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Idealog's Most Innovative in Social Enterprise/Charity: Squawk Squad

The winner of Idealog's Most Innovative Companies in Social Enterprise/Charity is Squawk Squad. New Zealand's native birds are in a crisis. 80 percent of the country’s remaining endemic birds are threatened with extinction, with an estimated 25 million birds killed each year by introduced predators. Squawk Squad’s goal is to connect and engage Kiwis with the protection and growth of these native birds and to that, they’re applying start-up thinking to the conservation conversation.

Squawk Squad’s web app lets users sponsor traps that have been laid in the interest of conservation. Every time a pest is trapped the app user receives a notification. The feedback encourages engagement with the project and the data collected is used to measure pest activity, meaning that future conservation projects can become a lot more deliberate about where and when spending their resources.

So far, three trapping sanctuaries have been installed across the country, with a fourth in the works.

The group also provides free education resources to more than 85,000 Kiwi students and this year has been bringing nature into the classroom via a bespoke Virtual Reality experience – one of the first VR experiences created in te reo Māori.

“Off the back of a start-up weekend, our eyes were opened to the power of innovative start-up methodology, and so we set out to engage and inspire New Zealanders to care about this issue,” says Owain John, project lead at Squawk Squad.

“We could see the massive gulf between people’s awareness and the crisis that our native birds are in ­– unknown to most, even our beloved kiwi is declining at a rate of around 20 birds per week!”

John says that a key problem with many conservation efforts is the lack of donator feedback: where does the money actually go, and what impact has it had?

“This is what drove us to combine sensor technology with the latest automated trapping systems, to enable us to provide direct feedback to our users,” he says.

“Hence, every user that buys into our trapping system is given live updates as to how many predators their traps have killed. This continuous feedback encourages long-term engagement as the users are constantly updated as to the direct impact they’ve created.”

But it’s the combination of clever tech and education that is key to the programme’s success, says John.

“The excitement we are creating around our education outreach feeds back into popularising our trapping systems. This is something that is impossible for a business competitor to replicate. We are now the market leaders in this space, with a well-established brand and following already.”

“Our education outreach is hugely powerful as people feel inclined to support us because we are providing such high-quality, accessible content entirely free of charge – again a powerful business advantage.”

“Our creative approach of including a bespoke Virtual Reality experience gave us the power to generate real excitement around what we were offering this year. When combining this with an informative and intuitive education pack that included all the leading environmental educational material for New Zealand in one easy-to-access portal, the results start to explain themselves.”

And like any good start-up, Squawk Squad has a few of the proverbial big, hairy audacious goals all lined up for the future.

“We want to create a world-first biodiversity measure for New Zealand,” says John.

“We currently record the number of pests we’ve caught, but the data we actually want is how bird populations are changing and improving. If we can measure the growth and decline in the populations of our native birds in real-time, this will be hugely influential in the success of our movement.”

“Many experts observe that only once the effects of climate change could be measured, did this provide the necessary drivers to create political and social change. We see the same issue currently with our native birds – we need to first prove the crisis that they are in, and then record the positive growth as a result of our trapping systems.”

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