Social Change

People hiking

June 23, 2020 • Mike Clifford • ECHO Digital, ECHO Digital, General Articles, Zoos + Aquariums

We, as change agents, strive to create a thriving planet for all living things. So where do we get started? It begins with social change—the catalyst for understanding our unique role and building partnerships with communities to save wildlife.


A special thank you to Ben Prater, Program Director for the Defenders of Wildlife, for leading this discussion on the successes and barriers to creating meaningful social change.



5 Key Points

1. Create Social Movements 

How can we come together to protect wildlife? Ben Prater shared that through his work with Defenders of wildlife, the most difficult challenge to accomplish in protecting wildlife is creating social movements– the very thing that Zoos and Aquariums have the greatest potential to foster. Any positive movement we are going to make will require a mass social movement that respects and empowers a wide variety of people and groups.  

If our primary goal is to protect and ensure thriving species in the wild, what will it take to do that? The zoological community can easily become an echo chamber, repeating the conservation work that’s is doneexplaining why it is important, and how everyone can be a part of it.   

2. Practice Self-reflection  

Now is the time to reflect on our organizations, methodologies, and ourselves. It’s important to acknowledge that the history of conservation is rooted in a colonialistic approach. The ‘haves’ often dictating behavior to the ‘have nots’. Just like our society beginning to broadly recognize and change these historic and systemic divisions, our systemic methodology and approach to conservation falls short of being inclusive or sufficiently effective.  

 3. Find Shared Values 

Our value sets are often different. While working on a project to prevent offshore oil drilling in the Atlantic, Ben witnessed the different values of both parties involved. The Defenders of Wildlife focused on the care of wildlife and avoiding ecosystem damage; however, the coastal towns valued the impacts on tourism and the economy if an oil spill happened. Although the value propositions were different for each party, the end goal was still accomplished. We can’t assume every person has the same values as we do, but through listening and asking questions, we can find shared values that benefit everyone. 

 4. Leverage Your Strengths 

During our discussion, Ben talked a lot on what it takes to create partnerships and btrusted partner. It starts with being humble, listening, asking questions, and compromising. OftenZootry to be all things to all people, but it’s important to understand our own unique talents to make movement and advance causes.  

unique asset that zoos and aquariums have is their audience and reach. However, we don’t often leverage these audiences for much more than revenue or fun animal facts and experiences. If we leveraged our greatest strengths to support and bolster partners like the Defenders of Wildlifethink of what might be possible?

5. Its Generational

The loss of species has happened over generations as populations have increased, and communities’ mindsets have shifted. Positive movement will require that we have a generational timeline and commitment to conservation. Ben commented on how many of their projects, like Red Wolf recovery, have taken decades. You have to be willing to be in something for the long run to see it come to reality. You’ll have to pivot, adapt, and change as the scenario, environment, and people change.  


Practical Application

Gather your team together and create a list of all the things you care about as a zoological organization.  

  1. Your list can be as specific or broad as you like. Keep in mind a specific list is will make the next step easier  
  1. Narrow down the list by placing colored dots next to the top five items you care about the most 
  1. Prioritize your list accordingly   
  1. Create a list of other organizations that share any of your final five item list 

Once you’ve finalized your list, compare it to the organizations you’ve written down. Ask yourselves the following question: How many of these are our current partners? Are there organizations we should reach out to? 


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