A Small Country’s Need For a Big Idea: Palau Pledge

Laura Clarke and Alex Ball Co-authored this article and appear on the D&AD Impact Podcast which launched Monday, September 11, subscribe here for more stories of award-winning campaigns followed from idea to inception. 

The Republic of Palau. A remote tropical paradise made up of 500 islands clustered in the middle of the north-west Pacific Ocean. It’s a dream holiday destination where a bright turquoise sea laps at white, palm-fringed beaches; and beneath the glass-like surface of the warm, aquamarine ocean, a veritable underwater utopia resides, containing thelargest proliferation of sea life and coral on the planet.

That beauty, however, is constantly under threat from tourists. 160,000 people visit the nation each year, and with a population of just 20,000, its limited enforcement resources make it a tough place to police strict environmental laws. 

Being very concerned about tourists compromising its fragility, four women – Nanae Singeo, Jennifer Koskelin Gibbons, Laura Clarke and Nicolle Fagan (a mix of locals and expatriates living in Palau) – came together to draw on skills learnt in marketing, communications and PR careers to change visitor behaviour.

Palau has a long history of conservation world firsts. In 2009 it declared its national waters a shark sanctuary, banning the destructive process of bottom trawling. And in 2015 Palau declared 80% of its ocean a marine reserve. To put that into perspective: this island nation smaller than New York had just protected an area of land bigger than the U.S state of California. In 2009 it had just one patrol boat.

Fast forward to 2016 and the Palau Legacy Project was born: an initiative to educate Palau’s visitors, and preserve the planet for future generations. Utilising their contacts, they reached out to Host/Havas to ask for assistance. The brief was simple: we have no money, and a whole country to save. Can you help?

The brief was simple: we have no money, and a whole country to save. Can you help?

Host/Havas, based in Sydney, was immediately intrigued and jumped on board, putting the full resource of the agency behind the project. The whole creative department – led by ECD Seamus Higgins – was invited to submit creative solutions. Forty-seven ideas were put on the table but ultimately, one idea shone through: the simple yet powerful idea of changing Palau’s immigration policy and creating a passport stamp. The stamp would act as a formal pledge to Palau’s children that all visitors have to sign before entering the country. It was presented to Palau’s President, Tommy E. Remenegsau Jr for approval, and the Palau Pledge was underway.

Forty-seven ideas were put on the table but ultimately, one idea shone through. The simple yet powerful idea of changing Palau’s immigration policy and creating a passport stamp that acted as a formal pledge.

There was a long road ahead to get the community, government and financial backing to implement it however. Working alongside their chairwoman – First Lady of Palau, Debbie Remengesau – the team worked tirelessly for two years at all levels to rally the government ministries, traditional leadership, local conservation groups and community members to the cause.

The breakthrough moment came when the Palauan Government contributed seed funds for the team to work with international governments and NGOs, private donors, local businesses and even community fundraisers to source funds.

The campaign’s execution was itself grounded in Palauan culture.

The environmental practice of ‘bul’ (resting areas and species in threat from overuse) inspired the idea of the Pledge which was then written with children from each of the 16 states of Palau. All levels of government including the Ministries of Education, Justice and Tourism and the Office of the President helped with the implementation of the massive immigration/landing policy, as well as engaging airlines to commence utilisation of the compulsory in-flight video.

Passengers about to land saw a film about a ‘Giant’ inspired by an ancient Palauan legend. The friendly Giant not realising his size or strength represents tourists visiting the Island.

Locals make him see the error of his ways, teaching the Giant about the fragility of their home, enabling the Giant to enjoy himself and the beauty of the island.

Passengers about to land would have their attention directed to a film about a ‘Giant’ inspired by an ancient Palauan legend, symbolic of the origination story of Palau.

On December 7th, 2017, after two years of hard work, the Palau Pledge was launched to the world by President Remenegsau. The children of Palau’s immigration officers greeted passengers on the first flight to receive the Pledge and helped their parents stamp the Palau Pledge – in the visitors’ own language so it could be fully understood – into passports.

Within hours of the launch, a carefully orchestrated global social media influencer outreach took off with Leonardo DiCaprio and Senator John Kerry being the first to post about their support for the Pledge. Each influencer directed their followers to the project’s interactive website where anyone could sign the Pledge to show support for Palau’s children.

Worldwide media picked up the story and within four weeks of launching, it had racked up 1.7 billion media impressions with most outlets questioning why every country didn’t have a pledge like this of their own.

Other influencers followed from pioneering Marine Biologist, Dr Sylvia Earle to The Rolling Stones and Richard Branson.

Soon the project took on a life of its own.

Worldwide media picked up the story and within four weeks of launching, it had racked up 1.7 billion media impressions with most outlets questioning why every country didn’t have a pledge like this of their own.

Today, almost 100,000 people have signed the Pledge globally.

Of those visiting Palau, 96% said the pledge made them consider their actions more closely and 65% said that they even used its principles during their stay to remind others about the right way to protect the delicate environment. We know that our actions will have helped preserve one of the most beautiful places on earth for future generations to enjoy.

Visit palaupledge.com to find out how you can help Palau and be a sustainable tourist.

Laura Clarke

Co-Founder at Palau Legacy Project

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