Podcast: Victoria Price | Vision Wild

This week we’re talking to Victoria Price from Vision Wild, a new organization which designs, implements and evaluates wildlife conservation projects. In this podcast we discuss how to create a successful project and share tips for how to fundraise for conservation projects. We also explore the importance of project management skills for career development.

If you want to build successful projects and raise some money, you’re in the right place. Enjoy!



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Discuss Vision Wild Podcast

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Audio Transcript

Victoria Price: My name is Victoria Price and earlier this year, I started my own organization called Vision Wild and we provide advice to conservation organizations.

Nick: Right okay. So, what sort of advice do you provide to conservationist? What kind of areas of support? 

Victoria Price: The main things I focus on are things that I have strengths in. So, I’m actually adding value. So, we really focus on project management skills, but also really key things that conservation organizations often need help with, which is fundraising and also project monitoring. And so yeah, that’s where we really focus on.

Nick: Okay, so I mean, I guess, are you mainly focusing also on charities? Are you supporting, you know, government conservationists or other types of, you know, academic conservationist? Where are you focusing at the moment? So, you still very young, still very startup? Like what? 

Victoria Price: So, I guess we’re kind of really focusing on charities, but also, sort of community organizations or landowners who want help with planning projects. I think one of the good things about being a startup is probably that you are kind of on that smaller scale and you can provide really cost-effective services to those people that might not have a lot of funds.

Nick: Right got you. And funding is such a key issue, isn’t it? So fundraising support, project development, project management. I guess in terms of like, how kind of conservation charity work, that’s kind of bread and butter stuff, isn’t it? So, you develop your project, you make sure you understand what the problem is, I guess, and you develop some solutions around that and package that up for a donor. And then you pitch it to a donor normally in a proposal form, I guess.  

Victoria Price: Yeah.

Nick: And then hopefully, if funds are secured and then the project is implemented exactly often not by the fundraiser actually invited by a conservation member of staff who helped to develop so maybe if you can just kind of talk through that process if you like. So, if there’s a conservationist out there, and they’ve got an issue that they’d like to tackle, whatever that might be. You know, how do you go about developing a really good project? 

Victoria Price: Well, that is a good question. So, I guess one of the really common trends in conservation now is looking for something called a theory of change. A lot of organizations are using this, especially in the international sector. And what that means is basically, you are trying to describe the change you’re trying to make. So that what you’re trying to do with your conservation project, which sounds very easy, but then from that point of knowing what that change is, it’s also describing the steps to achieve that change. So that sounds very jargon-y. But you’re basically…

Nick: Give us an example of a theory of change, and maybe some steps. 

Victoria Price: Okay, so you might have a landscape that you’re working in right now and your vision for the future might be that you have a very healthy wetland system with, say, beavers or and a happy community supporting the projects around so that’s kind of a typical kind of vision, you would probably find. And then, by defining the steps you want to change you’ll be talking about the current problems. So, at the moment, the water is not very clean because there’s runoff from the land and there are no beavers. So, some of the steps to change might be beaver reintroduction, or working with farmers to reduce runoff very specific to the change you’re wanting to get to. And you might be really far away from all of those problems. So, it can call, you have almost a web of things that you can work on and you don’t have to work on everything. And that’s a really simplified version of what it might look like. But basically what I do is working with people to help them identify their vision and identify what outcomes they can work on.

Nick: And, interesting what you said they’re about working with people. So, as a project developer, you are wearing that hat at the moment. Is that something you do in collaboration with other people who have an interest in the project? 

Victoria Price: Of course, I think one of the reasons I set up Vision Wild is because I’ve been working in the international sector for a while and it’s a really clear recognition of how integral local communities are to making sure the conservation project is a success. And I’m sure anyone listening to this would probably be, I think. But that’s not really groundbreaking stuff. But in the UK, we haven’t really consulted community members as much. It’s not something that we typically have done. We invite volunteers in, but you’re not necessarily looking at work. So, I think embedding that sort of social side within every project is going to become more common and it’s something that’s really important to make sure that the project is actually sustainable. So yeah, I think any project plan should include that and its people that are interested. But you know, some projects really might need to work with people that aren’t necessarily interested as well to try and see if they can change their minds.

Nick: Right. So, in using the example of this wetland system, where we’re introducing beavers, and there’s a healthy wetland ecosystem there. I’m trying to think aloud as to who the community might be that you’re wanting or who the stakeholders I guess use the jargon, may be the nature reserve managers who else might have an interest?  

Victoria Price: I think obviously it depends on the landscape. But let’s pretend this one’s near a nature reserve already. So, already it has an established bird watching community there to go and use a nature reserve and they might be interested. Other people might be, you know, the farmers or tenant farmers whose land might be affected by the beavers being there. Other people might be business owners locally who have BMB or, you know, or somebody that wants to set up an eco-tourism project based or can figure potential there. Other people might be water users or insurance companies. So, there’s lots of different stakeholders and sometimes you need to think a little bit outside the box about who else might be affected or who else might be supportive?

Nick: Right and when you’re developing this project, you have the vision, you’ve identified the stakeholders, and you are now trying to identify the steps you need to take, maybe the timescale, maybe start putting some, you know, figures on budgets, how much is this going to cost, and what’s realistic? That sort of stuff? And how do you consult with a community like that? Is it a one to one? Do you get people together? It depends, you know. 

Victoria Price: You know, what I think a common mistake that’s made with these projects is my kind of process is more that I don’t really identify the workers in the workshop. I ask people that I work with to identify them before and I try and invite them along, whether they’re supportive or not. Because, one, I think what we realized in the conservation sector, it’s really common for us to go and sit in a room as conservationists and scientists and policymakers, perhaps sometimes if you’ve been a bit more outward looking and try and make these decisions, but if you don’t include those people that are not supportive and who are supportive from the beginning to help form the idea of the landscape that they live in, in the future it’s not going to be a shared vision. And by bringing these sorts of some of these representatives into the original workshop, you can create a vision together. And that’s one of the key things that you can do in some theory of change sessions when you’re working with people is to ask them to bring in different community members, different representatives from different departments as well who see things differently, so that you can really get a wider picture of what you’re really looking at, rather than quite the narrow scope that we’ve always worked in, in the past, which is we’ll design our projects and then we’ll try and engage this community or that community. I think it’s really essential to get them in from the outset.  

Nick: Yeah, it’s a real sort of grassroots stuff rather than sort of parachuting your solution in later. Getting value from the beginning. 

Victoria Price: Which is challenging because often these decisions are made behind closed doors. People are all this will be a great place for beavers, let’s go in. Now try and get people. I think as soon as you can get people in, the sooner, the more likely you are to get support. It won’t be easy but it’s definitely something that we should aspire to.

Nick: Yeah, yeah, more likely to succeed. So, sticking with the analogy, then how do you work at Vision Wild? How do you then take this well-formed project and turn it into something which is actually happening? How do you raise the funds? How do conservationists typically raise funds for projects like this? 

Victoria Price: Well, actually in a really similar way and the reason why I quite like using theory of change is because it’s also the way that fundraisers in larger organizations tend to think about project and how they can sell it to a donor. So, most donors are going to ask you for goals and maybe objectives or outcomes and your activities. And it’s basically using your theory of change is those things that contains all of those bits of information. So, once you’ve started doing your theory of change, and often we will put monitoring information in as well, you will have everything you need to write a narrative and write a log frame. I mean a log frame, if anybody listening is familiar with, which I’m sure many of them are, is on its own a theory of change. It’s just presented in a certain way and I think this theory of change wording or jargon can be quite confusing for a lot of people and they are like, oh, well, I don’t know how to do it, they want you know, it’s not a systematic way. So, it’s really just a way of describing your goals, your objectives and your activities in a convincing manner that shows you have thought about how they will join up.

Nick: Right, and a log frame I guess, for those who haven’t heard of it before, it’s a logical framework, right?  

Victoria Price: It’s a logical framework yeah.

 Nick: How would you explain it to your grandma? Someone who has never been to school, let’s say. 

Victoria Price: Lots of people won’t ask for this, but some larger donors will ask for something called a log frame. So, once you’ve written your proposal out at the end, often, they’ll ask for what is essentially a table and it is hard to say this in words instead of in pictures. But at the top of the table, you will have typically your goal or your target. And below those will sit three other boxes or rows where you talk about your each of your objectives that you want to achieve, for example, reduce water pollution, introduce beavers, and within those, there’ll be more smaller bits that you’re doing to contribute to that and your different activities, and some other information that tells them how you’re going to measure that which are often called indicators. So, they sound complex, and they can be complex to learn but it’s essentially a table which is the skeleton of your project.

Nick: Yeah, and I guess it allows for anyone involved in the project, particularly a donor who might be reviewing your proposal to see the full picture and to see exactly what the targets and how they’re going to be tracked and in a way you can kind of hold you to account as well, using such a long frame, I guess to… 

Victoria Price: Definitely. I mean, I, myself have reviewed hundreds and hundreds of conservation projects in my career and a log frame is a really easy way to catch people out, which sounds awful. And I don’t think that’s what donors are trying to do. But sometimes when you’re writing a narrative proposal, you talk about your most exciting and interesting bits and you’ll miss others and it’s a way of capturing everything that you intend to do and holding you to it really.

Nick: Right. Okay, so let’s talk about successful proposals then. You know, what makes a successful and an attractive proposal? You’ve got a cracking project plan, the log frames, it’s watertight, it’s hanging together, what else is needed to make a donor go, yep, you’re right. I want to fund you. I want to support you. 

Victoria Price: Well, there’s a few things I would say straight up and I think one thing that really can buy you support from a reviewer straight away is your passion coming through, which is hard to do really well. But showing your commitment to the project is a really good thing to do. But it can be hard to do in a proposal. So other key thing is really thinking about your budget, and being really careful with making sure your budget reflects everything that you’ve said you’re going to do in your proposal. And you haven’t got extra things in there that don’t make sense. And another really key thing, and I think things that most people overlook is writing the proposal for your donor. And a lot of people will apply to something because they think it fits with their vision of what their project is, but they haven’t really thought about what the donor wants to fund. And it sounds really simple, but it’s so common. There’s so many people that might apply to a species fund for a landscape project and the donors will say on their website, what they really want and what their priorities are and that’s not to say sometimes they will be some somewhat flexible, especially, you know, they’re being species specific, you might have a different type of bat. They were interested in bats, for example, but you should really make sure you align with their priorities as much as possible.

Nick: Is there an element of, I worked in fundraising myself for a few years, which is why I’m so interested in this subject also. I mean, within certain bounds, it’s partly around how you are going to pitch up a project too. So, I’m thinking of example, in my background, whereby I was trying to raise funds for the Fiji petrel, which is a rare sea bird. It breeds on one island in the Pacific. It’s found in a cloud forest up there. Its main threats are invasive species, rats and pigs, things like that and community members are also involved in the conservation of it. Now that one bird, that one species, it could almost be pitched and we did actually pitch it to so many different things. We pitched it to kind of forest conservation projects and in a forest community based conservation committee members involved, marine conservation funders, it’s a seabird climate change, which I’d also because of the cloud forest element, you know, it’s almost like, and I totally support exactly what you said, which is understand what the donors are looking for. And then really, you know, if your project can be made to be showcased, you know, within the terms of what they want, then absolutely, you know, do your best to do that. 

Victoria Price: Yeah. I mean, you should. But if you don’t fit, don’t waste your time. Your time is really precious. So, look for someone that will fund you. But as you said, also, you are right. It’s about telling a convincing story to any donor. I wrote a blog on this subject on my website, and I’ve spoken a lot about making it real and sort of telling a story to them and it makes it more memorable. They remember what you said, and they look back and think, oh, yeah, that’s a really interesting project. So, I think a really good way to do that is sort of stating the need for the project. I think that’s another common thing. People often assume the donor knows what the problem is. Or they don’t assume that but they forget to write it out because they’re so familiar with it themselves. But some projects, do forget to say why this is needed and what’s going to happen because of what you’ve done. 

Nick: Right. Yeah, really good advice. And we’ll link to that blog post too from the podcast. That sounds like a really good read. So, let’s keep the train going then. Funds have been secured, congratulations, we’re going to bring some beavers into our wetland area, handing over to them conservationists now, who are going to implement at the ground. Sometimes the fundraiser is the same person who’s going to be implementing, sometimes there are different roles like as one person can be fundraising, you know, they might be the site manager or the project manager or something will then be implementing. And another thing you focus on a lot and that we work on through conservation careers with Walton UK as well is project management and the need for really good project management skills in conservation. You know, could you maybe just talk around that little bit? 

Victoria Price: Yeah. I really love – I’ve worked with WildTeam team as well. I’ve done one of their qualifications or two, I think. So yeah, they’re fantastic organization and I really sort of subscribe to what they’re trying to do, because project management is kind of, it’s very common with conservation that we try and do a little bit of everything so it will be a jack of all trades. And project management is often something that’s sort of overlooked as perhaps something that you have to do. But you don’t really invest much time in being really good at it, but the better you are at it, and the better results for your project. So, I focus a lot, I think, because there’s a real need out there to help people think about their strategy and their planning. Because a lot of people are really good at the doing and the implementing of a project, but thinking ahead can sometimes be a little harder to do, especially when you’re really embedded on a project, or if you’ve been doing it for a long time. So, I try and sort of use project management skills and approaches to improve projects as much as possible, because it’s surprising how much you can improve a project by just applying those basic principles of project management.

Nick: Yeah, and it’s surprising also, in, you know, almost with any sector, really, everything boils down to a project as a bite sized unit, you know, that you’re often involved with, and the difference between a successful project and an unsuccessful project, you know, can be enormous and training can really help you to achieve more in conservation, and few people actually have the training. And even from a career’s perspective, you know, obviously it can make you much more employable, you know, much more attractive to donors too.

Victoria Price: Yeah, definitely. And you’ve got that transferable skill set as well if you know, it’s a fantastic thing to do. And I just think it’s because of what our team are doing now, more people have this training available to them and it will really make you stand out from the crowd. And it will teach you things that you haven’t really thought of before, like, how do you make time to think about risk? How do you identify what unknown risks might be coming up in the project? And how do you deal with that? So yeah, so I think training can really help improve what we do, because I think in the past, certainly 10 years ago, it was a much more sort of ad hoc approach to project management.

Nick: Yeah. So, coming towards the end of year one then to Vision Wild.  

Victoria Price: Yeah.

Nick: Hopefully it’s been a great year. And you’re looking forward to even great years looking forward. Why did you feel the Vision Wild was needed? You know, why did you decide to set it up?  

Victoria Price: Um, so yeah, we’ve just completed our first full year back in October and I think I just decided that I’ve worked in the UK conservation sector before and I’ve been recently on a few trips to different places with the job that I was in at the time. And I thought, I kept telling people to go and speak to the farmers and about certain aspects of conservation. And I thought, oh thank god, that’s not me, that’s a really tough thing to do. And then I thought, actually, I come from somewhere that, you know, we haven’t got a lot of wild space left and there’s a really interesting movement there. But we also in UK conservation do things quite differently. And that’s not across the board, but on the whole, organizations do something quite differently to the way the international conservations approach things. So, I was trying to use the skills that I learned in the international sector, and try and help people in the UK conservation, to kind of stop trying to reinvent the wheel, I think. I feel like there’s a lot of talk about engaging communities but a lot of that work has been done and it’s really similar. So, I thought that it was a kind of an opportunity there to get involved with UK projects and share skills and share learning.  

Nick: Right. So, what have been your career steps so far then? What were you doing prior to Vision Wild? 

Victoria Price: Prior to Vision Wild I was working for Fauna and Flora International. And I was doing project management there, running. I wasn’t running. I was part of a team that was this very small team of two or three people. And we had projects across the world focused on threatened tree species. So it was a really fun job because it was lots of new challenges and a lot of travel. It was basically my dream job but when I left uni, so yeah, it’s a really fun job to do.

Nick: And you decided to leave it? 

Victoria Price: I did. I know. It’s crazy. No yeah, I you know, I think you do a job and you enjoy the work and it was really fun to do, but it sometimes gets to a point where you think, okay, well, what’s next for me, because you need a new challenge. And I think maybe across some of the conservation sector, sometimes it can be hard to sort of, it can be easy to stay in a job for a long time. But yeah, I felt like I wanted to challenge myself to do something new and this seemed like a really good opportunity as well to get more involved in conservation at home. Yeah.

Nick: Right, right, and share whatever you want but what was it like to work at FFl and to do the role that you were doing? What were the kind of the best bits and if you want to share what were the challenges also?

Victoria Price: So, what were the best bits? I guess I mean, it’s almost controversial to say now, but I mean, the travel it was, it’s a brilliant perk of any job, isn’t it? It was a real good opportunity to learn new skills and get into project management from where I began, which is a much more administrative role. So, I had a real great time to sort of learn and develop and have brilliant mentorship from the people that worked there. So, it’s a really fantastic group of people. And I really love the way that they work with partners directly. It’s not that it’s much more of a collaboration center than a you’re going and telling people what to do. So, I think that’s brilliant and I really enjoyed that part of my job, made lots of new friends. What is challenging working with an international NGO, I guess is, it sounds almost mutually exclusive, but it’s also it’s a really competitive job to get in the first place and a lot of organizations are growing now or sort of plateauing. So, it can be difficult to make, I guess, develop your career. I think a lot of mid-level people across conservation that I’ve spoken to are finding it hard to break out of where they’re at and try something new and progress to the next level. I think there’s quite a big gap between sort of mid-level stuff up to that next step where you’re really sort of, you’ve really got control over projects and you’re having that sort of impact, or you’re able to.  

Nick: Right yeah, what were you doing prior to FFI? You mentioned uni. Did you go straight from uni into FFI or were there others?  

Victoria Price: I went straight from my Master’s to FFI and in the meantime, I was working, I was actually a pollinator project officer. So, I ran a citizen science monitoring project for bumble bees and butterflies on a farm in Leicestershire and I did that for a couple of years sort of part time. And so before my Masters, I was at ZSL where I did an internship and then they employed me for a little while afterwards to do other contract so that was really fun as well. Yeah, really great.

Nick: So, you got a Masters you got some also relevant experience and FFI obviously saw what they were looking for in you. What careers advice would you give someone who’s perhaps, let’s say they’re an undergraduate right now and looking, you know, looking towards their job hunt or maybe they’re coming out of a Masters, you know? What advice would you give somebody like that who’s looking to kind of secure their dream job in conservation to kind of, you know, get a first paying role? 

Victoria Price: I think there’s two things. I think one thing that I did throughout my undergrad and my Masters, as it turns out, was, I did work in conservation that entire time, even if it was at a low level. So, I either worked or volunteered depending on what you can get your hands on, because I know it’s increasingly competitive. But if you can leave uni with both your qualification and a little bit of experience, you know, volunteering on a nature reserve or helping with communications or something like that anything relevant to conservation that you can make a little bit of time for, would really strengthen your application, but I realized that it’s also quite challenging. I certainly found it challenging and luckily for me, I went to uni near home, not in my hometown, county, but it was pretty much next door so I could carry on working and it didn’t and live at home so it didn’t cost me too much extra. So, it can be challenging. But if you can do little bits, even if it’s not a long-term commitment that really helps. And then I guess if you want to get into international conservation, one thing that I haven’t done, which I think I would recommend that anyone should do is get a language under your belt, especially if they’re somewhere particularly want to travel to because it will make a difference.

Nick: Right? Do you speak other languages beyond English? 

Victoria Price: I used to speak Swahili a little bit a long, like more than 10 years ago. And now I just can’t remember anything. And I started doing French quite well, because I spent some time in the field in French speaking countries, but I’m not a very language person. So I’ve really struggled to keep it up. So it’s sort of one of the things I think if I go back to international conservation more seriously, I might spend some time doing. I think, certainly if you want to work in a certain area of the world it’s critical.  

Nick: It’s really good advice. Yeah, and I struggle with languages also so I totally echo your advice if you’re talking international then. Yeah. French, Spanish. Really Useful Chinese, now there’s Mandarin. Absolutely. 

Victoria Price: Yeah. And I know a lot of conservation organizations right now might not have people managing their programs in certain areas that can speak a certain language. But every manager I speak to is telling me that that’s what they’re looking for. And it’s all what you’ll see on the job descriptions, and they might not always get it, but if you have it, it will help.

Nick: Yeah, absolutely. And then sort of finally how important do you think your masters has been in your career so far? Is it something that you would advise, you know, people to do? 

Victoria Price: Interesting question. You know, I was quite suspicious of doing a masters. I guess, you know, you want to, it’s a lot of money. It’s a big investment and my masters was fantastic and really helped me sort of I think without the Masters, I wouldn’t have got my job at FFI. It gives you something extra. And unfortunately, these days employers often have it as a minimum and certainly I know for entry level jobs, you know, I’ve looked through things in the past for people, and it’s most people have a Masters. So, if you don’t, it’s easy to cut. But the actual content of the course is really important, I think. I don’t think people should just do a Masters for the sake of doing a masters. It’s got to give you something extra, and you’ve got to get something out of it. And I think it has been helpful in helping me think more about communities in a more scientific way. I guess a lot of my Masters, there’s a lot of focus on social science, which was great because I hadn’t done a lot of that before. And so, it has been really helpful. Yeah. But I do, having said that, I also know some fantastic talented colleagues that, you know, in the past that have done really well without masters, it might just take longer to get there. And so, there’s different ways of learning things. But certainly, it was very helpful to me.

Nick: Yeah, that’s great advice. Yeah. Thank you. If I just finish maybe a big question or two, then so very open question and nothing to be scared of but just be interesting to kind of hear, you know, your thoughts on a couple of things. You know, one is that conservationists, you know, we’re really working hard to try and save biodiversity around the planet, but we all know that, you know, it’s facing huge challenges, declines are occurring, you know, without going into the specifics. What do you think, what we are doing wrong as a conservation industry or what do you think needs to be significantly improved in your eyes? 

Victoria Price: I think it’s thinking about how we work as conservationists, and how we fund conservation. A lot of mostly conservation is done on a very much the what we were talking about earlier will apply for a grant or do a bit fundraising and that’s how we get our money and then we work through charities. But I think there’s a huge amount of potential to be funding conservation in other ways, more innovative ways and maybe even more businesslike ways. I feel like often, business is thought of as quite a dirty word, and people don’t think you want to do good if you’re a business owner. And actually, I think by leveraging something where you can get a lot more money into conservation is an intriguing idea. And I think there’s lots of different models to do with looking beyond the sort of traditional donor funding cycles and where we could be making much more of an impact. I’ll give you a good example actually. It really stood out to me the other day. A few weeks ago, I went to see a beaver project that’s in Essex. There’s a guy there called Archie running the projects, doing a great job. And he owns a large estate, and he’s introduced these beavers and allowing parts of his land to be, have a little, you know, taking up a bit of water and in response to that. And he’s basically trying to work out what effect the beavers are having on the flow of the river, because downstream from where they are, is a village that when it gets flooded, which is fairly regularly it gets cut off completely because the trunk road through the village is flooded. So he’s thinking about how the beavers might add value to an insurance company and how we might think about the value that they’re adding and how much of insurance company might be willing to pay to reduce the flooding. It’s just some really interesting ideas about models for which we fund conservation and why we do it.

Nick: So, then you can see almost like a business case for introducing beavers across the landscape because of the economic benefits. Yeah.  

Victoria Price: Yeah. If you’re an insurance company, you’d much rather you know, pay half million pounds to reintroduce some beavers to a river, than pay millions of pounds to repair people’s houses on a sort of annual basis because you’ve lost money from big flooding events.

Nick: Fabulous. Great. Well, that feels like a really nice, a nice point to end on is really optimistic point too. It’s been really nice talking to you and getting to know you a little bit more. I wish you all the very best with Vision Wild and I’m hopeful for great things for you. If people want to find out a little bit more about you and your work where should we direct them? 

Victoria Price: Oh, well, you can send them to where you can find my website and from there, there’s links to all of my social media accounts.

Nick: Fabulous. We shall be doing that. Victoria Price thank you very much. 

Victoria Price: Thank you. Great to speak to you.

Nick: Okay, well, I hope you enjoyed that everyone. If you did, then please do hit that subscribe button to get notified when new episodes are live, and also give the ratings it really helps us to get in front of more people. If you enjoy the interviews, we’ve collected the best advice from over 400 professional conservationists into a free e-book, which you can download from the bottom of our website. And finally, if you’ve got any questions or suggestions for the podcast, please tweet them to @conservecareers. We’d love to hear from you. Okay, till next time, guys, this is Nick signing out. 

Careers Advice, Podcast, Mid Career, Educator