The Evolving Union


Every organization has times of continuity and times of change. For IUCN, the early 1990s have been a period of rapid change, as the Union tries to respond to fast-moving developments in the outside world and to build on the lessons learnt from over 40 years of effort. The Union is also taking advantage of a rare period of administrative stability and financial strength. Over the three years since the General Assembly in Perth, Australia, membership has expanded, the Programme has grown and become more integrated, and a network of IUCN locations now spans the globe.

But there is still much further to go. Decentralization remains uneven. The programmes are not yet integrated together to the extent they should be. And the scale of IUCN's operations remains wholly inadequate for the scope of the problems they are addressing.

In making fundamental changes, the first requirement is to know where you want to go. With this in mind, the 18th Session of the General Assembly (Perth, 1990) asked the Director General to develop a Strategic Plan for the Union, for members to consider at the next General Assembly in early 1994. The Plan would reorient IUCN's work around the precepts of Caring for the Earth and would take account of the outputs of Rio, at that time unknown.

The foresight of the General Assembly has proved valid. Rio showed that the prevailing international system was inadequate. It endorsed the need for new partnerships and showed the folly of a confrontational approach to environment and development. And the outputs of Rio, in particular Agenda 21, emphasize the need to push decisions down to the lowest practical level. All this throws into sharp relief the potential for the Union to play a far more important role in the world than has been assumed before. If IUCN does not carry forward the actions identified at Rio, how can it claim to be a World Conservation Union?

The new Strategic Plan was prepared in 1993 and was endorsed by the General Assembly in early 1994. The plan emerged from one of the largest consultation exercises in IUCN's history, involving members, Councilors, Commissions, staff and associates. It is based on the principle that an organization like IUCN should be mission-led and constituency-driven.

The process began with the Mission. The new statement, adopted in Buenos Aires, reflects an emerging vision of how IUCN should operate. On the one hand, the Union should represent its members on the international stage, articulating their concerns and acting as a strong advocate for change. On the other hand, at national and local level, it should work with and through its members rather than act alone, providing them with support to make their activities more effective. And it should learn from the experience.

To make this vision a reality, the Union has to tackle five major priorities. First, it has to work with its members to an even greater--extent in true partnership--especially at national and regional levels.

Second, IUCN has to develop its constituencies. This means expanding its membership and building dependable links with other partners and donors. Constituents are more than just members: they are every person and every organization with whom the Union interacts in a mutually beneficial way.

Third, the Commissions and Secretariat have to strengthen the technical programmes, building these up in consultation with the members, and doing more to integrate them together. Regional programmes need to be extended to a wider range of countries, and more must be done to embrace those issues of underlying global importance in the North.

Fourth, the Union has to animate and expand its voluntary networks. They are one of the most unusual features of IUCN and one of its great strengths, but they need to be focused on fields of endeavour where they can make the greatest contribution, and be linked to the Mission.

Fifth, IUCN has to streamline its system of governance. The Strategic Plan recognizes that the General Assembly is becoming large, unwieldy and expensive and that the roles of Councilors are difficult to perform effectively. Some fundamental changes are needed to increase democracy and effectiveness.

The next sections report on action already taken to achieve each of these goals. But they are only a start; there is far more to be done.

Putting members in the driving seat

In 1993, great efforts were made to involve members in everything the Union does. The aim is to engage the members not just in implementing projects, but also in planning and developing the Programme as a whole. The Regional Programmes for Southern Africa and for South America, described later, are good examples of this approach, now permeating all parts of the Union.

The involvement of members was particularly valuable in preparing the Draft IUCN Programme for 1994-1996. To give members more influence in the design of the Programme, the Secretariat held regional members meetings around the world (see table). It is when the members take charge that the Union best achieves its mission and fulfills its most valuable role as a catalyst for change.

Expanding the Union

In 1993, IUCN's membership continued to grow. The IUCN Council was happy to admit 95 new members, many from Latin America and Southern Africa, increasing the membership by an encouraging 12%. There were six new State members--Italy, Lebanon, Mozambique, South Africa, Turkey and Vietnam. The Union is now represented in 125 countries, and for the first time by members in Algeria, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Swaziland, Syria and Vietnam. Over the triennium as a whole, membership has grown strongly and now tops 800, the highest it has ever been. But this is still a fraction of the membership IUCN could have.

Funding partners are an equally vital part of IUCN's constituency. During the triennium, IUCN has called annual meetings of these organizations. On the one hand, these meetings have enabled the staff to understand the needs and concerns of the partners. On the other, the meetings provide an opportunity for IUCN to give these key supporters its perspective on global and local issues.

IUCN needs to encourage a greater environmental commitment by the corporate sector. During the triennium the Union built much closer contact with business and environment groups, in particular with the Business Council for Sustainable Development. In 1993 the Communications Division developed a proposal for a Corporate Programme, which would integrate the corporate sector into the NCS process across a range of countries, building on existing initiatives (such as by IUCN Pakistan) along these lines.

Strengthening and Integrating the Programme

IUCN seeks to develop a single, integrated programme, designed on the basis of proposals from Regional and Country Offices, Commissions and Headquarters, and discussed with funding agencies before approval by the Council. It is coordinated by the Secretariat, and implemented by the regional teams, the Commissions, and collaborators--increasingly in partnership with members of the Union. The aim is to involve all the relevant players--governments, nongovernmental organizations, the scientific community, the corporate sector, and above all, local communities--in what IUCN does.

Feedback tends to be a weak point. The Union is good at devising policies and technical solutions to problems. It is good at setting up field projects to test and demonstrate these policies, as the reports in the following pages show. But far more needs to be done to analyze and learn from experience, and to use the lessons to guide future efforts. The work done in 1993 by the Strategies Service and CESP (described below) in drawing the lessons from National Conservation Strategies into a set of guides for strategy-makers is an excellent example of this approach.

Special attention also has to be paid to communications planning, so as to articulate what changes in behaviour are sought, whose behaviour should change, and to what purpose. Only when these issues are clear can the messages be agreed and the forms of communication be designed. The Communications Division is helping the various Regional and Headquarters Units undertake such communications planning.

Expanding and animating the networks

Voluntary networks are a unique feature of IUCN and provide a means for outstanding individuals to contribute to the Union's work. Most important are the Union's six standing Commissions, which now involve over 6,000 experts and cover such areas as threatened species, law, education, protected areas, strategies and planning. But many volunteers also serve on Technical Advisory Committees, Regional Advisory Councils, Working Groups and Task Forces. Taken together, these voluntary groups are an immense strength of the Union.

At the last Session of the General Assembly, members called for a critical review of the Commissions, essential anyway as a consequence of the Strategic Plan. The review, carried out in 1993, reaffirmed the immense value of the Commissions in the Union's work. But the way the Commissions operate needs to evolve. The Review emphasized that each must have a distinctive role, be seen as a leader in its field, attract outstanding people, and be properly supported by Secretariat personnel and funding. In addition, the Strategic Plan calls for the Commission system to decentralize and build closer links with professionals in the Union's member organizations, especially in developing countries. In that way the Commissions can help the members directly, and play an important role in strengthening them as institutions.

Improving governance

During the year, the strategic planning exercise provlded a good opportunity to review the governance of the Union. The Strategic Plan includes several proposals to make the General Assembly and Council more effective, and to establish Regional Forums of members, so that members can more easily contribute to policy.

Internal reorganization affected Headquarters during the year. In particular a Central Policy Unit has been established, with responsibility for advising the Director General on the development of across-the-board policies and for developing the "constituency" of IUCN. The Unit will play a leading role in developing relationships with important institutions such as the Global Environment Facility and will work closely with the Communications Division in strengthening the advocacy role of the Union.