The mystery captivated islanders across the Caribbean: Would corrupt lawyer Karl Mason ever find out that Stacy, his conniving mistress, was the source of his sexually transmitted disease? Sadly, he wouldn't -- but Coconut Bay, a hit radio soap opera, was really a story with a moral about rampant overpopulation straining natural resources. Mason's fate aside, it was the bigger message that stuck.
Radio-based enviro-advocacy is one of the savvy initiatives being deployed in 30 developing nations by an unusual conservation group called Rare. Rare works with 120 environmental groups and governments to support 70 frontline conservationists running imaginative, region-specific initiatives. It's the only global conservation organization specializing in radio soap operas and social-marketing campaigns -- and in the past decade, it has grown by four times.
"We help the whole conservation community evolve by figuring out what works, standardizing these proven methods, and then leveraging our programs to make them available worldwide," says CEO Brett Jenks, 38. Rare creates impact through three major programs. The first, Rare Pride, uses guerrilla marketing to inspire conservation. In a 10-week course, Rare equips would-be conservationists to set up initiatives in their home countries that will encourage behavior change to protect endangered areas.
One success: an effort to stop farmers in Sierra Manantlan, Mexico, from letting their farmland fires burn out of control into protected forests. In partnership with community leaders, Rare created a colorful spokescharacter called the Pajaro Bandera. The six-foot mascot was the centerpiece of a 12-month campaign that involved traveling puppet shows, a hit mariachi song, and church sermons. As hokey as it may sound, it worked: Forest fires were reduced by 50%.
Then there's Rare Radio. Its serial dramas are powerful platforms for education in conservation, family planning, domestic violence, and other important issues. Changing Tides, Rare's third serial broadcast in the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau, attracts audiences of up to 70% of the population. The effect can be powerful: Rare Radio's pilot program helped contribute to a 13% decline in birth rates in St. Lucia by 1999, according to a study published in International Family Planning Perspectives.
Rare takes on ecotourism with a third program, Rare Enterprise. Ecotourism has been blamed for environmental strain, but Jenks believes it represents the next big step in locally driven conservation. Around the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, two hours south of Cancun, Rare Enterprise has spent five years building cooperative efforts among the Mexican government, Mayan locals, tourism operators, and rangers to ensure a richer tourist experience. It has shaped up to be another Rare success story: The park has been preserved, and the economies of surrounding communities are stronger.
-- Jennifer Vilaga
= repeat winner