Can partnerships enable conservation organizations to tackle existing challenges in the conservation of the arts and cultural heritage more effectively? What kinds of partnerships have worked in the past, and what kinds are needed for the future? Conservation asked the directors of three major cultural institutions to provide their perspectives on the nature of partnerships in heritage conservation.
Francesco Bandarin has been director of the UNESCO World Heritage Center (whc.unesco.org/pg.cfm) and secretary of the World Heritage Committee since 2000. In that capacity, he launched the World Heritage Partnership initiative, which is working to increase the participation of the private sector and the public in cultural heritage preservation. Formerly a professor of city planning at the School of Planning of Venice, he has led numerous international missions to endangered sites.
Ismaïl Serageldin was appointed in 2001 as the first director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (www.bibalex.gov.eg/English/index.aspx). He worked for nearly 30 years at the World Bank, where he most recently served as vice president for special programs dealing with poverty, environment, and socio-economic development. Prior to joining the World Bank, he was a consultant in city and regional planning, and he taught at Cairo University and Harvard University.
Nicholas Stanley-Price has been the director-general of ICCROM (www.iccrom.org) since 2000. Prior to his appointment, he was on the faculty of the University College London's Institute of Archaeology. Previously he served on the staff of ICCROM and as deputy director of training at the GCI. He also founded the quarterly journal Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites.
They spoke with Tim Whalen, director of the GCI, and Jeffrey Levin, editor of Conservation, The GCI Newsletter.
Tim Whalen: As you all know, the field of conservation is a relatively small one, and resources are indeed limited. There's no one place that has all the expertise and the capacity to care for the heritage. The question is—how can we utilize partnerships and the limited resources we have more effectively in the years to come?
Ismaïl Serageldin: It seems to me that we have limited our conversations to people who are already concerned about heritage and cultural issues. The reality is that most of the elients that we refer to as our cultural heritage have great value, either for tourism or because they happen to be close to areas desired by developers. It is conceivable that one could work out new types of partnerships with these people, who happen to have considerable sums of money. For example, an archaeological site that is in the midst of a rapidly growing city with lots of sprawl could gradually be taken over by squatter settlients. One way to deal with that is to turn the site over to a developer with an understanding that they would fund the archaeological work and then delineate areas that would be kept from future development in exchange for getting the land. If you're building a $2- to $3-billion project, an extra $100 million for archaeological research in exchange for getting title to the land becomes feasible. On the other hand, trying to raise $100 million for archaeological digs or research by itself is extriely difficult. Finding new ways in which we can protect the heritage by mobilizing additional resources from unlikely partners seis to me to be the order of the day.
Nicholas Stanley-Price: The possible role of developers in funding work on archaeological sites is something with which I wholeheartedly agree. Of course, there are some countries where by law the developer has to meet the cost of archaeological investigation before the project goes ahead. Sometimes this can be a drawback—because of the legal situation, the developer is less inclined to reveal that something of importance has been found. But on the whole, it's a model that works well in those countries where the opportunity has been seized and—either through agreient among the interested parties or through the law—substantial funding is made available.
Francesco Bandarin: The point, of course, is a critical one. Very often we don't have the resources to do the job. We have tried to link with those who have the resources and perhaps are interested for different reasons—political reasons or tourist potential or other things. For example, with the World Bank—which is a powerful actor in this field and where there is a sensitivity for the conservation of cultural and natural heritage—I have worked to join hands in these kinds of activities. Next year we're conducting a joint UNESCO-World Bank workshop to focus on the need to preserve historic Chinese towns. These towns are of great cultural value and already very important for tourism, but if they are not protected effectively, there won't be much to see in a short period of time. There is great potential, but so far the success stories are not many, albeit they already constitute a "corpus" of best practices. On another front, the tourism industry is a very important actor, but except for some small aid to restoration, it has not yet become a partner in larger operations.
Serageldin: In Egypt, a lot of restoration work on monuments is supported by a special legislated fund, which is fed by tourist tickets and is outside of the government's budget. You also have cases in Hafseya in Tunis and in Fez in Morocco where there has been work that has led to funding by the World Bank. Most recently, I think, there was an agreient as well by the World Bank to fund a project in Ethiopia. These agreients are not that frequent yet, but they indicate a way forward. These are the partners that have a lot of money.
Whalen: Often it seems that there's an absence of international conservation organizations at the table when deals with developers are made. Is that because of rigidity within the conservation community or some other kinds of structural challenges that we in the conservation community need to address?
Stanley-Price: Sometimes we underestimate the degree of interest in the content of what we're doing by people we are trying to persuade to fund our work. I'm generalizing, but there are programs that we run at ICCROM where we have a number of partners, and some of them are seen as essentially financial partners in that they help to fund the program. But they also have a strong interest in the content of the program. At the meetings that we organize for the partners, they have very interesting insights into the actual running of the program, the results, and the outcomes. We should never underestimate the interest of those supporters in the technical content of what we're doing. They must be fully engaged in the decisions about what makes a good program. In our experience, the more we involve our financial partners in the technical content, the more they're committed to it and fascinated by it and want to support it. I would also suggest that when we talk about partners, we do so in a very broad way, including expertise partners and partners who provide access to a site—and who are essential to the project—but who may bring no money whatsoever.
Serageldin: Financiers in projects like to talk mostly with people who are going to put in an equal or significant share of the money. There is a resistance to opening up to a wide number of constituents—local stakeholders, international stakeholders, technical experts, intergovernmental agencies, the national government, the local government, and, of course, the local private sector. It makes a lot of sense if there can be institutional arrangements that facilitate discourse among them while allowing the financiers to also have a smaller group where they work out financial details. Secondly, the financiers are increasingly aware that the involvement of these stakeholders upfront on a project will facilitate implementation. There is nothing that costs as much money as delays in implementation of a project. Thus it makes not only political sense but also financial sense to try to involve these people. But mechanisms for proper involvement need to be more worked out. We haven't had too many examples of those in matters pertaining to cultural heritage. There is one—downtown Beirut after the war, where homeowners and others were given shares in a publicly held corporation that took charge of developing parts of the downtown. This mechanism, where you have cultural heritage embedded in the middle of historic cities or growing cities, may be a way of doing that.
Bandarin: The perception of the private sector needs to be changed. For the moment, the developers and funders of large-scale projects believe the conservation community to be inflexible, capable only of imposing an archaic vision of heritage conservation. They associate conservationists with activists, unwilling to negotiate. We also have to face a degree of skepticism because we appear to be very dispersed. Much would be gained from acting in a more coordinated fashion.
Whalen: In that context, how can the conservation community become better at engaging and securing partners in those kinds of activities?
Serageldin: The conservation community must be seen by investors as people who are coming in with ideas and proposals, not just objections. Take the city of Alexandria, where I now live. There are many buildings that date from the 19th and 20th centuries—villas that were part of the cosmopolitan heritage of Alexandria. When the new investment boom started a few years ago, investors said, "Okay, I own this piece of land, my grandfather had this house. I'm going to tear it down, build an apartment block, and create jobs." The government was sensitive to their appeal for waivers and exceptions. In response, many of the conservationists went to court to block them. Is simply saying no to new investment in a city that needs it a sufficient response—or do we have an alternative? We need to be saying, "Look, let's develop an area together, and we will show you how some sites can be protected. We can have swaps of land that involve buildings that are not as important to us. We can arrange triangulation deals. We can be flexible with you guys. If you enhance this built heritage, it creates a nicer environment for the whole city, and it doesn't have to be an expensive investment." These are the kinds of things that we have to start thinking more about right now.
Whalen: Francesco, in the work of the World Heritage Center, can you point to an instance where a group of partners have come together and it's made a difference?
Bandarin: A big example of this activity is what we did to protect the ecosystem in the Congo. That involved the conservation of an important natural heritage and of the habitats of endangered species, and it can be considered an interesting model. We had very generous support from the United Nations Foundation, and that allowed us to create partnerships with other international non-governmental organizations [NGOs]. We federated a large number of institutions, each one playing a different role—some like us, with more of a political interface, and others more involved with field action. This operation was extremely successful. It's still under way, but we're managing to increase the protection of these places in a situation that is still difficult, due to the conflict. In my experience, very few examples like these exist in the cultural heritage world. Perhaps we should reflect on why the world of cultural heritage protection is fragmented into isolated groups that can seldom create the much-needed critical mass.
Serageldin: It is a problem. Whenever the area involves natural heritage, it is easier to get a response and find new ways to solutions. That is not the case for cultural heritage. As a consequence, the projects are much smaller and less effective.
Stanley-Price: To state the obvious, the degree of cultural difference between potential partners and the degree to which it is allowed to emerge have a strong impact on success. One would expect that within science, scientists of whatever background are focused on the research. They're pretty well in agreement about what they're trying to achieve. In field projects, again, the partners are probably pretty well agreed on what they're trying to achieve. But if a partner is away from his or her home and in a different cultural context, there may be some difficulty in adapting to that context. Once you get involved in international initiatives, the potential for cultural differences to emerge is much greater. Although some of the same factors might be there in natural heritage preservation, in cultural heritage we especially have to face these challenges of potential cultural differences.
Serageldin: That's true, but it's the clarity of the operation and the objectives that are important. To the extent that cultural heritage initiatives typically involve a wide range of issues that go beyond the access of people to a particular site, they seem to be much more complicated. There are many more actors involved, and as a result, it becomes that much more difficult to put these partnerships together. Natural heritage sites are also protected in many ways by the galvanization of the international environmental movement, which is very powerful. If you recall, we did a lot of work on environmental economics over many years that ultimately led to the creation of the Global Environment Facility [GEF], which helps developing countries fund projects and programs to protect the environment. We have not yet been able to create a cultural facility similar to the GEF because we don't have the support of a global movement behind it.
Whalen: Was there a specific point in time or an event in cultural heritage conservation when partnerships became important and more necessary in a way they hadn't in the past?
Bandarin: I think the beginning was the project to save the monuments in Nubia [moving the Egyptian temples at Abu Simbel]. That was a major international partnership involving UNESCO, several national governments, and many private enterprises.
Serageldin: Nubia is a good example. There was a very clear objective that everyone agreed on at the time.
Bandarin: More recently, Bamiyan, made famous by the destruction of the Buddha statues, has received a lot of international support—it was inscribed in the World Heritage List. Afghanistan and Iraq are also recent cases where we see partnerships between governments and civil society. Whenever you reach the hearts of people, then the reaction is positive. The question is why we don't get the same level of attention as the environmental protection movement.
Whalen: Are you suggesting, then, that we are best at assembling partnerships when crises present themselves?
Serageldin: Well, a crisis does create a sense of urgency, but by and large I think I agree with Francesco—the big challenge is creating a broad agreement. I go back to the GEF as an example. It was an agreement on a concept and then four areas where these funds could be applied that enabled the partnerships around the world to come together. It was not specifically a crisis.
Stanley-Price: When faced with a particular crisis—whether it's Nubia or Angkor Wat or Bamiyan—there are common objectives, and people discover that the best way to achieve these is to work in partnerships. When Tim asked when partnerships became important, I thought back to 1946 and the establishment of UNESCO, a new intergovernmental organization, and in that same year and in the very same city, ICOM, an international NGO. Right from the start, they recognized that they had a lot in common and could benefit from working together. ICOM, of course, played a large role in the international campaign in Nubia. I would suggest that another reason why partnerships develop is that different organizations find that they have a lot in common, and rather than working in parallel, they collaborate.
Jeffrey Levin: What steps can conservation organizations take to encourage substantive partnerships, even when there isn't a crisis to stimulate them? What sort of actions should conservation organizations be considering and taking?
Serageldin: They need to take a page from the environmental movement and make a strong case for the importance of world heritage, saying, "Look, we need to conserve this, we're going to need investments, and we're going to need ways of doing it. Let us agree, as we did with the GEF, that this is the case; second, that we need grant funds to make it work; and third, that we'll limit the scope of application to certain mandated areas and not others." That kind of groundwork doesn't happen overnight. And it doesn't happen during a crisis. It requires a lot of effort and investment in institution building. They should start small, show that they have used the funds wisely and effectively, and then get those funds replenished and increased. A number of mechanisms used in the environmental sphere have fairly obvious applications in the cultural heritage sphere.
Stanley-Price: I would agree that we can develop very strong partnerships—not simply when faced with a crisis but as a result of proactively planning long-term programs in the same way that GEF has been doing. Regarding developing long-term proactive programs, I might mention something we worked on with the World Heritage Center—the Africa 2009 program. This is a 10-year-long program with clear objectives, many partners, and a steering committee that is majority African and that makes the decisions.
Bandarin: Partnership has been an issue for me since I started this job. I thought that being dependent on governmental funds was insufficient, so I tried to move into other areas. This has been relatively successful, but mostly with foundations—especially U.S. foundations, because they are large and have a long grant-giving philanthropic tradition and experience working with public institutions. Even being based in Europe, it's easier for me to have a dialogue with a U.S. foundation than with private institutions on this side of the ocean. To work with private enterprise requires 10 times more resources and energy than working with a foundation, because they have a different profile and there's always some link with the commercial aspect that requires a careful negotiation. The other type of partner that we don't deal with much—but should—is the public at large. The concept of extending membership to the general public to generate resources—and not only in financial terms—is important. But organizing a public membership scheme is a big job. There are few examples in the world of this kind of large public participation in conservation efforts, such as the British National Trust or the World Wildlife Fund.
Stanley-Price: So the answer is that, in the end, working with governments is in fact the easiest?
Bandarin: Absolutely. Not to mention the amount of resources they generate. I may be a little biased because I work in an intergovernmental institution, but in conservation, the public sector has been more inclined to support our activities than the private sector. So emphasis must be placed on efforts aimed at engaging the private sector.
Serageldin: I do believe that the private sector has a role to play. They have become the primary investors almost everywhere. Given the enormous impact of the private sector with open and increasing trade and cross-border investments, it is essential that we find mechanisms that involve them. It's harder because we haven't worked with them as long. We need to find ingenious ways of making the private and public sectors work together. Otherwise we will be locked into a situation that is out of step with forces of change around the world.
Whalen: We started out the conversation by noting that the resources for conservation are small. Do you think that because there are so few resources and so few of us working in this field, we're unable to pursue things in the same way that environmental organizations do?
Stanley-Price: We're few on the ground, but at the same time, there's an extraordinary amount of duplication in the field at the international level and in countries that are going through rapid development and where cultural heritage is at risk. We actually announced in 2001 that one of our strategic directions was to maximize impact by reducing the amount of duplication. The resources put into conservation could be better coordinated and go a little further. I'll tell you an anecdote of a session just before a meeting that took place at ICCROM about three years ago. An international group of people was sitting around the table, and two people discovered just by chatting that they had been working in the same country, in the same city, on the same building doing restoration without being aware of each other. Anyway, we are seizing the bull by the horns, and in two regions of the world, we are developing a database of projects that we know involve an international component. So there will be a consultable database about what is already going on in a country so that people know at least what similar initiatives already exist before proposing their own.
Bandarin: I am sure that one of the reasons the cultural side is weaker than the natural heritage sphere is because we coordinate less.
Levin: Ismaïl, you said that the clarity of objectives is critical. Is one of the challenges finding objectives that can be shared by conservation organizations with the private sector, so that going into these partnerships, there are not only clear objectives but also ones that both parties can fully embrace?
Serageldin: That is correct. And the way to do that is to recognize that one of the biggest threats we have to whatever we are trying to conserve—either natural or cultural heritage—is development, which is driven largely by the private sector. What we want to do is to rechannel that development in a way that protects the heritage and that convinces the private sector behind development that they have an interest in having the heritage preserved. If you have a beautiful historic site not far from your development, it will enhance the quality of your development. If you maintain well a historic or a natural heritage site, it enhances whatever development you do. If you rip it apart, you may get short-term benefit, but it will be at the expense of long-term gains. This is the kind of dialogue that we need between the public and the private sectors in order to engage them in a more constructive form of investment. The key player in that will be the government, because regulatory mechanisms create the structure within which private decision making is done.
Bandarin: I agree that the governments have to play the central role in establishing the framework within which we should all work together.
Whalen: How do those of us in the cultural heritage conservation sector advance that agenda?
Serageldin: I think the starting point would be for us to convince the governments—which are our natural partners in many of these things—that they must take that step as well, and that we need to bring the private sector to the table.
Stanley-Price: We're talking a lot about advocacy, putting across the idea that heritage is a value—and that can start early in life in education. For instance, when people study archaeology or conservation but don't pursue them as their careers, that's thought to be a loss. But that depends on where those people end up. People who studied conservation years ago and then went on to other work are potentially very valuable allies. We need far more of them. The other thing I'd suggest in order to convince more private sector developers of the value of giving attention to heritage— and perhaps some of this exists already—are documented case studies where heritage protection has indeed added value in terms of a development. There is a need to gather these studies together and to disseminate them much more widely.
Bandarin: We have few private sector partners. However, a significant commitment was made last year by Shell. Shortly after the International Council on Mining and Metals acknowledged the importance of natural World Heritage sites and announced that they considered these "no-go" areas, Shell was the first petroleum company to also recognize the value of these protected zones and the need to keep drilling clear from natural World Heritage properties. While this is something that could not be accepted under the World Heritage Convention—such activity in World Heritage sites can threaten site conservation—it is very positive for the industry itself to have recognized the value of these areas. Other partners from the private sector are perhaps more traditional. But here again, it's difficult to raise cash contributions for large-scale, long-term conservation projects. Most of our partners prefer to contribute in-kind resources. Hewlett-Packard, for instance, has contributed to the establishment and maintenance of our information management system by donating equipment.
Whalen: If you look at a successful partnership that you've had, what elements stand out?
Bandarin: A successful partnership is one where the partners don't become competitive but are complementary. Very often we partner with institutions that have a completely different institutional and operational nature. Because of that difference, we can easily frame the respective roles into a complementary scheme. For instance, we usually take a larger role in dealing with the politics of the situation, while the partner contributes more technical expertise. We provide the visibility factor of the World Heritage Convention at the international scale, while our partners can develop links with the local people.
Whalen: Can you think of any specific examples, Nicholas?
Stanley-Price: I'm talking generally from the experience of developing partnerships. But I would hope our own partnership with the GCI is based on that. It sounds idealistic, but those are the sorts of virtues of a partnership that make it work.
Whalen: Maybe the notion is an idealistic one, but it's one that we've all found makes us better.
Stanley-Price: It sounds idealistic because so often we think of partnerships in terms of persuading someone to part with money. That's why I suggested earlier that when we talk about partners, we do so in a broad way, including expertise partners and partners who provide access to a site.
Bandarin: Tim, what is your view? You've asked us many questions, but maybe you have something to say, as you also work with partnerships.
Whalen: Well, as an organization in the United States, we're somewhat anomalous. As a private organization, we lack the government mandate that organizations such as yours have. At the same time, the fact that we are not necessarily thought of as a political organization opens doors for us. Our most successful partnerships are ones where we carefully sort out upfront what our common goals are. One of the best examples of that is the work we've done for many years in China. We were talking about how cultural differences sometimes get in the way of success. Indeed, there are many differences between us here in Los Angeles and our colleagues in China, but that in no way has impeded our success. I would point to China as a place where we've done well sorting out the aims and goals upfront.
Stanley-Price: That's an interesting example, Tim. As you say, despite the obvious cultural differences, this partnership works because it is based on mutual respect and transparency and accountability, and both sides see the benefit.
Bandarin: Tim, what would you do to improve conservation partnerships?
Whalen: In the past, one of the things we've talked about here is how the conservation community can come together to carefully look at how we might share resources and partner in more effective ways. The themes that we've been discussing could form the basis of a formal meeting that tries to get at the heart of what makes partnerships work.
Stanley-Price: Obviously one of the desired outcomes might be making it clear that partnerships should not be looked at solely from the point of view of fund-raising. And another aspect of what we're discussing here is the decline and sometimes consolidation of various conservation organizations. Many international NGOs are feeling the stress nowadays economically and are consolidating, going back to core values, changing their structure. These are interesting trends worth exploring.
Bandarin: I appreciate having this discussion, because we struggle with these issues every day. Each morning I come to the office and try to develop the network of partners—it's my daily struggle. I don't think that we can do the job alone. That is impossible. Maybe there was an exaggerated optimism in our founding fathers. But the job of preserving heritage has grown too big, and we can't do it alone.