WWF - Working Beyond The Acronym

Life undergoes two phases: it thrives and fades. It is how one cares for a life that determines whether it will live or wither. There are many notable organizations and individuals that strive to create a world that survives, to protect imperilled species, conserve the earth's most ecologically significant places. There are organizations who exist for the purpose of nurturing nature and join hands to safeguard the societies that are fading away in history. 

One of these organizations is the fifty-six-year-old, non-governmental organization that has engineered its bases all around the world. The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund that remains the standard name in Canada and the United States, has been working in the field of wilderness preservation, and environmental conservation since 1961.


While today the organization works for the environment as a whole, the idea was initially proposed on behalf of endangered animals by Victor Stolan to Sir Julian. Stolan came up with this idea due to his relation with Max Nicholson, a pioneer in the field of environmentalism, zoology, and internationalism. Essentially, it was Nicholson who conceived the organization on 29 April 1961, under the name of World Wildlife Fund. Dutch Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfield helped with the founding of the World Wildlife Fund, becoming its first President in the same year.

In 1986, the organization renamed itself to World Wildlife Fund for Nature, while retaining the original name in Canada and the United States, under the same old WWF initials. 


The aim of WWF is to put an end to the degradation of the earth's natural environment and to create a future wherein humans coexist with nature in harmony. The revision of the mission statement took place in the year 1990s, which promised the aim by conservation of the world's biological diversity; ensuring that sustainable use of renewable natural resources; and reducing pollution and wasteful consumption. 

Basically, WWF focuses its efforts in two broad areas namely biodiversity and resource resources. The focus on Biodiversity is to ensure that the web of life remains full of life for years to come; and, resources, so as to evade the negative impacts of human activity on the environment and to make sure natural resources are managed sustainably.


The WWF logo is easy to recognize and catch on; a panda. The logo was designed in black and white print by Sir Peter Scott from preliminary sketches by Gerald Watterson, a Scottish naturalist. The panda symbol originated from a panda named Chi Chi that had been transferred from Beijing Zoo to London Zoo back in 1958, which was three years before WWF founding. 

Being famous as the only panda in the western world at that time, its unique physical features and status as an endangered species seemed to compliment the vision of the organization and its need for a strong symbol that would put forth the ideals of the WWF. The logo since then has been revised three times, to give a geometric and simplistic look, first in 1978, then in 1986, and recently in 2000. 


Since its founding in 1961, the WWF has come a long way as non-government organization to become the world's largest conservation organization which has acquired over five million patrons worldwide, having its reach in more than 100 countries, supporting around 1,300 conservation and environmental projects.

Its first office was opened on 11 September 1961 in Morges, Switzerland, and now has operations and bases all around the world. Pavan Sukhdev, an Indian environmental economist is the 9th and current president of the World Wide Fund for Nature who began his tenure in 2018, succeeding Yolanda Kakabadse. 

Initially working for fundraising, providing grants to other non-governmental organizations, with an initial focus on the protection of endangered species, it has expanded its reach to focus on other domains such as the preservation of biological diversity, focusing on the sustainability of natural resources, reducing pollution, and climate change. WWF collaborates with various groups to achieve its goals, which includes but not limited to the work other NGOs, governments, business, investment banks, fishermen, farmers, and local communities do. It encourages people to donate funds in favour of wildlife and protection of the environment.


WWF undertakes public campaigns to influence decision-makers and seeks to educate people on how to live in a more environment-friendly manner. It has launched several worldwide campaigns including Earth Hour, Healthy Grown, and Debt-for-Nature Swap. Currently, it is working in the following six areas- food, climate, freshwater, wildlife, forests, and oceans. 

It has started several global initiatives and has been strengthening its efforts on particularly weak areas like The Amazon, Tigers, Arctic, Coral reefs of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste, the Himalayas, the last great rainforests in Borneo, climate change and so on. 

The organization also awards those individuals who make a difference by their actions in helping achieve something important for the planet and by setting their example and inciting others to lend a hand. Some of these awards include Duke of Edinburgh Conservation Award, Gift to the Earth, Award for Conservation Merit, and International President's Award. 

Since 1998, every two years, WWF publishes the Living Planet Index in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London which provides a bi-yearly report giving an overview of the impact of human activity on the environment. Besides this, it also regularly publishes reports, fact sheets and other documents to raise awareness among people, regarding its work and the current issues, and to keep people updated about the latest policies and related information.


Nowadays, people recognize the term WWF more familiarly, but their first guess is always World Wrestling Federation which is a television game show about wrestling. This is because there was a time when the World Wide Fund for Nature shared its acronym with World Wrestling Federation (popularly known as WWF) until the conservation organization sued the professional wrestling company for violating a previous agreement in 1994 regarding limiting the use of the ‘WWF’ acronym in the United Kingdom and overseas because of its relation to World Wildlife Fund. The scene ended in the organization’s favour as World Wrestling Federation changed its acronym from ‘WWF’ to ‘WWE’ as a prelude to changing the company’s title to ‘World Wrestling Entertainment’ in May of 2002.

Many organizations are framed, sued and accused time to time, more so if they are giants. WWF is no exception. Several organizations and companies like Buzzfeed News, Kathmandu Post, the Rainforest Foundation Fund and Survival International had been accused of funding anti-poaching guards who have tortured and killed people in national parks in Asia and Africa, particularly Nepal and Cameroon. It began with a report by Survival International that claimed WWF-funded paramilitaries were not only committing abuses against the indigenous Baka and Bayaka in the Congo Basin but were also unethical and provided aid in the destruction of conserved areas.

Apparently, what started as a ‘War against hunting’ ended in a tragedy that resulted in human casualties caused by these guards who shot, sexually assaulted, and whipped indigenous people and villagers of the above - mentioned places. The reports that blamed WWF claimed that the organization funded, equipped and worked with these guards, which had made some of the staff to turn a blind eye to the abuses. These charges include two cases of gang rape, two judicial killings, and multiple accounts of torture and other forms of mistreatment committed by park guards. In reply to the accusations, the WWF stated that it takes any allegations seriously and would launch an independent review into the cases raised, along with the promise to take swift action.

Nothing is worse for an organization which aims to work for wildlife and its protection than having a president whose hobby is hunting. Aristocrats are known to go for hunting as a sport, and it used to be acceptable in the past, but it is another deal when WWF’s president of honour, King Juan Carlos I, got accused of poaching several animals including wolves, elephants and bears, things spiralled down with regards to WWF’s reputation. Regardless, the Spanish king was stripped from his position in 2012. Recently, the UK head of WWF, Prince Charles has also admitted to having a liking towards hunting. Wonder what takes royalty to hunt.

The WWF has also been alleged to have contributed to the destruction of habitat and species it claims to protect. The accusation was made in a documentary program aired by ARD, a German public television, on 22nd June of 2011. The program claimed that the WWF’s collaboration with corporations such as Monsanto, providing sustainability certification in exchange for donations – typically encouraging eco-tourism which has led to the destruction of natural environment and wildlife. The program also spoke of the destruction of over 14,000 hectares of rainforest on the Indonesian island of Borneo caused due to the establishment of palm oil plantation which was operated by Wilmar International, a Singapore based company, under the certification of the WWF. This resulted in the loss of habitat to many species, including two orangutans, who struggled to survive in the conserved area of forests which spans only 80 hectares. 

Thus, despite all its controversies and faults, WWF is a global organization that has networks wider than any other, it aims to bridge the space that fills between us and the Mother Nature, to make the idea of coexistence of humans and nature in synchronous harmony not a possibility but a reality. Finding the proper balance between humans and nature is as tricky as it can get, especially with the pace the world is moving and demands constant, coordinated strategies with the aid of governments, institutions, and civilians at once and WWF is trying to work a way out with its own plans; some of which assume great results and others end in failures. The key is to take a leap and have faith. 

“Together, we are creating a world where people live in harmony with nature. Join us. Because together, anything is possible.” – WWF

Vaishnavi Raghavan 

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WWF - Working Beyond The Acronym WWF - Working Beyond The Acronym Reviewed by EMN on June 17, 2019 Rating: 5

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