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NGOs and Sustainable Livelihoods: Lessons from Ecotourism in Indonesia Open Access

Ecotourism occupies a rare intersection between economic development and environmental conservation. As a result, ecotourism has long been promoted by conservation NGOs attempting to transition communities to more sustainable livelihoods, with varying levels of success. This research project evaluates the factors that contribute to NGOs’ ability to encourage sustainable livelihoods through ecotourism, looking specifically at two emerging ecotourism destinations in Indonesia: Raja Ampat and East Flores. In both locations, NGOs have encouraged communities to avoid destructive practices, such as dynamite fishing or hunting marine megafauna such as manta rays, sharks, and whale sharks. In Raja Ampat, NGOs successfully promoted indigenous conservation practices and community-based ecotourism networks such as homestays to promote more sustainable practices. In contrast, local communities in East Flores still rely on destructive fishing practices, and local NGOs are just beginning to conduct research and stage interventions with these communities in the hope of introducing ecotourism as an alternative livelihood. The questions this research seeks to answer are, “What role do NGOs play in the development of sustainable livelihoods through ecotourism promotion in Indonesia? How can the successful methods utilized in Raja Ampat be applied to development in East Flores?” Data is based on community-based participatory research conducted in Raja Ampat and East Flores over 5 months, including over 100 qualitative interviews, 40 structured surveys, and daily participant observation alongside local communities and NGOs. In analyzing the challenges and successes of NGO strategies in Raja Ampat, the research argues that NGOs in East Flores should apply the framework for best practices utilized by NGOs in Raja Ampat to promote three vital pillars of sustainable development: ecology, equity, and economy. Initial findings indicate that there are three key strategies promoted by NGOs to successfully transition communities to more sustainable livelihoods: 1) enforcement and community policing efforts to reduce illegal fishing; 2) education of target communities and identification of key influential members of society; and 3) long-term endurance of program efforts and development of infrastructure essential to ecotourism initiatives. The research has important implications for our understanding of NGO roles in partnering with communities to encourage the development of sustainable livelihoods, both in Indonesia and globally.

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