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The Equator Prize: Recognizing Biodiversity Champions


Equator Initiative brings together United Nations, governments, civil society, businesses and grassroots organizations to recognize and advance local sustainable development solutions for people, nature and resilient communities. Through UNDP’s flagship bi-annual Equator Prize, Equator Initiative has successfully advocated for community-based solutions to global problems (such as biodiversity loss), by shining a spotlight on local communities and indigenous peoples’ efforts to protect and promote the sustainable use of natural resources, while charting a path towards sustainable development.

The launch of Equator Initiative was guided by three important observations in advance of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development. First, was that the greatest concentrations of both biodiversity and acute poverty coincide in countries in the Equator belt. The hypothesis was that this overlap created high potential for ‘win-win’ outcomes where biological wealth could be effectively managed to advance sustainable livelihoods. The second observation, was that leadership was coming from unlikely places: local and indigenous communities, working with few resources and facing multiple barriers; they were at the forefront of some of the most catalytic and pioneering sustainable development solutions, often through innovative partnerships with local government and the private sector. Third, was the observation that the traditional ‘north-south’ modality of knowledge and technology transfer for development was no longer sufficient. The distinct ecological, health and livelihood challenges of the south called for a new kind of ‘south-south’ exchange of experience.

Nowadays, Equator Initiative’s reach goes beyond the Equator belt, and the breadth of Equator Prize winner’s work includes, but is not limited to, biodiversity conservation. It encompasses agriculture and food security; sustainable land management; sustainable energy; access to water and sanitation; mitigation and adaptation to climate change; forest management; marine and coastal management, among others.

The Equator Prize is unique for recognizing community achievement (rather than that of individuals). Each winning community is awarded a monetary prize of $10,000, and their best practices get documented in the form of case studies. Once winning communities become part of the Equator Initiative network, they are supported to take part in policy dialogues and capacity building workshops around the world, to promote peer-to peer exchanges and sharing of best practices among grassroots groups, policy makers, private sector, and academia, among others. The dialogues provide a platform for communities to share their traditional knowledge on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, as well as a space for the voices of local leaders to be heard.

The Equator Prize Award Ceremony is a high level event, attracting the attention of important policy makers and media outlets from around the world. It has become a key platform to share the Equator Initiative’s messages, and a strategic opportunity to raise awareness of environmental and development challenges (including biodiversity loss). Moreover, Equator Initiative/Equator Prize is a strong brand inspiring public interest and support.

Effective multifaceted communication has contributed to partnership building, and strong communication strategies have been paramount for Equator Initiative to demonstrate the value of its contributions to biodiversity conservation and human development. This case study highlights the communication strategies used by Equator Initiative, to develop and promote the Equator Prize as a strong household name.

Problem, challenge or context: 

This case study addresses Aichi Biodiversity Target that states: “By 2020, at the latest, people are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably. Understanding, awareness and appreciation of the diverse values of biodiversity, underpin the willingness of individuals to make the necessary changes and actions and to create the “political will” for governments to act”. The Equator Prize is an excellent tool for globally recognizing champions of biodiversity. It can help raise awareness on best practices from local communities and indigenous peoples on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity; on the importance of biodiversity and ecosystem services, and the need to preserve biodiversity to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Specific elements of components: 

The value of biodiversity and the associated ecosystem services it provides to humanity are not widely acknowledged or understood; and, as a result, its economic, social, cultural and environmental importance is often poorly recognized. The Equator Prize helps audiences around the world understand the importance of biodiversity conservation and the sustainable use of biodiversity as a means of reducing poverty. It does so by showcasing best practices from local communities and indigenous peoples -- whose livelihoods depend on the sustainable use of natural resources. It also highlights the importance of maintaining healthy ecosystems to ensure the continued provision of the ecosystem services that we all depend on.

The action taken: 

Below is a brief summary of Equator Initiative’s communication strategies to promote the Equator Prize:

  1. Building brand identity: Equator Initiative has developed itself into a recognized brand, inspiring public interest and support for almost 15 years. To date, 208 community-based organizations from 70 different countries have been recognized with the Equator Prize.
  2. Showcasing partnerships: Equator Initiative’s strength lies in its partnership model. It has struck innovative partnerships with governments (at different levels), donors, other UN agencies, NGOs, private sector and foundations. Strategic communications on a variety of fronts have helped strengthen Equator Initiative’s core message and development programs.
  3. Advocacy and Outreach:
    • Clear Messages: Equator Initiative advocates for greater recognition of indigenous peoples and local communities’ (IPLCs) role in the protection of natural resources and sustainable development, as well as of the importance of conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.
    • Promoting behavioral change: The Equator Prize model aims to strikes emotional cords of Equator Prize Award Ceremony attendees, through the face-to-face interaction of the latter with the Equator Prize winners, and after they hear their stories. Equator Initiative tries to use this emotional connection to prompt behavioral change of policy makers, donors, private sector and other relevant stakeholders. - Equator Prize National Award Ceremonies: organized by UNDP Country Offices around the world (and after the international award ceremony), these celebrations recognize the work of Equator Prize winners in their own countries, and help raise awareness (among national and local government representatives, civil society and media) of the environmental and development challenges winners face in their communities.
    • Reaching out to multiple stakeholders: The Equator Prize process - from the global call for nominations, to the selection process, all the way to the award ceremony - entails a series of activities to raise awareness of environmental and development challenges, as well as the local solutions that exist around the world to address them. Multiple stakeholders take part in the process including grassroots organizations, NGOs, UN agencies, governments and academia. Stakeholders may include nominators; members of the Technical Advisory Committee (in charge of selecting the winners), or people taking part in the Award Ceremony (such as celebrities, thought leaders, governments officials, and other dignitaries).
    • Creating a movement: Equator Initiative uses campaign-like tactics to raise awareness of the issues, promote the Equator Prize, and prompt behavioral change. Advocacy tools and strategies used by Equator Initiative include: websites, social media, traditional media, printed publications, participation of dignitaries and/or celebrities in Equator Initiative events, and ensuring Equator Initiative presence at international fora.
    • Media and public relations: Equator Initiative has worked with public relations and communications companies to raise awareness of issues and access mainstream media. Multiple mainstream media outlets have covered Equator Prize Award Ceremonies and reported on the winners’ work in multiple languages (Al-Jazeera, BBC, Univision, Associated Press, Mongabay, Herald Sun, National Geographic, among others).
    • Social media: Equator Initiative has an active presence in various social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo and YouTube. UNDP corporate social media is also used for advocacy and outreach purposes during the Equator Prize process. For example: Equator Initiative used Twitter and Vimeo to launch a climate change awareness- raising in the lead up to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change signing ceremony. To this end, Equator Initiative released tweets and short films showcasing the twenty-one Equator Prize 2015 winners: one per day, for twenty-one days.
    • Websites: Equator Initiative has a dedicated website to share material on Equator Prize winners’ work or report on Equator Initiative activities ( Equator Initiative also has a dedicated website for WIN - World Network of Indigenous Peoples and Local Community Land and Sea Managers ( a network that brings together land and sea managers to share knowledge and practices in ecosystem management, protection of the environment and sustainable livelihoods. UNDP also has a corporate website ( and a blog entitled ‘My Perspective’, occasionally used by Equator Initiative to share information with a wider audience.
    • Newsletters: Equator Initiative has a quarterly newsletter entitled “Between the Lines” designed to showcase Equator Initiative’s work and that of the Equator Prize winners. Equator Initiative hosts the WIN Secretariat and as such is also in charge of producing a bi-weekly WIN newsletter called WIN-Net, designed to share funding opportunities, news, and highlight community action in biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. Both newsletters are translated into French, Spanish and Portuguese.
    • Star power: Celebrity figures with broad and global audiences, have the ability to influence constituents that would otherwise remain outside Equator Initiative’s reach; so engaging with celebrities has been an important advocacy best practice utilized by Equator Initiative. Alec Baldwin was Master of Ceremonies for the Equator Prize 2015 Award Ceremony; Edward Norton and Connie Briton performed this role in 2014. Other celebrities such as primatologist Jane Goodall, or Grammy Award-nominated musical duo from Mali, Amadou and Mariam, have also helped winners garner high visibility and attract media attention.
    • Knowledge products: Videos, case study material and other publications help raise awareness of the importance of biodiversity conservation and its sustainable use. Videos are a key component of the Equator Prize ceremony and the knowledge products are crucial to continue spreading the word on the role of local communities and indigenous in protecting biodiversity and promoting sustainable development
      • Storytelling: Equator Initiative writes and disseminates compelling human-interest stories from local communities and indigenous peoples at the frontlines of global environmental challenges. The stories in the Equator Initiative online case study database as well as the video library contain relevant technical information about the communities and their efforts to protect natural resources and promote sustainable development.
      • Videos: Equator Initiative has created short films and photo-stories on the work of the Equator Prize winners ( Videos are good tools to get short messages across and inspire audiences who are unable to meet Equator Prize winners (and other community members) in person.
      • Online case study database: All Equator Prize winners have case studies documenting their work ( This user-friendly online tool allows audiences around the globe to easily access best practices on various issues. Best policies featured in the data base can be replicated by communities, scaled-up by governments, or taught by academics.
      • Translated knowledge products: Equator Prize winners’ case studies are available in over 40 languages, considerably increasing the reach of the Equator Initiative’s knowledge products. (Each case study is translated into the winning group’s local language).
      • Publications: Equator Initiative has released multiple publications ( showcasing community-based best practices on biodiversity conservation; climate change; land management; community-based action in small island developing states; forest management, and a toolkit to support conservation by indigenous people and local communities.
    • Corporate advocacy products: corporate communications products are used in advocacy campaigns to inform donors and partners about Equator Initiative’s work. Such products include facts sheets, videos on Equator Prize winners, reports, promotional materials, and multimedia products.
Key lessons learned: 
  • Strategic communications promotes awareness and support of Equator Initiative’s efforts with governments, UN agencies, media, private sector, and the general public.
  • Effective multi-faceted communication cultivates partnerships and resources for implementing development programs. Partnerships enrich initiatives, connect them to vital funding, and widen their spheres of influence. ➢ Local collective action provides a unique lens on sustainable development, and offers national governments and the international community a lens on the drivers, conditions and regulatory vacuums leading to biodiversity loss and development challenges. ➢ Benefits produced by community-based management of ecosystems are not just environmental, but are economic, social, and cultural.
  • Community-based action can deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • Communication is a powerful agent of behavior change. Successful local initiatives use networking, knowledge exchange, technology and media to change attitudes, communicate incentives, catalyze collective action, and replicate best practices.

Notable communication trends among Equator Prize winners include:

  • Peer-to-peer exchange and site visits for the transfer of best practices; 

  • Use of project sites as ‘centers of excellence,’ in the form of learning farms, demonstration plots, and training facilities; 

  • Use of extension services, including programs to ‘train the trainers;’ 
 • Use of culturally appropriate communication strategies, such as festivals, theatre, music and dance; 

  • Innovative uses of media and technology, including GPS mapping, radio, and video;
  • Establishment of knowledge networks for conducting formal and informal information exchanges, trainings and research;
  • Use of social-media to build communications partnerships, and engagement of youth.
Impacts and outcomes: 
  • Equator Initiative has had 8 Equator Prize cycles since its inception, and has awarded 208 prizes to community-based organizations in 70 different countries around the world.
  • The Equator Prize has become a platform to raise awareness about environmental and development challenges ( ,200 people attended the 2015 ceremony at Theatre Mogador in Paris, and 2,400 people attended the 2014 ceremony at Lincoln Center in New York).
  • The Equator Prize is a well-known brand and has managed to secure funding for 8 cycles.
  • Nominations for the Equator Prize are accepted in 16 different languages.
  • Over ,400 Equator Prize nominations were received in 2015, from 126 different countries.
  • The Equator Prize winners’ case study material is available in over 40 languages online. ➢ Equator Initiative has produced 8 publications showcasing best practices.
  • Equator Initiative newsletters are sent in 4 different languages: WIN-Net has 2,619 subscribers and Between the Lines over 20K.
  • Equator Initiative has ,085 Twitter followers and 2,972 Facebook followers. The UNDP Corporate Twitter account has 948K followers.
  • Equator Initiative videos on Vimeo have over 695K loads and over 43K plays.
Contact details: 
Equator Initiative, Bureau for Policy and Progamme Support, United Nations Development Programme, 304 East 45th Street, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10017
USA, Tel: + 646.781.4023, E-mail:, Web:
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