Co-Galapagos: catalysing community action for biodiversity conservation and sustainable development

Sophia Cooke first visited Galapagos in 2013. Since then, her work on the Islands has allowed her to understand the realities for much of the local community in Galapagos beyond the view of tourists. Issues including poverty, overcrowding, lack of clean water, substandard health care, inadequate educational opportunities and high levels of gender violence are all often overlooked in favour of wildlife conservation.

From her experiences, Sophia developed two opinions that since have become fundamental driving points in her work. First, local communities must be involved in every aspect of environmental protection work. Second, conservationists are much more likely to succeed if they are a) willing to take multi-disciplinary approaches and b) work with politicians. With these realisations and a growing appreciation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Sophia began a career focus shift from pure conservation to the spaces between scientists, communities and politicians.

The Sustainable Development Goals in Galapagos

The United Nations launched the SDGs in 2015 to promote peace and prosperity for all people, protection of the planet, and partnerships to achieve these aims. The 17 goals consist of 169 targets, all of which are designed to be achieved across the globe by 2030. In April 2018, the Ecuadorian government declared the adoption of the SDG Agenda as public policy and, one month later, Galapagos was chosen to be a pioneer province for this aim.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals

In April 2021, Sophia teamed up with local NGO FUNCAVID to lead workshops to prioritise and adapt the SDG targets for Galapagos and assess the potential interactions. This resulted in identifying the 40 most urgent targets for the Archipelago and creating a tool for policymakers to understand where synergies and conflicts may lie. A second tool is currently being built to map research projects in the Islands, assess their contributions to these 40 targets and other local and national ambitions, and identify any remaining gaps. In mid-2021, with support from GCT and in collaboration with FUNCAVID, Sophia launched Co-Galapagos, an initiative designed to facilitate and support community-led work towards the 40 targets.

The Co-Galapagos Initiative

The Co-Galapagos team collate project ideas from Galapagos residents that link to topics in the 40 targets, support project planning and budgeting, connect the project leaders with other relevant people, and provide necessary training. Co-Galapagos helps to fund projects by asking tourists and international donors to sponsor projects of interest, ensuring that they receive regular video updates from project leaders.

They have also launched the first-ever paid internship scheme for young Galapagueños to gain experience in projects relating to the 40 targets. Each intern receives $1,000, again raised through tourist sponsorship where possible, for six weeks of work on a project of their choice.

“From my experience in Galapagos over the past eight years, I truly believe that initiatives like this are the way forward. Not only does Co-Galapagos work to increase the efficiency of sustainable development, but by channelling funding for this work directly through the community, it also supports inclusivity and local capacity-building. I am extremely grateful to GCT for its support in establishing this initiative and very excited to see just how much we can achieve over the next few years!” – Sophia Cooke, co-founder of Co-Galapagos

Two women are sat at a desk with laptops and face masks, behind them is a room full of people as part of a Sustainable Development Goals workshop in Galapagos
Lucia Norrís and Sophia Cooke taking part in the Sustainable Development Goal workshop in Galapagos © Co-Galapagos

Co-Galapagos ambitions for 2022

Increase capacity-building focus by creating networks for project leaders and interns to encourage sharing of skills and resources and by offering regular training sessions. The team are currently applying for funds to employ a Project Coach, who will coordinate these sessions, facilitate collaboration opportunities and provide one-to-one support to each project leader, designing and delivering tailored training plans.

Improve communications with the support of GCT, by training some of our local interns to maintain the Co-Galapagos website and social media, publish newsletters and raise awareness of the initiative through local radio slots.

Link projects to policy by hiring a part-time Policy Lead – GCT consultant and Galapagueña Lucia Norris. Lucia’s role is to train and support project leaders to produce data and resources designed to support the policy process.

How you can help

You can view more information and a list of our current projects on the Co-Galapagos website. If you would like to donate to one, please include the project you are donating to in the ‘leave a message’ text box when completing your donation.

This article was initially written by Sophia Cooke for the Spring Summer 2021 edition of Galapagos Matters. It has been edited for this blog.