With the year 2021 now behind us, the Wyss Academy for Nature at the University of Bern has nearly accomplished its ramp-up phase, which covered the first 20 months of our operations. At the time of writing, the Wyss Academy’s newly refurbished offices in Bern are bustling with activity. Two new professors and their innovation teams arrived last year and the synthesis and policy units as well as the management team are fully operational. Almost fifty highly motivated and diverse persons now work for the Wyss Academy for Nature. To aid us in our work, we can now also count on the support of our Advisory Committee. It is currently comprised of nine global experts in a range of different areas relevant to our work and will play an important role in ensuring that the Wyss Academy remains an impact-driven organization.
All of these efforts ultimately serve our four Regional Stewardship Hubs in South America, East Africa, Southeast Asia and Switzerland. Despite the huge pandemic-related challenges of the past two years, we now operate more than 20 incubator projects addressing nine concrete nature-people challenges across the world. They range from threatened buffer zones around the Amazon rainforest in Peru to such issues as energy transition in the Swiss tourism sector and the question of how to secure co-benefits for local people in Madagascar adversely affected by efforts to conserve global biodiversity hotspots in their country. We have also institutionally anchored our offices in Kenya and Peru and were able to recruit outstanding new collaborators. They will lead our work in the regions and collaborate with our partners, both longstanding and new. With the re-opening of international borders, we were able to reinforce our mostly virtual exchanges between the Regional Hubs and the Bern office with in-person visits. Although the Wyss Academy shall become carbon-neutral and will need to employ international travel wisely, these visits to Peru, Kenya, and Madagascar were extremely important. Creating a deeply shared understanding of our mission and strategy, but also building confidence and making friends remain essential to reaching our ambitious goals.
Although some ramp-up activities will remain in 2022 – such as the establishment of two additional research teams and the commencement of field operations in Southeast Asia – we are extremely proud of what the newly composed teams were able to accomplish within a short time. The most important proof of this has been that the interactions between the four Regional Hubs and the office in Bern have started to function and become effective, linking local to global scales, and knowledge with action. For example, based on in-depth consultations in our regions, we were able to make a first policy contribution by submitting a declaration on the role of food systems in balancing nature and human wellbeing, at the United Nations Food System Summit. In addition, we jointly defined the most important knowledge needs that our research teams should address through interdisciplinary projects; and we identified synthesis projects by focusing, among other aspects, on the role of indigenous and local practices and knowledge.
Working together across all units of the Wyss Academy to achieve our joint mission remains a key priority as we move forward. It was thus undoubtedly a highlight of the past year that, in this manner, we developed a strategy covering the years 2022–2024 in close consultation with our Board. Pursuing the overall vision of making nature conservation and human wellbeing mutually beneficial, we identified three goals that will guide all our activities: to demonstrate concrete innovations for mutually beneficial impacts on nature and people, to inspire a new social contract that supports change at broader scale, and to establish the Wyss Academy as a global enabler of such innovations.
With the current war against Ukraine, the pandemic crisis has been followed by yet another one. This tragedy may not only deviate and delay attention from dealing with the environmental crisis that threatens humanity, it could also be sobering for those who believe in change and have the courage to act. Although we might not be able to influence the winds of the current geopolitical situation, we at the Wyss Academy for Nature are convinced that we have built a robust boat and we have set the sails that will enable us to set out on this journey that urgently needs to be made.
Prof. Dr. Peter Messerli
Prof. Dr. Christian Leumann
President of the Board