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The Start and the Journey Q&A with May Moe Wah

When WWF opened its Myanmar office in 2013, May Moe Wah was one of the first members of staff. In a Q&A session May gives us some insight into the birth and evolution of this fast-growing and ever-busy conservation team.

When WWF first came into Myanmar, what challenges did it face?

When we started in 2013 we faced a three-dimensional challenge. First, we were not officially registered in Myanmar. As a result of this there were many things we couldn’t officialise. For instance, we couldn’t appoint too many staff members, so though we had technical expertise we had no local employees to assist us. Since WWF positions are very specialised, it took a long time to recruit new staff. We didn’t have a policy manager for nearly a year!
Second, the country was changing and the democratic system was new. So, we had to find a way to fit into the situation.
Third, we faced financial complications. It was difficult to bring in money for projects as we had challenges transferring donor funding from the US to Myanmar.

How did the government respond to the introduction of WWF into the field of conservation in the country?

The government had their planning strategies and we had our conservation strategies. The two were independent of one another and we had to find a way to align them. We were looking in different directions, so we needed a lot of discussion and negotiation which caused a few delays. Fortunately the ministries that are working with WWF are very active and open.

When WWF first came to Myanmar, were there any organisations that were working towards similar goals? Did the presence of these organisations influence the goals of WWF?

There are a few other organisations like WCS, FFI, Smithsonian’s, and other small NGOs, working in conservation here. When WWF-Myanmar came in we focused on wildlife, forests, climate change, energy, and fresh water. These are conducted in co-operation with other organisations to prevent overlapping, as advised by the government. We work together. For example, here we don’t have a marine program since another organisation is already working in that area.

How has WWF Myanmar evolved since its start in 2013?

When we started I was the first local appointed and we were only a team of three staff members; a conservation manager, a consultant and myself. We realised that we desperately needed to start operational functioning so that we could legalise and begin work on our conservation strategies. We started with the green economy approach. From a team of three we have now grown into a team of 70 people which is a big change. There is a huge development in the programs and the impact we have made.

What has been the most significant impact that you have noticed since the office was set up in 2013?

Although a change in the environment is a long-term process, the most significant change we have noticed is in the attitude of the public. Through the campaigns, we have been able to spread awareness about climate change, wildlife, energy and other important environmental issues. Previously, the public focused less on the environment but they cannot be blamed for this. Since Myanmar was a developing country, they were more focused on earning a livelihood and on putting food on the table. Conservation wasn’t a priority. But through the campaigns we have been able to highlight the importance of these values amongst the people.We have seen a tremendous change in people’s attitudes towards the environment and conservation.

What has been your most memorable experience working in WWF Myanmar?

The most memorable was the office opening that happened in the November of 2015. At the time, we were only 6 or 7 staff members and we had just been registered, with our office being legitimised. So, we thought we should host a small party where we could invite government officials and have a few speeches.

We didn’t expect that too many people would turn up since we were new, but a lot of ambassadors and many government officials, that we thought might not come, arrived for the opening. It showed us that the brand of WWF is one that is widely acknowledged and respected. We were over the moon that day.

The second was a really motivating one. The Voices for Momos campaign [see below] was a non-stop, 12-month campaign. Although we worked very hard, we never felt tired. The campaign was very successful and the team was very strong. We were eager to do more as a part of the campaign and we set the bar really high. That’s where we realised that if we want to do something, we can do it. We just have to be bold, creative, and innovative.