Networks and flows of conservation finance: the case of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Against the background of overall decline and inadequacy of funding for nature conservation, the budgets of the five largest nature conservation organisations have been growing significantly since the 1990s to command over 50% of globally available conservation funding. This thesis focusses on World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to show how large nature conservation organisations maintain and expand funding for global biodiversity conservation. It begins exploratorily with a thematic review of 64 peer-reviewed articles to find dominant themes recurring around the funding of biodiversity conservation between 2010-2016. The principle finding is that the main challenge in biodiversity financing is not only underfunding but that quite often available funds do not go where they are most needed. Conservation networks play a key role in determining financial flows. This informs the choice for a conceptual framework that is inspired by the network theory postulated by Manuel Castells. This thesis examines how WWF uses networking to maintain and expand funding from public sources, and then shows how much financial income WWF receives from the corporate sector in comparison to other income streams, including from market-based approaches. The main finding is that WWF has been successful in increasing its funding from the public sector at 7.5% p.a. by being in “right networks”, speaking the “right language”, and connecting to “relevant flows”, including dominant governmental ministries, bilateral and multilateral organisations, emerging and graduated economies and the private sector that relates closely with them. However, WWF’s income from the corporate sector has remained low at 11% p.a. and stagnant, and its “bankable projects” are yet to produce any income and remain philanthropic. WWF’s most important funding base is private small donors who contribute 40% of its income. Based on these findings, this thesis points to a possible scenario on the future of conservation finance that combines the time-tested reliability of private small donor funding with the potential of blended finance, that would address both underfunding and poor distribution of conservation funds, for future biodiversity conservation.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • van der Duim, Rene, Promotor
  • Lamers, Machiel, Promotor
Award date12 Jun 2020
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789463953405
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jun 2020


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