FAQ – Future of Conservation NGOs innovation challenge

21 April 2022


What is the innovation challenge all about?

The future of conservation NGOs innovation challenge is part of 'The future of conservation NGOs' initiative launched by the Luc Hoffmann Institute in December 2020. It aims to identify innovative solutions that proactively address deep-rooted issues and improve the impact of conservation work. 

As the climate crisis intensifies and biodiversity loss accelerates, the work of nature conservation organisations is becoming increasingly urgent. The scope of conservation too is widening. The conservation agenda, traditionally determined by environmental drivers, is now rightly confronted by the human and social rights agenda and drivers such as inclusion, race, and equity. 

Structural and systemic issues are at play within the sector, which are impacting conservation effectiveness. There is an urgent need for root-reform - dismantling existing power structures, addressing legacies of discrimination, equalising voices and resources, reframing narratives and challenging the approaches and structures that perpetuate existing social and economic inequalities.

In this challenge the Luc Hoffmann Institute, alongside Impact Hub and IUCN CEESP, are inviting submissions from anyone, from any sector, experience or background, with a vision for the future of conservation work. Any idea that can challenge the status-quo and redesign the existing approaches, structures and narratives are welcome.

Is this challenge about improving conservation NGOs or about better conservation? What if my idea is not about NGOs?

Many of the greatest achievements in conservation come from groups and communities that are organised in structures other than NGOs. This challenge is really about improving conservation efforts at large, for better conservation outcomes. We wish to identify innovative solutions or to surface successful models that already exist, which proactively address deep-rooted issues and improve the impact and effectiveness of conservation work. With this challenge, we are seeking ideas that rethink the presence, role, and structure of conservation NGOs. We are seeking ideas that challenge the status quo and aim to create equitable and future-relevant pathways that can meaningfully benefit people and nature in a rapidly changing world, where, perhaps, conservation NGOs might not be the most efficient model.

Who are the partner organisations?

The Luc Hoffmann Institute aims to be the world’s leading catalyst for innovation and transformative change to maintain biodiversity, the foundation of all life on Earth. We create the conditions for new approaches to emerge, identify and mobilise the most promising innovators and ideas, and provide a flow of impactful, de-risked and exciting initiatives for investors. Our passionate and open-minded team is dedicated to driving societal change for nature and people to thrive together. Learn more at www.luchoffmanninstitute.org, connect with us on LinkedIn, or follow us on Twitter @LucHoffmannInst.

Impact Hub is a global network of entrepreneurial communities, capacity building programs and collaborative spaces that support impact-driven entrepreneurs and innovators on their journey from intention to scale.

The Commission on Environment, Economics and Social Policy (CEESP) is part of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). CEESP is a unique network of more than 1,200 volunteers representing disciplines from biology and anthropology, economics and law, to culture and indigenous peoples - among many others. Its work represents the crossroads of conservation and development. CEESP contributes to the IUCN Mission by providing insights and expertise and promoting policies and action to harmonize the conservation of nature with the crucial socio-economic and cultural concerns of human communities—such as livelihoods, human rights and responsibilities, human development, security, equity, and the fair and effective governance of natural resources.

CEESP’s natural and social scientists, environmental and economic policy experts, and practitioners in community-based conservation provide IUCN with critical resources to meet the challenges of 21st century nature and natural resource conservation and the goal of shaping a sustainable future.

IUCN CEESP has initiated Reimagine Conservation, a global partnership that promotes a culture for conservation and care for the planet. It is a movement, people-centered and built from the bottom-up. It starts by challenging the status quo, listening to diverse audiences, and together, reimagining a new way of caring and protecting the planet and each other.

Does the challenge focus on large international NGOs, small NGOs or NGOs of all sizes?

The ultimate goal is about improving conservation efforts globally. NGOs of all sizes are part of an interconnected ecosystem. Different sized NGOs have both advantages and limitations, as well as an overlapping set of challenges. The Luc Hoffmann Institute's initiative ‘The future of conservation NGOs’ has sought to look holistically at these issues and the NGO ecosystem in its entirety. This challenge welcomes ideas from an equally broad range of starting points.

How did you come up with the four themes that guide the challenge? What are they referring to and where do they come from?

The future of conservation NGOs initiative began in December 2020. Since inception, the initiative has gathered a diverse set of voices to reimagine the role and structure of existing conservation organisations and identify opportunities for change. During this period, the Institute has opened the dialogue, facilitated conversations, and brought together voices from across different geographies, disciplines, and sectors. Through individual consultations and a 3 horizons framework workshop, we collectively identified four thematic areas which are ripe for change and which guide this challenge:

What is the report “Exploring possible futures for conservation NGOs” about? How do I use the 15 propositions? 

In March 2022 the Institute published a report that identifies the enablers and barriers to change and considers the role and function of conservation NGOs through a series of lenses, based on external trends and influences.

After describing the external and internal trends that are affecting conservation work, the report  presents 15 potential future roles for nature conservation NGOs, each one based on a possible future state of the world. In each case, potential pathways towards the role are described, along with the mindset and culture required and the organisational forms best adapted to that role. Examples of organisations that already embody aspects of each role are also given.

The proposed future roles are neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive. They are meant to be the springboard for a journey of reimagining, designing and testing (new) models for conservation NGOs that are better equipped for the 21st century.

I don’t have much/any experience in the environment sector. Can I still apply?

Yes, please do! We encourage people from all sectors to apply. Ideally, you have a team of people with backgrounds in different sectors. If you apply as an individual, before submitting your idea, you should aim to consult with people who can give you advice on aspects of the application that may be outside of your own expertise.

Does this challenge focus on a specific region?

No, this innovation challenge is global. We aim to find ideas from all over the world, from every sector, that have the potential to be replicated in other parts of the world. 

Why are you holding the challenge now?

We live in times of unprecedented speed of change: from the extraordinary opportunities offered by digital transformation, shifting societal norms and perceptions of justice, to the challenges of political polarisation and a shrinking civil society space. Conservation NGOs have come under increasing criticism and pressure, raising questions about organisational culture and racism, colonial legacy, power distribution between Global South and Global North and outdated funding models. The gap between the rapid pace at which the world is changing and the pace of change within the conservation NGOs is getting wider. At the same time the natural world is disappearing at an unprecedented rate. The population sizes of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have seen an alarming average drop of 68% since 1970 (Living Planet Index, 2020). 

The Luc Hoffmann Institute’s 'Future of conservation NGOs' initiative acts on these issues and aims to put forward a vision and concrete steps to bring about the radical changes needed from conservation NGOs and for conservation efforts more broadly to address long-standing societal problems and achieve better outcomes for the planet.

Can I apply alone, as a team or both? 

Any individual or team from around the world may apply. If applying as a team, we ask that you name three key team members in the application form and nominate a lead representative, who will be the first point of contact and the primary participant in the incubation programme for winning ideas. Participation by up to two other team members in incubation activities is also possible, but the team lead should be consistently present throughout. If your team is larger than three people we ask that you take responsibility for sharing learnings and ideas developed through the co-learning and incubation process back to the wider team.

Can my organisation apply?

Yes. Individuals and teams of up to three people can apply, representing their organisation. Applications from individuals or teams without an organisational affiliation are also welcome. Winners will receive a tailored incubation programme suitable for an individual or team of up to three people, with a lead participant nominated by that team. If the individual or team is part of an organisation, it will be the responsibility of that individual or team to take the collaborative learnings from the incubation programme back to their organisations. We will always encourage you and/or your team to take the learning back into your organisations.

What languages does the challenge support?

We are currently accepting applications in English only, but we strongly encourage both native and non-native English speakers to apply. No judgements will be made on language proficiency. 

The incubation and colearning programmes offered to winners will be conducted in English. 

We acknowledge that there is a need to embrace linguistic diversity, however, at this stage of the initiative we are unable to do so in a way that is truly inclusive and honest. If you need support to complete the forms in English, please do reach out to us at futurengo@wwfint.org and we’ll find a way to support you as best as we can.

Who are the judges?

All eligible applications will be evaluated by a panel of experts representing diversity of perspectives, geographies and backgrounds and including a representative from each of the partner organisations, the Luc Hoffmann Institute, IUCN CEESP and Impact Hub. 

What are the judging criteria?

Ideas will be judged based on the selection criteria outlined in the Application Details section of the challenge homepage. These criteria are reflected through a set of detailed questions on the application form. Diversity, intersectionality and social equity should be guiding principles for all successful ideas.

What happens to my idea if it is not chosen? Do you keep the rights to my idea?

The intellectual property rights to your idea remain with you. Please refer to our terms and conditions for further details. 

Does the idea need to be new or could tested ideas be submitted?

We acknowledge that much of conservation happens outside NGOs structures, so we welcome any ideas that can lead to reimagining new, more effective conservation models. These ideas might not be innovative or new per se, since they have been implemented for decades, yet the innovation can lie in the process of mainstreaming them and changing the system.

This challenge seeks ideas at any stage of development, from early stage ideation, through to more developed projects or prototypes, intrapreneurship happening within NGOs or other established organisations or later stage startups that are starting to scale.

The challenge welcomes and accommodates a wide range of ideas and stages of development by offering winning entries a tailored incubation programme to support collaborative co-learning.

How many ideas will be chosen/awarded?

Up to nine. 

What will the winners receive?

€5,000 in prize money and a place in a tailored co-learning and incubation programme with either the Luc Hoffmann Institute, Impact Hub or IUCN CEESP. 

The co-learning and incubation programmes will start in the second half of 2022 and the length and duration will be agreed between the winner and the host institution. The programme is expected to last for at least 6 months.

Why do you refer to co-learning? 

The host institutions seek to avoid a ‘top-down’ process of incubation that maintains the status quo. Instead the Luc Hoffmann Institute, IUCN CEESP and Impact Hub aim to learn from the winning ideas, collaborate together and, where relevant, challenge their own approaches and practices.

How can I access funding through this challenge? 

Winning ideas will receive €5,000 in prize money. Aside from that prize money, the purpose of this challenge is not direct funding. Rather, the challenge seeks to find and incubate new ideas. The selected applicants will receive a place on a tailored incubation programme through one of the partner organisations - the Luc Hoffmann Institute, IUCN CEESP or Impact Hub, as well as the opportunity to work with other organisations that may be interested to incubate your idea. If you have an idea that fits the criteria of the challenge, and are interested in taking your idea to the next stage, please apply. 

Is there a maximum of entries?

No. But your entry must be received by the closing date of 22 May 2022, 23:59 CEST.

Will there be any second/third/runner-up awards?

Up to 9 successful ideas will be chosen, and all of these will receive the same awards: a place in one of the 3 incubation programmes  (Luc Hoffmann Institute, Impact Hub or IUCN Reimagine Conservation) and EUR 5,000 prize money. There are no further awards beyond this.  However, when applying you will have the option to agree to appear in a “library of ideas” for further consideration from other organisations from our network. 


When will the incubation and co-learning programmes start, how long will they last, and what do they entail?

The collaborative programmes of co-learning and incubation will start in the second half of 2022 and the length and duration will be agreed between the winner and the host institution. The programmes are expected to last at least 6 months.

The host institution will work alongside winners to take their ideas to the next level of implementation or testing. Winners and the host will collectively design the co-learning process, with elements that may include: 

Coaching or Networking
- 1:1 conversations with fellow entrepreneurs and change-makers
- Curated introductions to potential partners, clients and/or funders
- Participation in a Community of Practice that enables peer to peer learning
- Monthly knowledge sharing conversations
- Access to the incubating organisation’s networks and contacts

Financial & Funding Support
- Potential access to funding and/or support to fundraise for the idea
- Opportunities to pitch to international investors
- Access to bootcamps and coaching to get investment-ready

The opportunity to form a project team within the host institution and lead the project with sustained support throughout the different stages of the project development (for those ideas incubated through the Luc Hoffmann Institute only).

A six-month membership with Impact Hub (for those ideas incubated through Impact Hub only).

How will you match the winners to the host institution?

During the review and selection process, the jury will select up to 9 winning entries and will match those entries to the most suitable incubation partner. Factors under consideration during this matching process will include area of focus of the idea, stage of development and global location of the winning innovator or team. 

What is the time commitment of the programme?

The expected time commitment is between 8 and 12 hours per week from the innovator or team. Around half of those hours will be in direct contact with the host institution, while the other half will involve independent work to progress the idea. 

Do I need to attend the programme in person?

No, the programmes are virtual. Where possible, some flexibility to travel (in order to meet the team, join conferences, potentially meet donors and so on) would be beneficial. 

What happens after the programme finishes?

The ambition is for you and other applicants to be part of a community of change that will take ideas forward, keep exchanging on the topic of improving conservation, and hopefully span exciting new ideas and projects. We are working on creating the enabling conditions for that community to keep growing and stay engaged.


Are there any restrictions on where or what or how the winning team can spend the prize of €5,000? Should the idea also include a budget proposal indicating how the €5,000 is spent?

The prize money is just that - a prize. There are no restrictions on how it is spent and the application process does not require you to detail how it will be spent. We encourage you to use the money to further the idea and advance its progress, but that is not a requirement of either the application or the incubation and co-learning process for the winners.

Can ideas that form part of a PhD study be submitted?


Would a project between conservation and ecotourism also be considered? Especially pertaining to the recovery of ecotourism that directly supports conservation? 

We welcome ideas that challenge the structural and systemic issues within the sector, which are impacting conservation effectiveness. This could include ideas that dismantle the existing power structures, address legacies of discrimination, equalise voices and resources, reframe narratives and challenge the approaches and structures that perpetuate existing social and economic inequalities. If your project is helping address these root causes with a different approach, structure, model, then yes, please apply and let us know what makes your proposal unique, disruptive and scale-able, in a crowded (but growing) sector?

Are ideas that would not only benefit the NGO sector, but also social and regenerative enterprises/start-ups, also eligible?

Yes. Many of the greatest achievements in conservation come from groups and communities that are organised in structures other than NGOs, including social or regenerative enterprises/start-ups. This challenge is really about improving conservation efforts at large, for better conservation outcomes. We wish to identify innovative solutions or to surface successful models that already exist, which proactively address deep-rooted issues and improve the impact and effectiveness of conservation work.

Could you share an example of a project or programme that looks at narratives? 

Please refer to the examples listed on the application page. We have spotlighted an example under each of the four themes that the initiative has identified as areas where change is most needed.

Would it be possible in future to create a networking platform between participants and the greater conservation community?

Yes. We are hoping to form a Hub/Community of Practice that will act as a space for sharing ideas, knowledge, learnings and failures amongst individuals passionate about reimagining the future of conservation work.

More questions?

For specific questions about the challenge, contact futurengo@wwfint.org.

Go back to The future of conservations NGOs innovation challenge homepage.

Want to get in touch?

Email the project team at  info@unearthodox.org
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