Building Community, Conserving Nature
An initiative launched by Hispanic Access Foundation connects Latinos to nature, their cultures, and their communities.
Latino Conservation Week (LCW) is an annual initiative that encourages Latinos to enjoy the outdoors, participate in nature-based recreational activities, and contribute to efforts to protect land, water, wildlife, and other natural resources. 2023 marked the 10th annual LCW, which is organized by the Hispanic Access Foundation, and which featured more than 250 events held in over 30 states and territories. By participating in these events, attendees can become more aware of existing outdoor recreational opportunities; deepen their knowledge of the natural world; acquire new skills; contribute to ongoing conservation efforts; and forge deeper bonds with nature, their cultures, and their communities.
Evaluating Latino Conservation Week
Knology served as the external evaluator of LCW 2023. In order to determine the initiative's impacts, our evaluation revolved around the following questions:
- What motivated event organizers and event attendees to participate?
- What were the impacts of their participation?
- What barriers do Latinos confront when attempting to access the outdoors and participate in conservation-related activities?
- To what extent is LCW helping Latinos and Latino communities overcome these barriers?
- Is LCW encouraging long-term engagement with conservation efforts?
- What improvements would strengthen the initiative's impacts?
To address these questions, we conducted focus groups and interviews with individuals who participated (both as event organizers and attendees) in LCW 2023. Analyzing the data collected through these interviews and focus groups has allowed us to provide a holistic assessment of LCW 2023 – one that speaks to the initiative's appeal; its contributions to attendees' conservation-related interests, knowledge, and skills; its role in strengthening Latino communities; and its prospects for helping these communities envision the outdoors as spaces of belonging. Our evaluation also draws attention to several implementation obstacles LCW 2023 encountered and offers suggestions for removing these. On a broader level, this report also serves as the basis for a theory of action that places conservation behaviors and engagement with nature in conversation with three key phenomena: creating new spaces of belonging for Latinos, lifting up Latino communities, and creating lasting social change.
The Impacts of Latino Conservation Week
Conversations revealed that LCW 2023 was beneficial for both organizations and event attendees. While the initiative helped organizations reach new audiences, create new partnerships, and build connections with Latino communities, event attendees found that LCW advanced their knowledge of the natural world, deepened their appreciation of nature and their commitment to conservation, gave them new skills, and strengthened their ties to Latino cultures and communities. Our evaluation also indicates that LCW succeeded in reducing some of the individual and institutional barriers that constrain Latinos' participation in outdoor recreational pursuits. The initiative's benefits are aptly summarized by the words of an organizer who called LCW 2023
una oportunidad para que ellos puedan conectar con la naturaleza, conectar con ellos mismos y puedan elevar su sentido de pertenencia…que sientan que tenemos una cuota de participación y responsabilidad en materia del ambiente y en materia de la conservación.
[an opportunity for [Latinos] to connect with nature, connect with themselves, and raise their sense of belonging…to feel like we have a share of participation and responsibility in matters of the environment and conservation].
On account of the initiative's positive impacts, both event organizers and event attendees expressed an interest in participating in future iterations of LCW, and in deepening their connections to each other, the initiative, and Hispanic Access Foundation.
In addition to documenting LCW's positive impacts, our official report (which you can read by clicking the link at the top of the page) also includes a number of suggestions for furthering progress toward the initiative's goals. So too does it point to an emerging theory of action—one that revolves around the need to create spaces of belonging in nature, to lift up Latino communities, and to push for broad-based social change. By incorporating this theory of action into environmental education and conservation programs, we believe that LCW and other initiatives like it will be able to create a lasting social movement—one whose contributions to conservation and environmental sustainability will be felt for generations to come.
About this Article
This material is based upon work supported by the Hispanic Access Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Hispanic Access Foundation.
Photo by Luke Porter @ Unsplash