I hope you are enjoying our journey together! I am Eric (Zhu) Liu, the Founder and Executive Director of Leaders in Wildlife Conservation. Crafting this special letter, I wish to share with you the story of how I, a broke high school student, created an international nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of our planet's most valuable but ever-deteriorating resource: biodiversity. Through this story, I wish to show you that an individual, no matter how young or insignificant, could overcome difficult obstacles to yield positive differences. But the lack of persistence and determination will rob anyone, no matter how intelligent, of the chance to become successful. Please be a dream chaser! Your hard work may disappoint you with a fruitless result. But that should only lead you to self-reflection and a mightier return.
"In the heat of attack, it's the passion that kills." –– Rocky IV
Natural wildfires have been a part of Australia’s rugged landscape for thousands of years, acting as natural population control for many species. As such, native species had evolved strategies to cope with such apocalyptic disasters, whether through hiding in tree hollows or escaping to unaffected lands. Though a spontaneous phenomenon with impacts checked by forces of nature, the wildfires have become more and more menacing as climate change worsens, magnifying the frequency and length of Australia's fire seasons. In the sweltering and arid “Black Summer” between 2019-2020, the accumulating effects of climate change culminated in an ungovernable flame, whose path mercilessly scorched more than 12 million hectares of Australian forests, annihilating the haunts and lives of 1.25 billion animals. The fire, though terminated, possesses many ominous and long-lasting aftermaths. For one, the populations of many species may fail to return, for many animals' habitats have been extensively destroyed, giving them little space to repopulate. Additionally, the crisis will also severely harm Australia's economy, which relies on its tourism industry, and residents, who are at risk of developing respiratory irritation or even reduced lung function due to chronic exposure to hazardous ashy smoke. Finally, the 2020 bushfire crisis gives us an alarming glimpse of our world's grave future if wildlife and environmental conservation remain grossly underemphasized.
In January 2020, news of the ravaging Australian bushfires along with sickening pictures of charred koalas prompted me, a wildlife enthusiast, to begin raising awareness about our world’s evolving mass extinction crisis. Realizing that my school did not have a club for wildlife activism, I attempted to create my vision, Leaders in Wildlife Conservation (LIWC), as a school club. Unfortunately, since my school had reached its maximum number of clubs, LIWC could not meet in school. I was frustrated, as I had already invited our club advisor, gathered together many dedicated members, and planned our first projects. Without the school’s support, our nascent organization lacked a credible platform to generate funds. rendering it almost impossible for us to make a difference through monetary donations. But my team and I could not let these roadblocks stop us from raising awareness for the growing mass extinction crisis. After much discussion with peers, I decided to shape LIWC into a non-profit organization, building it into an online platform for encouraging education and activism.
Before we could finalize our plans, however, COVID-19 swept the world, leaving devastation in its path. According to preliminary scientific analysis, the novel coronavirus was triggered by people's lack of regard for nature: contacting vectors of diseases and overexploiting the human-wildlife interface, the barrier of zoonotic diseases. With newfound motivation, the gears of our young team were kicked off and grinding. Despite the quarantine and the lack of funding, we worked hard to build a solid foundation in isolation. In the initial stages, I held daily zoom conferences, uniting and encouraging the core members of LIWC. Over these conferences, the core team established a strong mission, drafted a plan for the next year, created a website, and agreed to organization bylaws.
Shifting our organization's aim from fundraising to education, we did not desire to create a blank organization of just fluff and slogan-yelling; our mission was to build a database of reliable and engaging information that everyone can enjoy and learn from. Rewards only follow after hard work. Thus, the team set a goal to publish one informative article per day, focusing on educating the world about conservation news, technological innovations, and sustainable living. To support this effort, I established committees within LIWC to check the quality of the work created. My team and I hold ourselves to a high standard: unethical workers utilizing plagiarism are not tolerated, and there are various committees set up to oversee all writing efforts. Members’ motivations spur their work. By crediting each member proportionally to their contributions, members are encouraged to work diligently. The management rules are flexible yet principled. If members fail to execute their tasks without reasonable causes, the Executive Committee will take appropriate actions as outlined by our organization bylaws, which members agreed upon joining.
Initially, it was difficult to manage all of this with such a small group, but rather quickly the team expanded, as many of my peers were committed to this wonderful cause. Additionally, the quality of LIWC’s work soon spoke for itself: within just three months, LIWC had accumulated 2500+ supporters with members spanning across four continents. The organization’s meaningful mission, intriguing content, credible foundation, and online presence have also connected us to collaborators from around the world, including activists in Australia, the United Kingdom, India, Canada, and even Tanzania. Thus far, we have been collaborating with nature bloggers, wildlife photographers, and even field researchers hoping to share their work with a broader audience. With our increased popularity and attention, we expanded our organization’s content to not only informative essays, but also relevant artwork, research studies, and film productions. What has not changed is our cardinal commitment to publishing one article every day.
Early on, LIWC allied with the Junior Chamber International (JCI), where it absorbed student members from India. This ultimately allowed for the establishment of LIWC India at Symbiosis University, India. It was also through JCI that LIWC made contact with Dr. Jerryl Banait, a famous wildlife activist, TEDx speaker, and RTI Human Rights Activist who has been monumental in strengthening India’s wildlife protection laws. Our partnership with Dr. Banait ultimately culminated in our documentary about his works on Indian tiger conservation, titled “Voice for Voiceless”, which is now accessible on our YouTube channel. We also partnered with Long Island Laboring Against COVID-19, an organization that has raised $100,000 for the delivery of PPE across Long Island and NYC. As the two organizations promoted each other, LIWC members have written many articles detailing the interconnectedness between the pandemic and wildlife conservation. As such, we prize LIWC as a positive platform where activists worldwide corporate and fight for wildlife and environmental awareness. Considering all the hurdles the team had faced in LIWC’s founding, I am particularly proud of our team’s progress and our members' growth.
Nowadays, we are proud to have members internationally, and we have been overwhelmed with the positive reactions to our work. One teacher has asked us for permission to use our articles to educate her students, to which we joyfully agreed. Others have left kind and encouraging messages for us, notes of positivity that encourage us to keep going with this important work. The most memorable messages include: “Love these quick reads about wildlife, very passionate!”; “Thank you for raising awareness about such important issues!”; “Stunning artwork, after so much abhorrence from the bushfires, it’s lovely to hear this story.” Since I intended to build a positive platform to bridge the minds of conservationists worldwide, it further comforts me knowing that on our social media platforms, commenters are engaging in thought-provoking discussions. Lastly, we try to answer every question that our readers ask, maintaining a productive relationship with our supporters. For this, they often give more positive responses that fuel our motivation: “Thank you for your useful answer. I learned something new today. Now it is clear in my mind. If you don't mind, I’ll take a screenshot, this was so good!”; “Thank you very much for taking the time to answer me. Keep up the good work. I enjoy your postings. I am sure I’ll have more questions.” The feedback we have received confirms our hard work’s value in disseminating knowledge and encouraging activism in wildlife conservation.
As LIWC grew from a concept into a reality, I grew too. Dealing with consecutive defeats in the early stages of this enterprise, I’ve felt like giving up multiple times. In the end, I’ve come to realize that the lack of persistence and determination will rob anyone, no matter how intelligent, of the chance to become successful. My team's hard work has pushed LIWC through its difficult times and, with that, members and I have learned that we can find the solution to anything if we just try hard enough. On a personal level, this process encouraged me to hone new skills, and I have not only learned how to write professionally and edit films, but I’ve also increased my abilities in graphic design, website building, promotion, networking, and communication. Lastly, since LIWC has members spanning across different continents, it was essential for me as the executive director to become an organized leader. To manage my organization efficiently, I created a shared content schedule for our members to access. To make sure nobody feels overwhelmed, I employed a rotational schedule so workloads can be shared across the organization. Finally, I’ve also taken measures to ensure that every member gets credit proportional to their work, empowering members to feel proud of their work. The experience of founding LIWC has been nothing short of fantastic for me and the rest of the LIWC team. We were able to achieve our original goal of helping the voiceless animals by calling the attention of thousands to wildlife and environmental conservation. Along the journey, we were also able to garner many invaluable personal improvements and memorable stories that will eternally enrich our work and life.
Thank you for listening to my and LIWC's story and following our mission! I hope you will continue learning by browsing our organization's content. Only when we defeat ignorance, can we propel amendments.
Leave no stone unturned,
Eric (Zhu) Liu, Founder and Executive Director of Leaders in Wildlife Conservation
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