Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy

Human Wellbeing and Sustainable Livelihoods

The Human Wellbeing and Sustainable Livelihoods (HWSL) Theme focuses on the concept of wellbeing to inform improved design and evaluation of conservation and development interventions.
Women near a well in the Saloum delta, constructed by the project to provide water, Senegal
Theme Chair
Neil Dawson, Chair - Theme on Human Wellbeing and Sustainable Livelihoods  
Neil Dawson

The term human well-being refers to people’s ability to live a life they value and can comprise cultural heritage, health, access to land and natural resources as well as more material factors such as income-generating opportunities. What constitutes human wellbeing differs for each group and will reflect its history, local culture and norms, political and socio-economic conditions, geography and ecological circumstances. Discussions or research about wellbeing can therefore reveal different perspectives, experiences, values, concerns and aspirations, which in turn can stimulate improved understanding of people’s changing relationships with nature and possible innovations in policies or processes to benefit both nature and people.

Main Areas of Work
There is increasing acknowledgement that when conservation respects local people’s ways of knowing, being and doing things and embeds those in strategies and programs, better conservation outcomes will result. And if not, considerable harms to local people can occur. This has led to the increasing prevalence of social goals and demands for greater social inclusion in conservation policy and programs. Yet for this idea to become accepted in and to shape mainstream conservation practice requires elaboration of wellbeing and related concepts, generation of evidence linking wellbeing, governance and conservation outcomes, and effective communication including development of guidance for practitioners. This is the overarching goal of HWSL.
The specific HWSL objectives are guided by two identified evidence gaps that inhibit innovation in conservation governance.

1. A review of the concepts of wellbeing and sustainable livelihoods, including literature and case studies focusing on indigenous and local communities in different contexts, highlighting implications for conservation policy and practice.

2. Investigate links between wellbeing, governance and conservation effectiveness, highlighting implications for conservation policy and practice.

To work towards these objectives we are:

  • Conducting a review of the concept of wellbeing, including new information gathered with indigenous communities from different continents about their perspectives.

  • Forming a network of academics and practitioners, partly through involvement in international workshops, keen to explore links between protected area governance (including approaches to equity), social outcomes and conservation effectiveness. This may include an international workshop to explore conceptual links between protected area governance (including approaches to wellbeing and equity), social outcomes and conservation effectiveness, to inform a subsequent evidence synthesis.

  • Seeking to identify case studies of specific protected and conserved areas with progressive governance, and where practitioners/stakeholders are keen to collaborate through research activities to produce findings that may be collated and communicated to a wide audience.

  • Seeking funding and collaboration with complementary funded projects to support these objectives.

Some relevant resources and ongoing work:
Guidelines on Governance and Equity for Protected Areas

The CBD's SBSTTA 22 has recommended voluntary guidelines on governance and equity for protected areas, an important step in mainstreaming social objectives in conservation practice. CEESP has supported HWSL’s participation in this work. See section on Protected Areas and Other Measures for Enhanced Conservation and Management among other decisions reported at

Special issue of Ecology and Society - A brave new world: integrating well-being and conservation, 2018, includes contributions from several HWSL members.

Why should you join HWSL
HWSL comprises a growing group of over 200 practitioners, civil society activists and academics from over 60 countries working at the interface between conservation and human wellbeing. They bring experience and expertise in how people’s lives (including marginalised and vulnerable social groups) interact with ecosystems, insights into how this understanding may inform more effective and fair governance as well as how interventions may impact wellbeing, poverty, rights and environmental behaviour.

HWSL seeks to work at and influence policy and practice at different levels, from exploring, communicating and empowering local community perspectives, activities at regional and national policy levels, through to involvement in international policy debates, including the Convention on Biological Diversity, Sustainable Development Goals and the Convention on Climate Change.

We hope you will be inspired to join CEESP and the HWSL theme by filling out this online application Membership enables you to become part of the network with the option to contribute as much as you like or as little as your time allows.

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