Human Wellbeing and Sustainable Livelihoods

The IUCN CEESP Human Wellbeing and Sustainable Livelihoods (HWSL) Theme focuses on the concept of wellbeing to inform improved design and evaluation of conservation and development interventions.


Conservation efforts that recognise Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ (IPLCs) ways of knowing, being and doing, and organise around those values, practices and institutions, are the most effective at conserving nature. The HWSL Theme is a global network of experts exploring and communicating the complexity of Indigenous and local communities’ wellbeing and their role in addressing global biodiversity loss.

When conservation fails to respect Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ ways of knowing, being and doing, considerable harms to local people occur. This represents a persistent gap between, on one hand aspirational social principles about rights and equity in conservation policies and programs, and on the other hand, the ways in which conservation initiatives are most commonly designed and implemented by governments, NGOs and private actors.  

For ideas about locally-led conservation to become accepted and to shape mainstream practice requires improved articulation and comprehension of wellbeing, Indigenous and local knowledge systems and their crucial role in conservation. This includes producing novel and robust evidence of the complex links between the wellbeing of IPLCs, governance and effective conservation. between wellbeing and justice, particularly forms of intercultural recognition, to conservation outcomes.

The HWSL Theme comprises a global network of professionals who seek to explore, elaborate and communicate these relationships and their profound implications for conservation policy and practice. Ultimately HWSL aims to provide guidance on how to realise radical changes in the way conservation is designed and implemented globally, particularly how to integrate local values and wellbeing, to enhance justice and intercultural recognition for IPLCs, and in turn enhance the social and ecological outcomes that result. 



The overarching goal of The CEESP Theme on Human Wellbeing and Sustainable Livelihoods (HWSL) is to produce or synthesize evidence of just and effective conservation approaches, to highlight instances of injustice, to advance understanding, develop best practice guidance and advocate for progressive change towards more equitable and effective policy and practice.

Specifically we aim to:

  1. Promote the principle (and finding from HWSL projects) that conservation is most effective when based on recognition of Indigenous and local knowledge systems and customary institutions. We aim to cooperate with other IUCN groups and members, civil society organisations, academics and private and public organisations to promote shifts towards more equitable conservation through empowered stewardship by IPLCs. HWSL will engage in networking events, presentations, blogs and articles, media and advocacy at different scales and across policy spheres including climate, biodiversity, agriculture and sustainable development.

  2. Compile case studies of innovative conservation practice where the wellbeing of Indigenous Peoples and local communities has become a central objective, to enhance understanding of the processes through which site level conservation initiatives may become more equitable and effective. In 2022, we aim to produce an issue of the CEESP journal ‘Policy Matters’ on transforming conservation through focusing on the wellbeing of Indigenous and local communities.

  3. Review evidence on assessing the social impacts of conservation in different circumstances, by synthesizing the range of approaches described in published literature and practical reports. Aim to express the importance and enhance capacity of conservation practitioners to capture a range of subjective aspects of wellbeing beyond material factors, including social relations, cultural impacts and customary institutions. We will produce practitioner guidance and a scientific article on the topic.

Featured projects & Initiatives 

The role of Indigenous peoples and local communities in effective and equitable conservation. Ecology and Society

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Neil Dawson

Neil Dawson