Q1: Your foundation is focusing mainly on wildlife and natural habitat conservation: why?
Fondation Segré was established in 1996. In its early years, our philanthropic investments were quite diversified, but the overall objectives were clear: we were interested in supporting projects in the humanitarian, art and history fields. Results were satisfactory although relatively superficial. I then realised that, if I wanted to achieve impact in my endeavours, I had to understand where the application of funds could be most useful and how I could devote financial support for causes I was ready to embrace. I could understand that the planet was in peril and from this one could draw a certain number of conclusions. Mine were that I had to focus on conservation, on biodiversity and education to raise awareness of conservation challenges. That is why the foundation’s logo displays the words “Conservation and Education” together.
Q2: Where is your passion for wildlife coming from ? Was there a particular event, or experience that “opened your eyes” ?
Since very early in life I was passionate about the parallel world of nature, as opposed to the anthropocentric world. The anthropocentric world has not performed very well – I personally, have survived a fascist regime and a World War. I cannot say that these periods showed mankind at his best. Maybe later, with the post-war reconstruction, one could soften such a harsh judgement, yet nature always seemed to me a much better element of the planet. I also travelled extensively and therefore got acquainted with nature as it appears on continents other than the one on which I was born. I was essentially a city boy; I was not born in the countryside. I think that explains why I was interested in wildlife and nature
Q3: Why do you believe SOS can make a difference?
Any shift of resources towards conservation, protection of nature and biodiversity, can make a difference. When devoting resources to nature, one must undertake three important steps. First, you must understand the problem, which in itself is not easy and it is something for which IUCN and therefore SOS are uniquely equipped. Second, you must organise action to solve the problems you discover, and have people able to go and implement solutions at the ground level, and not through lofty international conferences. Third, you have to gather and then allocate resources, which means, money, for implementing these actions. Napoleon said “money is the nerve of war”. I would say the same for conservation: money is an essential element for conservation.
SOS is one part of this resource allocation process. We support it because we think that SOS is able to detect the problem, find the solutions and implement them. I appreciate that SOS is not pretending to work directly in the field. It recruits the best talents possible - be it the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) or a local community-based NGO like the Alliance for Tompotika Conservation (AlTo) in Sulawesi, Indonesia - and then SOS studies the solutions they propose. Fondation Segré does the same when we receive project proposals: we study them and decide whether to modify them and/or finance them. SOS is a process of thoughts and acting that is familiar for us. We also finance projects directly, but we do not implement them directly. So in this way, SOS is one of our providers.
Q4: You selected two very specific projects out of the many that SOS funds: the Irrawaddy Dolphin and the Gibbons (Specific focus on South – East Asia): why?
They express a preference among a variety of opportunities which were presented to us and it was certainly the result of appreciating the challenges and the possible impacts on the planned action, but it was above all confidence in the process which SOS had followed to select these projects. They came with a stamp of approval that we very much appreciated. There is no geographical bias, no species bias – it is scientifically driven conservation action!
Q5: How do you see the role of SOS in the greater scheme of conservation things?
I do not think SOS is the only answer. It is one of the answers. In the greater scheme of conservation there are many things to consider: climate change, ocean conservation, agricultural sustainability, land use, etc. SOS devotes its energies to species alone. It is certainly a very important element in safeguarding biodiversity. Once you fix the climate, the oceans, the agricultural land availability and the forests, you still have to have them populated by animals, and unfortunately by man. This is the biodiversity component of conservation. I understand biodiversity in a narrow sense, because I apply it to animals, whereas biodiversity also includes plant species. Even though the SOS programme includes other realms (plants such as cycads and conifers), still, animal conservation represents 80% of the SOS portfolio. And I fully identify with this aspect of their work: it fits with the direction of our foundation.
Q6: How optimistic (or pessimistic) are you that endangered species will be saved ?
I am encouraged by the growing interest in conservation, as evidenced by the more open and deeper discussion in the press and public opinion. I am amazed by the type of articles which appear in newspapers, about natural phenomena and particularly animal conservation, which I would never have seen ten years ago. It is just amazing in the sense that scientific literature is burgeoning, but what interests me even more is that the man in the street begins to understand, he is continuously presented with new evidence about conservation and its challenges. Also, the number of members of organisations which are directly or indirectly involved in conservation is growing exponentially. In that sense I am optimistic. Even the worst of them all, governments, are becoming a little more reasonable about conservation, climate and about fisheries, which are some of the big issues. So, in that sense I must be optimistic. To synthesise my approach, one should say that protecting the endangered world means reducing the footprint of man. That has been very much against the tendency throughout history. Man has been over-running this planet. I am not wishing for a return of the Black Plague, which did a very good job in cutting down the population, but I am very confident of the fact that whenever the standard of living improves, population problems are mitigated. I do not think there are initiatives to reduce the footprint of man but in a sense, everything we do concerning water resources, a better land use, more careful use of chemicals in agriculture, better fishing practices, all this mitigates man’s footprint, or it makes it lighter and less harmful. All in all, I am optimistic. How long will it take to change the course? I have no answer.
Conservation of nature and the improvement of life on the planet represent the mission of IUCN. As far as myself and foundations like mine, we share the same mission. But the scale is different. I am not trying to compare dwarfs with giants. We have to focus much more on the choice of where to put our limited resources. If a project we decide to finance is not effectively implemented, this means the resources we have invested in it are gone and cannot be reused. We are not an institution that receives continuous contributions from public finances. At Fondation Segré we spend our own capital and will spend it to the very end, but we want to spend it wisely. This is the reason why we act as auxiliaries to institutions like IUCN or WWF or FFI. I consider it a privilege to have access to a vast portfolio of projects and ideas while we are not contributing much in a scientific way. Instead we contribute in financial terms and we enjoy a rich dialogue and cooperation with these institutions. We appreciate that they are the ones who do the work and we help to carry it out.