku sê’s carnivore conflict mitigation research AND to the farmer concerned. The data from the GPS collar is shared with the landowner each day, together with detailed information on the animal’s movements and behavioral interpretations. In this way the landowner can modify his livestock grazing locations and protection methods. Since the start of the Rapid Response Unit in 2008, the number of captured carnivores persecuted on farmland has been reduced by 80%.
Our scientific approach in dealing with conservation matters has earned us a reputable reputation. Namibia’s Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT) does ask for advice and assistance when circumstances dictate. One such instance involved a bull elephant who appeared at Namibia’s coast in December 2019. Of unknown origin, this elephant was fitted with a GPS collar by the MEFT and attempts were made to return him to what was assumed to be his original territory. However, the elephant returned to his chosen coastal location, the town of Swakopmund. He settled in a suburban area on the outskirts of Swakopmund, the residents approaching him ever closer. Even though the elephant was wonderfully calm in nature, if humans approach what is essentially a wild animal, the repercussions could be fatal. To avoid future conflict and the potential destroying of a magnificent elephant, the MEFT made the decision to relocate.
In April 2020, the N/a’an ku sê Foundation, together with representatives of the MEFT, undertook the massive relocation operation from Namibia’s coast to the Zannier Reserve by N/a’an ku sê located in the central parts of the country. The elephant was named Apollo and soon became a “big brother” figure to two younger bull elephants on the Zannier Reserve. Here he is removed from potential conflict and can essentially live at peace. His is a conservation success story.
Another life-saving operation involved two of Namibia’s desert-adapted lions. In May 2020, the MEFT was made aware of young lions whose mother had been shot and killed for targeting livestock in Namibia’s Kunene Region. Unable to hunt or survive on their own, the young cats were on the brink of starvation. Representatives from the MEFT, the N/a’an ku sê Foundation and the Desert Lion Trusttravelled to the area and succeeded in finding and immobilizing the lions – a complex task that took well into the hours of darkness. So emaciated and weak at the time, necessary IV lines had to be inserted into the lions’ stomachs, a lack of blood pressure making intravenous insertion impossible. The team then drove through the night, arriving at the TimBila Nature Reserve by N/a’an ku sê during the early morning hours. Here the two cats were released into a soft-release camp. This allows them to grow accustomed to the area while simultaneously gaining strength and their health subsequently improving. They will ultimately be released onto the 30,000 hectares of the TimBila Nature Reserve itself.
Yes, human-wildlife conflict remains a key focus of the work we do, facilitating a peaceful co-existence between man and wild a top conservation priority.
RsL: Which animals are the most endangered ones in Namibia? And why?
Rudie & Marlice:The African wild dog, also known as the painted dog or painted wolf, is the most endangered canid in Namibia and southern Africa, and the second most endangered in the whole of Africa. These dogs are highly successful in their hunting tactics, hunting perfectly as a pack and using their stamina to run down their prey over long distances. With their hunting success rate so high, they have become a target for farmers who fear they may lose high numbers of their livestock to painted dogs. That, yet again, emphasizes the conservation concern of human-wildlife conflict. Furthermore, the painted dog is unfortunately not a “charismatic” animal such as the leopard, lion or cheetah. This results in them receiving even further “bad press”, with their tourism value lowering as a result. Animals with a higher tourism value can more easily be conserved.
The reputation and image of the painted dog needs to be “repackaged”. They should be respected for being one of the most altruistic species globally, never failing to look after their fellow pack members. Their hunting strategy should also be revered, and not feared, education being the key in changing the overall perception of the painted dog. The estimated number of painted dogs remaining in Namibia stands at 550 in 45 packs. However, as a lot of this falls on the Namibian border, they often move in and out of neighbouring countries. At N/a’an ku sê we are active in the conservation of the painted dog. The Zannier Reserve by N/a’an ku sê is home to a free-roaming pack of painted dogs, these dogs having come to us through situations of conflict with man. The successful rehabilitation and release of painted dogs into protected habitats is one of the driving forces behind our conservation efforts.
Namibia is also home to the world’s most trafficked mammal – the pangolin. These animals are so often poached due to the mistaken belief, in some cultures, that their scales hold almost magical properties. Their meat is also considered a delicacy in some parts of the world. Pangolins having been removed or rescued from incidents of trafficking have been released on the Zannier Reserve by N/a’an ku sê.
RsL: Do you get any support from the government or the general public?
Rudie & Marlice:Being an NGO, we do not receive any government funding. Our fundraising efforts are ceaseless and vital. We forge and maintain strong relationships with local and international supporters and donors. The general public is crucial to our efforts, not only on a monetary basis, but also through the supply of items we require for both the wildlife and humanitarian projects.
For example, Namib Mills, one of Namibia’s leading suppliers of staple food items, donates approximately 2 tons of dry goods per month for the school and the Lifeline Clinic, and 1.5 tons of maize-meal for the wildlife.Namib Poultrydonates a monthly amount of 1.5 tons of chicken – a huge help in keeping captive carnivores fed and healthy.
The N/a’an ku sê Primary School and the N/a’an ku sê Lifeline Clinic enjoy a lot of local support, over and above the incredible generosity shown by those sponsoring a school child or a clinic patient, Dutch partners, Jan and Tineke Verburg, the van Uden Group, the Ten Brinke Groupand many more. Chalk Gymnastics and Performance Training hosts our children free of charge, the regular gymnastics lessons a highlight. Shoprite, a Namibian and South African supermarket franchise, regularly supplies the Lifeline Clinic with tinned foods, and also sponsored five water taps in ensuring the local community has constant access to clean water. Both local and international support from the public at large is irreplaceable and keeps our projects running.
RsL: Volunteers are essential in your line of work. How do you contact them, or, how can they contact you? What are some criteria someone has to meet to be accepted?
Rudie & Marlice: Yes, volunteers are crucial to our funding and, of course, also assist in so many ways when here with us on the ground. Our volunteering projects extend toNeuras Wine and Wildlife Estate, Kanaan Desert Retreat, the TimBila Nature Reserve by N/a’an ku sê and the Lifeline Clinic – these sites all in addition to the N/a’an ku sê Foundation Wildlife Sanctuary itself, and the Zannier Reserve by N/a’an ku sê.
We promote our volunteer projects as much as possible on our social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. We of course also market the volunteering projects on our website www.naankuse.com. Interested volunteers can make direct contact with our bookings team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We also have strong relationships with various volunteer agents across the globe. Many of our volunteers are return volunteers, having so enjoyed their experience with us they simply cannot resist coming back. We love maintaining contact with past volunteers, and Marlice and I hold a Facebook and Instagram Live at 7PM each Saturday evening – that’s Namibian time. Hundreds of questions from past and future volunteers are posted during these live sessions and it gives us the fantastic opportunity to interact with our global audience.
Volunteers need to be 18 years of age or older, but we do accept volunteers younger than 18 years if accompanied by a parent or guardian. We do not have a maximum age limit. If one is in good health, no matter the age, who are we to deny someone the experience of volunteering? We also offer programs for school children living in Namibia. After all, one is never too young to learn about the sheer importance and wonder of conserving.
Tales about Freemasons have inspired many urban legends, conspiracy theories and Hollywood movies. Their history and rituals arouse people’s curiosity and imagination. But it’s the fraternity’s commitment to humanitarian causes that should be brought more into the spotlight.
Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and a Freemason, once said:
“Masonic labor is purely a labor of love. He who seeks to draw Masonic wages in gold and silver will be disappointed. The wages of a Mason are earned and paid in their dealings with one another; sympathy that begets sympathy, kindness begets kindness, helpfulness begets helpfulness, and these are the wages of a Mason.”
In 2018, Freemasons have raised £48 million for charity. Additionally, they have contributed 18.5 million hours of volunteer work.
Dr David Staples, Chief Executive & Grand Secretary of The United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), was so kind to answer some of my questions about their philanthropic work and how they manage the corona-crisis.
RsL: Why is philanthropy such an essential part of Freemasonry?
Staples: Giving is deeply rooted in the foundations of Freemasonry. The first ceremony that a Freemason undergoes teaches that importance of equality and the duty to look after those less fortunate than yourself. We encourage our members to help those that may be struggling and a key part of being a Freemason is supporting the community.
RsL: In 2017, the United Grand Lodge celebrated its 300th anniversary. What are some major lessons Masonic lodges have learned over the centuries when it comes to philanthropy?
Staples: Freemasons were one of the first organisations in England to provide free hospitals and schooling to the public. We recognised the Prince Hall lodges for African Americans in 1784 – Freemasons have practised charity, and believed in the equality of all peoples for centuries. From major donations to large National charities, to targeting gifts to grass root organisations and individuals, we have learnt that each age brings its unique challenges, and Freemasons will be there to help and serve the communities from which they are drawn.
RsL: How do you decide which philanthropic cause you are going to support? How does the decision process work? Are organisations contacting you or do you initiate the contact?
Staples: Freemasons give on many levels. Each member will be disposed towards charity as it is such an important part of our ethos however each lodge will have a set of causes that it regularly gives to after collecting donations from its members, their friends and family. Many lodges hold all sorts of fundraising events, but it is not all about money. In addition to the £48 million that Freemasons raised last year, our members also gave over 18.5 million hours of their time volunteering for civic, community and charitable causes.
RsL: A Masonic lodge can be found in pretty much every nation on this world. Are there any differences between the lodges in regards to their charity work? Do they decide independently what cause they are going to support?
Staples: Lodges decide on which charities and causes they wish to support whilst the Masonic Charitable Foundation, our grant-making arm, manages large donations at a national level. The United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) is the governing body for English Freemasonry in England and Wales. A number of Districts are recognised by UGLE and engage with UGLE on a number of matters including protocol and charity. Details of these districts, and lodges recognised by UGLE, can be found on our website.
RsL: What are some challenges the fraternity is facing due to the corona-crisis?
Staples: Not being able to take part in our meetings and socialise with friends has been the biggest challenge for our members – both are a huge part of being a Freemason. UGLE has had to consider alternative ways to support and engage our membership in that absence of physical meetings, whilst also ensuring that we step up our support for those struggling at this time. Encouraging virtual social gatherings and taking part in social media initiatives, such as #TimetoToast has been instrumental in nudging our organisation in to the 21st century and we have found that lots of members are reconnecting with friends online.
Staples: The Covid-19 Community Fund was created to identify high impact, grass roots projects which we could deliver that would make a real difference supporting the National Effort across the UK to fight coronavirus, or support those suffering as a result of the pandemic. A sum of £1 million has been used to produce 300,000 meals for the vulnerable – often cooked in the kitchens of our Halls and delivered for free by our members. We have collected and donated over 380 tonnes of food for donation to local food banks. Nearly 1000 computer tablets have been donated to care homes and hospitals to enable families to keep in touch, at distance, with their loved ones, and we are supporting women’s refuges, and young carers at this time of increased need. We hope to support the UK in coming out of this tragic time and are investigating initiatives across the country and to make a noticeable and meaningful contribution to our recovery.
RsL: What plans, hopes, fears or expectations do you have for the United Grand Lodge of England?
Staples: My role as chief executive is to modernise the Headquarters and administration of Freemasonry, but most importantly to help the public understand what Freemasonry is, who we are and what we do. We know that 40% of the public have heard of us but have no idea what we do and stand for. At the turn of the 1900s, Freemasons were widely respected in their communities; they had many public roles in society, would take part in public ceremonies for the laying of foundations stones for important civic buildings and public parades. Many famous suffragettes were Freemasons and we were widely respected as good people of conscience. Some would say we lost our way in the latter half of the 20th century, retreating into ourselves more than we ever should. My sincere hope is that we never forget our roots, and focus on helping our members to improve themselves and to improve the society in which they live; that an organisation focussing on Integrity, Respect, Friendship and Charity flourishes in a time when such values are needed more than ever.
The European Fundraising Association (EFA) is a network of national fundraising associations all over Europe. The organization supports the not-for-profit sector and aims to improve the standard for the fundraising profession.
Eduard Marček, president of EFA and co-founder of the Slovak Fundraising Centre, was kind enough to answer some of my questions regarding EFA’s work, fundraising during the corona-crisis and future goals.
RsL: The European Fundraising Association was founded in 2002. What are some major lessons you have learned when it comes to European fundraising?
EFA: Fundraising has changed dramatically over the past 18 years since EFA was first founded. With rapid advances in technology, we’ve seen new platforms for fundraising emerge, charities embracing digital and social channels, as well as changes in the way that the public choose to give. While there are many differences in how fundraising has grown and developed over the years, across the board we’ve seen a shift to more open and transparent communication, with greater emphasis on donor care.
Demonstrating care for our supporters, beneficiaries and communities is critical and it’s been extremely positive to see charities work so hard to ensure that donors recognize how valued they are.
There has also been growth in the recognition of fundraising as a profession, and now 5,000 people across Europe have invested in anEFA certified fundraising qualification. This shift towards professionalizing the sector is something that EFA and all its members – national fundraising associations – are working hard to achieve, encouraging new talent into the profession and to develop future sector leaders.
RsL: What are some challenges European charity organizations are facing at the moment?
EFA: The pressure that the coronavirus has put on the charity sector is immense. Social distancing measures have heavily restricted the sector’s ability to deliver beneficiary services and, fundraising activities alike. Charities are facing worrying funding shortfalls and are having to seek emergency rescue packages from national governments across Europe. Ultimately, there is real concern as to whether many will be able to make it through this period, how they can afford to retain staff and continue their vital services.
However, in times of adversity we often see new strengths emerge. The coronavirus has certainly accelerated the shift to digital fundraising channels. What’s more, charities are uniting and supporting one another through the crisis. Through this dark time, we’re seeing charities coming together and doing what they do best; protecting the communities around them, whether that is their beneficiaries and supporters, their local community or their workforce and volunteers.
RsL: How would you compare European charity and fundraising with the likes of US or Asian fundraising activities?
EFA: Within Europe there is a myriad of cultures, regulations and tax incentives for charitable giving, so fundraising activities can vary widely from country to country, meaning that it’s difficult to make broad brush comparisons. The great thing about this sector is the willingness to work together to help accelerate social change irrespective of national boundaries. When a new fundraising channel yields results, the emphasis is on sharing what we’ve learnt and helping each other grow.
RsL: Digital streaming and social media have become popular tools to raise awareness about social issues. Has EFA any plans to expand its media presence in the near future, like creating your own TV channel or show?
EFA: As a small organization with limited resources, we find that digital channels and social media are an important way for us to communicate with our members and the wider European fundraising community. We publish regular news, serving as a hub of information for fundraisers, and we host occasional webinars, partnering in the recentProject Everyoneconference.
RsL: What are EFA’s plans for 2020? What can we expect?
EFA: Working to support and develop European fundraising, our main focus for this year had been to update our EFA Certification scheme, which means reviewing the core competencies and skills required to be a professional fundraiser. This is progressing well, and we hope to launch the new scheme before the end of the year.
We also aim to open up our membership and welcome more actors in the fundraising industry among our members, not just national fundraising associations. This will help us grow our network and gain stronger voice on the international scene.
Currently, with the coronavirus heavily limiting what charities can do, we’re also exploring how we can increase our support for the sector. This has included developing a hub online to share resources that can help charities fundraise during current times, and participating in virtual events.
RsL: Where do you see EFA in the next 10 years? What are your hopes, wishes or fears?
EFA: I would love EFA to expand and strengthen its network of fundraising bodies, so that we can not only enrich each other with experience and identify common needs, but gain a stronger representative voice. We hope also to play a stronger role in helping the nonprofit sector and fundraising profession grow, partnering with other European and international actors.
About 150.00 to 250.000 new spinal cord injuries (SCI) occur each year, primarily caused by road and sport accidents or by a fall. SCI can lead to several different health problems like loss of sensations and paralysis. The Austrian foundation Wings for Life is determined to find a treatment that will help victims of SCI to regain their mobility. The not-for-profit organization was launched in 2004 by two-time motocross world champion Heinz Kinigadner and co-founder of the energy drink company Red Bull, Dietrich Mateschitz. Under the leadership of Anita Gerhardter, Wings for Life has funded 211 SCI projects in 19 countries. The organization was generous to answer some of my questions about its work and projects.
RsL: What are some major lessons Wings for Life has learned in the last 15 years regarding the support of spinal cord injury research? What experiences have you gained?
WfL: Medical research is unfortunately a very complex and a not linear process. It needs lots of effort and patience. It is more about finding little components of a huge mosaic for a profound understanding.
Considering that spinal cord research is a pretty young research discipline we have already reached significant milestones. Due to different of our funded research projects we have nowadays a much better understanding of biological reactions after a spinal cord injury. A profound understanding gives us the possibility to think about developing therapies.
RsL: How many grant seekers are contacting you per year and how many of them are getting approved?
WfL: Each year, we receive up to 250 grant applications from scientists from institutions and universities across the globe. The applications then need to pass a strict selection process. This year, we are able to fund 63 cutting-edge research projects.
WfL: We’ve launched the ATP to “translate” more medical discoveries into actual therapeutic treatments for patients. It is needed as there are so many hurdles at the step from basic research to clinical application. This is not only in our case, but in research in general. The ATP supports the scientists to overcome these hurdles with a combination of money, a network of experts from the different fields and the necessary know-how.
RsL: Can you give us an example of a project that has been granted with the ATP?
WfL: One of our ATP studies, STIMO, received recently a great deal of publicity in the press. STIMO is an innovative rehabilitation program. It combines two different treatments: Epidural electrical stimulation, the application of electrical current to the spinal cord, and robot-assisted walking training. The study is still going on, and the final results will be known within 1-2 years. However, early results are very encouraging. So far, three participants have completed the study and all of them saw their functions improve significantly.
RsL: What events (art, sport, …) are you planning the coming years?
WfL: On top of our agenda is – of course – the Wings for Life World Run. It’s our biggest annual fundraising event where hundreds of thousand people all across the globe run for our cause. It’s huge fun and 100 percent of the entry fees go to spinal cord research.
RsL: One of Red Bull’s subsidiary companies is the Terra Mater Factual Studio. Do you have any plans to co-produce TV-shows or movies with them? I know it may sound far-fetched but you should seriously consider it. Think about James Cameron’s science fiction film Avatar, whose protagonist is a paraplegic. The movie earned more than 2.7 billion dollars at the box office. Now imagine Wings for Life and Terra Mater would have produced the movie. The profit could have been used to fund more spinal cord research.
WfL: In fact, we’re very happy that the Red Bull Media House recently produced an inspiring film Any One of Us. It features the professional mountain biker Paul Basagoitia and the candid journey to beat his devastating spinal cord injury. It has been aired already on the first film festivals and will be available to the general audience hopefully end of this year. The movie is dedicated to Wings for Life and we’ll receive proceeds.
RsL: If you could change or improve anything about the philanthropic sector (in Austria or worldwide), what would it be?
WfL: Traditionally, philanthropy is not as deeply rooted in our culture as it is in the United Kingdom or the U.S. for example. But we’d say that the situation is quite good and there are so many people being generous and doing something for humanity. Especially at Wings for Life we are very grateful that we receive such a great support. The more people support us the sooner we should reach our goal of finding a cure for spinal cord injury.
Thanks to the Wings for Life – Team for answering my questions!
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, better known as PETA, is one of the leading organizations when it comes to animal rights. 400 employees and over 6 million members fight against fur farming, factory farming and animal testing. PETA Germany is celebrating its 25th anniversary – a good reason to ask them about their future plans.
RsL: What PETA projects and campaigns can we expect for 2019 and beyond?
PETA: As long as people continue to use and abuse animals in various ways, we will have to have campaigns to end this exploitation and put an end to speciesism.
RsL: According to WWF’s Living Planet Report 2018, the size of populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians has declined 60% in the last 50 years. Has PETA similar reports or figures about the decline of animal wildlife?
PETA: We don`t have our own figures.
RsL: PETA is known for its controversial ads. Your organization knows very well how to use the media to raise public awareness. Do you think PETA should become a media enterprise on its own to further increase its influence?
PETA: No, we don`t want to be a separate media enterprise.
RsL: We are witnessing the rise of online streaming distribution. WWF has produced a documentary series, Our Planet, in partnership with Netflix. Has PETA a similar collaboration planned with any of the streaming services? What is your long-term strategy regarding streaming platforms?
PETA: We currently have no plans for a similar collaboration with any of the streaming services.
RsL: Has PETA ever considered producing fictional feature films with stories regarding animal issues (like Okja)?
PETA: No, not yet.
RsL: If you could change or improve one aspect about the philanthropic sector, what would it be?
PETA: That more people were actually actively philanthropic during their lifetimes, in other words, committed to improving the world with both their personal visions and financial support.
Thanks to Harald Ullmann, second chairman of PETA Germany, for the interview!
The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has published the first intergovernmental report of its kind. 145 international experts from 50 countries and 310 contributing authors have worked on the report.
The overall message is: One million plant and animal species are facing extinction, many within decades! The five major reasons for this dramatic development are: alterations in land and sea use, exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution and invasive alien species.
“Key indirect drivers include increased population and per capita consumption; technological innovation, which in some cases has lowered and in other cases increased the damage to nature; and, critically, issues of governance and accountability. A pattern that emerges is one of global interconnectivity and ‘telecoupling’ – with resource extraction and production often occurring in one part of the world to satisfy the needs of distant consumers in other regions,” said Prof. Brondízio.
The full report will be published later this year.
For more than five decades, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been a champion for the preservation of natural habitats. Despite WWF’s many successful campaigns and efforts, the current situation of our environment is rather bleak. According to WWF’s Living Planet Report 2018, the size of populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians has declined 60% in the last 50 years. The World Wildlife Fund is more than ever dedicated to its mission to protect and restore nature. Reason enough to ask WWF about its upcoming projects and plans to save the world.
RsL: What WWF projects and campaigns can we expect for 2019?
WWF: Some anticipated projects that you can expect for 2019 are Earth Hour, the launch of Our Planet that is in collaboration with Netflix, and the plastics campaign.
Some information about these campaigns: Earth Hour is the world’s largest grassroots movement for the environment. This year’s Earth Hour focused on raising awareness of the importance of nature. You can find some quick facts about Earth Hour here.
The plastics campaign asks people tosign a petitionthat asks world’s governments to take action for a UN agreement to end plastics leakage into the seas by 2030.
Our Planet, a Netflix series, is created in collaboration with Silverback Productions and WWF that features jaw-dropping nature stories, grounded in the best science, and highlights the most pressing challenges facing nature today.
The main goal we are working towards is the upcoming “Super year” 2020 where we aim to inspire the world to act to show governments and key decision-making bodies that nature matters and we have to protect it. Based on our goals, we decided 5 pillars that will support it in 2019: Brand revolution, Earth Hour, Education, Living Planet Report, and Our Planet.
RsL: What do you hope to accomplish with Our Planet?
WWF:WWF’s Living Planet Report 2018, released in November 2018, presents the stark reality of the impact humans are having on our planet. The report shows that global populations of vertebrate species have declined, on average, by 60 percent since 1970, due in large part to human activities. We now have the solutions and technology to reverse this trend, which involves a transition to a more sustainable use of the planet’s resources. But it is also clear that continued degradation of our planet is unsustainable and will be to the detriment of humanity, as well as the other species and wild places.
Our Planet shows the beauty and wonder of the natural world, but it also highlights the fragility of the planet and the negative impacts of humankind. It shows a path forward by pointing to solutions, so audiences come away understanding not just the threats that face our planet, but also what we can do to save it. The powerful message it conveys will dovetail with a unique opportunity to call on global leaders to commit to urgent action to protect the one place we call home, sending the clear message that it is no longer acceptable to continue to destroy our environment and that urgent action is needed.
RsL: Documentaries are a suitable medium to raise awareness, but movies are more popular and have a much larger audience. Has WWF ever considered producing feature (theatrical) films with stories regarding environmental issues?
WWF: We are not aware of such considerations.
RsL: In the past, WWF has released charity albums like No One’s Gonna Change Our World and Environmentally Sound: A Select Anthology of Songs Inspired by the Earth. Are any other albums planned for the near future?
WWF: We have no plans as of now.
RsL: How important are social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook for your campaigns? Which one has proven to be the most effective and gave you the best results?
WWF: WWF has over 25 million social media followers. Social media channels are very important for WWF to reach the right audiences with our conservation campaigns. We have a robust audience journey planned for supporters who join our social media channels.
The channel that will be most effective completely depends on the campaign goals. At WWF we believe in continuous testing to see if the messages are resonating with the audience on that particular social media platform. We like to keep the experience on the social media channel rather than driving people out of the experience.
Thanks to Kirmaine Chen and Michael Parsons for the interview!
THE HUMAN ELEMENT is a new documentary from the makers of THE COVE, RACING EXTINCTION and CHASING ICE directed by Matthew Testa and produced in association with the Earth Vision Institute. You can rent or download the film on iTunes.
The official synopsis:
„With rare compassion and heart, THE HUMAN ELEMENT follows environmental photographer James Balog on his quest to highlight Americans on the frontlines of climate change, inspiring us to re-evaluate our relationship with the natural world.“
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