Conservation & Sustainable Development

Our Goal

Active in conservation since 1982, MacArthur’s current strategy aims to preserve ecosystems and species, recognize the benefits the environment provides communities, and promote development that respects the environment.

A mid-term external evaluation was completed in 2016, the findings of which will inform decisions about future directions.

Why We Support This Work

We work in conservation and sustainable development because of the intrinsic value of the natural world and because all human activity depends upon it. We aim to preserve ecosystems and species and promote development that respects the environment.


MacArthur has been active in conservation since 1982. We were the first private foundation to focus on the preservation of biodiversity in 1987. For the decade 2000-2010, we pursued a strategy that focused on eight ecological hotspots (places of high biodiversity under threat) in Madagascar, Melanesia, the Andes, Insular Caribbean, Albertine Rift, Eastern Himalayas, and Lower Mekong.

Our approaches included training conservationists, strengthening law and policy organizations, creating and managing protected areas, and conducting biological inventories. We also supported initiatives on integrating the rights of local people into conservation planning and managing protected areas to mitigate the effects of climate change on species.

In 2011, the Foundation launched a new strategy that focused on one of the most compelling environmental challenges of the 21st century: the conservation of ecosystems.

Ecosystems and their biodiversity underpin human wellbeing. They provide food and water; regulate floods, drought, and disease; and support soil formation and pollination. They also have intangible value as places of spiritual significance. All these are vital “services,” essential to economies and nation states.

But ecosystems are undergoing acute and accelerating damage. Sixty percent of ecosystem services have been degraded over the last 50 years, with direct, measurable economic repercussions. Pressure on resources is likely to spark conflicts within and between nations.

Our objective is to slow this degradation of ecosystems and, eventually, to reverse it.

Our Approach

In order to achieve that goal, we proposed that:

  • Key policymakers can be educated to understand the benefits ecosystems provide to people and economies
  • But education alone will not be enough; we need to help create incentives to slow the process of degradation;

The right incentives will persuade governments, businesses, and communities to change their policies and behaviors, reducing pressure on ecosystems.

We test this theory by awarding grants that aim to:

  • Understand the environmental pressures from development and climate change, and how best to respond;
  •  Create and expand incentives to conserve ecosystems;
  •  Assist the rural poor in managing natural resources;
  •  Build capacity to respond to of the causes of ecosystem decline worldwide.

Geographic and Programmatic Priorities

Our geographic focus has encompassed three regions: the Great Lakes of East Central Africa, the Greater Mekong and its headwaters, and the watersheds of the Andes. Each is a place of high biodiversity, important freshwater service, and carbon-storage value.

The Great Lakes and the Mekong were selected because success there would benefit the largest numbers of vulnerable people and because of the high level of threat to the ecosystem. The Watersheds of the Andes were selected because of their remarkable biodiversity values and because low population densities have left the habitat relatively unscathed.

We also continue to build on the success of our Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA) initiative through a coastal marine program in the Caribbean, Madagascar, and Melanesia. LMMA promotes the responsible management of coastal resources, including fisheries and marine habitats, by communities of local people. A core emphasis is to document and disseminate best practices to increase impact – something that has had dramatic success in Melanesia.

Our policy grants target biodiversity conservation at the global scale and reinforce the priorities of our regional work.

We focus on four issues:

  1. Climate change mitigation and adaptation
  2. Understanding and influencing China’s consumption patterns and use of natural resources, particularly in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Pacific
  3. Integrating environmental and social considerations into commodities markets, (for example: carbon, timber, oil palm, cotton, and soy)
  4. Responding to the overexploitation and illegal use of marine fisheries

View the Conservation & Sustainable Development Program Priorities ›


Finally, Conservation & Sustainable Development pursues a rigorous and systematic approach to assessment to both test the validity of our theory of change and complement the efforts of governments to report on their progress to targets established in the Convention on Biological Diversity and other agreements.


Unpdated October 2016


Portrait of Stephanie Platz

Stephanie Platz

Managing Director, Programs
Portrait of Kate Barnes

Kate Barnes

Senior Program Officer, Conservation & Sustainable Development
Portrait of Elsa Leon

Elsa Leon

Grants Manager

Media Contact

Portrait of Sean Harder

Sean Harder

Communications Officer

Evaluation Contact

Portrait of Chantell Johnson

Chantell Johnson

Managing Director, Evaluation