Ten Faces of EOCA: 4 – Founder

During 2016, EOCA is celebrating being 10 years old! Ten years of the European outdoor industry funding conservation work in the great outdoors. In that time, the Association has funded work in over 36 different countries around the world, making a real difference to threatened habitats, species and landscapes.

As part of EOCA’s celebration of its tenth year, a series called ‘Ten Faces of EOCA’ will feature on our website throughout the year. These ten faces will be people who have been key to the success of the Association, or people who represent key partners of the Association. It may even be the face of a species that has benefited from the Associations work! Its going to be tough to choose only 10!

The fourth of the ten faces we are focusing on is Mark Held, founder of EOCA. Mark worked for a number of brands in the outdoor industry before establishing the European Outdoor Group (EOG). The EOG, established in 2003 supports and represents the European outdoor industry with market research, events, sustainability issues, best practice and much more. As General Secretary of EOG, Mark founded EOCA in 2006, then called the EOG Association for Conservation.

In this article, we interview Mark about what inspired him to establish EOCA and his thoughts on the way things have worked out:

Where did you get the inspiration to set up EOCA?

The inspiration came from the enthusiasm for activism demonstrated by the US outdoor industry and their support for great organisation such as the Conservation Alliance, Leave No Trace and the Access Fund.

Why did you set up EOCA?

Because I have strong belief that an industry that springs from our enjoyment of activities that take place in the natural environment, also has a responsibility to do everything it can to protect and enhance that environment. It simply makes sense whichever way you look at the equation and as a ‘responsible’ industry, I am proud that we recognised this and acted on it.

Who were the first member companies you talked to about this idea and who were the founding members?

I wouldn’t like to single out the very first companies as there were a whole load that joined almost immediately after the launch. We announced the founding of the Association at a meeting to explain it to the industry at OutDoor (the industry’s annual summer trade fair in Friedrichshafen, Germany) and the result was amazing. There was standing room only and virtually every brand that came to that first meeting then joined.

Any initial problems/stumbling blocks?

The biggest stumbling block was simply resources. For the first few years I had to run it as well as the EOG and a, I’m not a conservation specialist and b, I didn’t have enough time and so to be honest, we really struggled to keep it all going.

Key successes from your perspective?

I am sure others will talk about the amazing successes on the conservation side of which we are all incredibly proud, but from an organisational perspective the really big change came when we secured sufficient funds to employ dedicated professionals (Tanya and Catherine!) to run it on behalf of all of us. They have transformed EOCA and together with a motivated and committed Board and panel of special scientific advisors, they’ve achieved amazing things

Has the Association achieved what you hoped for over the years?

On the plus side, the success of EOCA is actually much greater than most of our members and the industry realises. The focus on grass roots projects with real deliverables and an application process that has tangible benefits in terms of publicity, awareness and motivation for applying organisations even if they don’t receive a grant, means that in the conservation world, our modest effort really punches above its weight.

We all recognise that in a modern business world there is so much going on that trying to keep people focused on the continuing need for investment and dedication to the cause of conservation is not easy. The wider team do a brilliant job of this, but when you next think that you don’t have time to read an email, or listen to what is going on, please pause for a second, look at the bigger picture and simply celebrate and be proud of supporting an organisation that has achieved so much on your behalf.

Anything else people might not know about the founding of the Association?….

The backing of the EOG Board, because without them I couldn’t have done it.