18 Oct 2022


Written by Dermot O'Gorman

CEO, WWF-Australia

“Strategy is a commodity; execution is an art.” I can’t find another saying that more aptly describes the disrupted and rapidly changing world we live in today. Organisations are facing the same challenge: developing a strategy that will last more than 12 months. This is also true for WWF and the NGO sector, whose goal is to deliver purpose-driven impact. A good strategy must be externally focused and understand the big trends hitting our sector - but most importantly, we must listen deeply to our stakeholders and the community. Through sharing experiences, we can co-design and deliver programs with real impact to regenerate our planet.

In the past two years, to meet the immense challenges of the 2019-20 bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic, WWF-Australia had to pivot our existing strategy/business plan several times.

This year, we decided to undertake more deep listening before developing WWF’s three-year agile strategy for 2023-26.

The WWF-Australia board and exec visiting our partners at Girringun Aboriginal Corporation
© With permission from Girringun Aboriginal Corporation

Throughout 2022, we listened to hundreds of communities across Australia through our Innovate to Regenerate Challenges and Regenerating Australia film sessions. We have held forums with the business sector, met with state and federal ministers and officials, strengthened collaboration with WWF offices across Asia-Pacific, engaged with our Indigenous partners - and most recently supported an Oceania-wide dialogue between Indigenous communities working on climate change.

To embed listening at the core of our leadership and hear from one of our key partners, the WWF-Australia Board and Executive Team visited Girringun Aboriginal Corporation (GAC) on Girramay Country in North Queensland, and the home of our Board member, Phil Rist.

Indigenous people have cared for Country for more than 65,000 years. In 2005, Girringun blazed a trail by developing Australia's first Traditional Use of Marine Resources Agreement in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. They now manage an Indigenous Protected Area spanning 1.26 million hectares of land and sea. We are very proud of our 12-year partnership with Girringun, in which they have generously shared their wealth of Ecological and Cultural Knowledge.

Mainstreaming Indigenous engagement across our organisation is one of our key goals. The WWF team had the privilege of listening to the Girringun Elders, Girringun Rangers and the community about what Country means, the role truth and voice play in healing and regenerating Country, and the importance of young people to our future. The WWF Board and team are so grateful for an open, collaborative, and ongoing dialogue that started on Country with representatives from the Traditional Owner groups of Girringun and the Girringun Rangers.

There were heart-wrenching moments and not a dry eye in the room as we talked about truth and lived experiences. But we were also inspired by their determination to overcome enormous personal and environmental challenges with innovative solutions in today’s changing world. From this dialogue, we have taken many insights that will shape WWF-Australia’s strategic planning process.

The planet is facing challenges like never before. This month, WWF’s Living Planet Report 2022 revealed that global wildlife populations plummeted by 69% between 1970 and 2018. The Asia-Pacific region has seen massive destruction, and Australia is a world leader in mammal extinction. Not only must we stop the decline, but reverse it. Now is the time to deliver on the decade of action.

Since we launched WWF’s Regenerate Australia - our bold vision to rehabilitate and restore wildlife and habitats and future-proof Australia against climate disasters - our partnerships with more than 142 amazing organisations across every state and territory have delivered real change. We have helped our partners to deliver emergency relief to where it is most urgently needed, in both fire and flood-affected regions. Others have embarked on innovative recovery and restoration efforts, and a growing band have joined us to accelerate Australia’s transition to a Renewable Energy Export Superpower.

The WWF-Australia board and executive team visit Girringun Aboriginal Corporation
© With permission from Girringun Aboriginal Corporation

Thanks to your support, we’ve achieved some huge conservation milestones - from helping east coast koalas get uplisted to Endangered status to creating a 100,000km2 gill net-free oasis in the waters of the northern Great Barrier Reef. We have learnt that Regenerating Australia in the face of a changing climate, global disruptions and megatrends means we must prepare for the unexpected, be ready and willing to pivot and adapt.

Listening has reminded us, time and time again, that WWF can’t do this alone. We will continue our listening process until the end of this year. We want to listen to you, our supporters, partners, community stakeholders, Indigenous communities, and scientists and hear what it will take to Regenerate Australia and our region.

As always, there are risks in any new plans or different ways of doing things, but the WWF team and I are putting innovation at the heart of our ambition, culture, and amazing Panda team. I am confident that, with your help, our new strategy will embrace agility to allow WWF-Australia to seize opportunities, explore problems and implement more solutions.