A legacy of people-centered conservation solutions: A Rare conversation with Wendy Paulson and Paul Butler

April 24, 2024

Every organization has its own unique evolutionary tale. And no one can tell Rare’s story better than Paul Butler, the inspiration behind Rare’s signature Pride campaigns.

Beloved by hundreds of local conservation heroes worldwide, Paul Butler is a key figure in Rare’s history. Rare’s people-centric approach to biodiversity conservation stems from Butler and his 1980s social marketing campaign to save the endemic St. Lucia parrot.

After graduating from college, Paul ran an expedition to St. Lucia to count the endemic and endangered St. Lucian parrot.

“Most people had either never heard of the parrot,” says Butler. “There was certainly no love or passion for it. So we wanted to build a pride in this species.”

Working with the St. Lucia Forestry Division, Paul spent 10 years revising legislation, creating a parrot sanctuary, and building awareness for the parrot and forest habitat.

“It occurred to me that to change people’s behavior, you needed to do something different,” explained Butler. “And so the Forestry Division started putting out materials that made the parrot the symbol of pride. And it worked. We got people’s attention. Legislation was changed. Protected areas were set aside. People rallied to the cause.”

After seeing the widespread success of Butler’s St. Lucia parrot Pride campaign, Rare asked Paul to replicate his campaign strategy to mobilize other island communities to protect their birds, starting with the St. Vincent parrot. Eventually, Paul joined Rare full-time, lending his experiences in the Caribbean to creating the Pride program and writing its first blueprint for change.

“People are causing most of the problems, and therefore, people have to be part of the solution,” says Paul. “It’s as simple as that.”

Today, Rare is a global leader in accelerating social change for people and nature. For 50 years, across 60 countries, Rare has supported millions of people and thousands of communities to shift their behaviors and practices to protect our shared planet. As much as the organization has grown over its fifty-year history, its core remains the same: we believe in the power of people-centered and community-led conservation.

“The emphasis on people always has been so central and so strong,” says Paulson. “When people think about conservation groups, they’re thinking about landscapes, species, that kind of thing. [With Rare], people have always been at the center.”

“I’ve always liked the Chinese proverb, ‘It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness,’” explains Butler. “It really is true. One person lights a candle, it’s not going to make a great difference, but it’s a step in the right direction. Everybody lights a candle, then there’s this brightness and hope.”