Vance G Martin is the president of the WILD Foundation, an international conservation organisation. He is an expert in international nature conservation and wilderness protection, and specialises in bridging the interests of people and nature through culture, communications, science, and policy.

In this interview with IDR, Vance discusses the importance of people- and culture-based models of development, the mistakes that the environment movement has made, and the need to mobilise people to reverse climate breakdown.

India is going down a certain path when it comes to development and ecology. Given your experience in conservation work, do you think we are making the right choices?
There’s a Western paradigm of development, that I believe ‘modern’ India has accepted. This was not the case when I first came to India in the 1970s, when there was still a strong Gandhian ethic. I believe India has strayed from that ethic, even though it likes to trade on it. But India has so much more to draw from to create a better development model.

The Western model of development throws a lot of money at a problem. It defines the solution, even though it often doesn’t define the problem very well. Then it decides the time frame within which it will execute the solution. That paradigm is not people- or culture-based; it is GDP-based and normally anti-culture. For example, we see it when suddenly there is a plan to build 10,000 kilometres of new roads, or 200 new dams.

How can we move away from this paradigm of development?
What we need to do is turn this paradigm on its head, and adopt a culture-based development model. The first step towards that is to not throw money at a problem; instead first we must create partnerships. And let us not call the people we work with ‘stakeholders’. They are partners, and they must be respected as partners. When you use the word stakeholder, it indicates that you are still the one in charge.

Read the full article about the environmental movement in India by Saahil Kejriwal and Smarinita Shetty at India Development Review.