Saving wildlife and making a difference: these are the two goals of Philadelphia Zoo’s UNLESS Contest, a student-driven, project-based learning program that empowers K-12 students to take action for endangered wildlife. This signature educational initiative has engaged more than 17,500 students in the Delaware Valley, reached over 12 million people, and inspired the next generation of wildlife conservation stewards.
Witnessing the success of the Philly-based program, the Zoo saw an opportunity to expand the impact of the UNLESS Contest nationally. After a successful partnership last semester, the Zoo decided to once again collaborate with Wharton Social Impact’s WISE program, bringing a student team of social impact consultants to help them achieve their vision.
At the beginning of semester, WISE Fellows Jessica Stokes, WG’21, and Qarina Manaf, WG’21, teamed up to help the Zoo expand on its impactful work, and the project got off to a great start. But then midway through the semester, the COVID-19 outbreak put a halt to all in-person activity at the Zoo, bringing to the forefront the importance of virtual engagement and the need to reprioritize goals.
How did they work through this challenge? The Fellows look back on their experience this semester supporting an organization affected by COVID-19 and how it ultimately shaped their recommendations to the Zoo.
Qarina Mannaf, WG’21
“Working with the Philadelphia Zoo was a dream come true. As a technology consultant with a passion for social impact, the WISE Fellowship was an amazing opportunity to broaden my consulting and client management skills. I enjoyed the creative problem solving and impactful work that Jess and I did this spring semester. Working with the UNLESS Contest expanded my knowledge about EdTech platforms, nonprofit administration, and program management.
The greatest lesson I learned from the UNLESS Contest and WISE Fellowship was the importance of being flexible and resilient during uncertain and challenging times. Jess and I learned how to pivot and reprioritize our project goals so we can deliver valuable content to the Zoo. We creatively brainstormed and thought of ways the Philadelphia Zoo can continue to connect with their community. Working with the Zoo throughout the COVID-19 shutdown showed me the organization’s resilience and strong leadership.”
Jessica Stokes, WG’21
“We believe that the Philadelphia Zoo is an educational institution with a voice that needs to be heard, now more than ever. Through initiatives like the UNLESS Contest, they are inspiring the next generation to be empathic, empowered, and inquisitive.
At the end of March, we accelerated our project goals to provide additional strategic guidance beyond the initial scope. After delivering our final presentation early, we took time to learn about the new challenges the Zoo was facing.
Like so many businesses and institutions, the Zoo had to suddenly close its doors, which brought its onsite education programs to a halt. Knowing it was still a priority to engage with the world, we brainstormed digital strategies that when implemented, would help the Zoo to reach a variety of audiences virtually. In addition to social media content planning, we dug into SEO, fundraising ideas, and minimum viable prototype approaches to scaling the UNLESS Contest.
I always kept in the back of my mind what the Zoo meant to me. It has been a part of my life since childhood. During the summer, my dad and I used to visit right as the gates opened. We would always stop by to see the tigers, and eat lunch in the shade with the polar bears. The Philadelphia Zoo is an iconic part of our city that has taught so many to love nature, myself included. When given the opportunity to contribute to such meaningful work, it isn’t hard to find the determination to push beyond what is expected.”
Kristen Waldron, director of strategic initiatives at Philadelphia Zoo, also reflected on the 10-week experience working with the Fellows. “We are thrilled with our partnership and the talented WISE Fellows. The students delivered a very compelling and thoughtful plan for expansion but their innovative thinking didn’t just stop there. With the Zoo temporarily closed, the Fellows turned their creativity toward brainstorming additional ideas to support our online engagement.”
She added, “The concept was brilliant — leverage the ingenuity of the UNLESS Contest to inspire others to take action for wildlife. On May 15th, Endangered Species Day, we are inviting our audiences to share pictures or photos of people and wildlife thriving together through the hashtag #thrivetogether. We hope that you all can join us on this date to show our collective appreciation for wildlife.”
For more information about how the Zoo continues to deliver its mission during the temporary closure, be sure to tune into PhillyZoo@2 on Facebook every weekday at 2:00 p.m. EST to get a behind-the-scenes look at Zoo life or check out www.philadelphiazoo.org.
Posted: May 12, 2020