Levente Viszló

Ashoka Fellow
,
Fellow Since 1996
Pro Vertes Public Foundation

Citation

This profile was prepared when Levente Viszló was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1996.
The New Idea
As Hungarian communism unraveled in the 1980s, Levente Viszló saw a unique opportunity to draw ordinary local citizens into his life’s passion—nature conservation. As a park ranger, Levente projects a powerful conviction about the government’s responsibilities to protect the land. His years in the field, however, have also convinced him that the environment will only be preserved when local citizens share in the responsibility to care for it.

Drawing on these two principles, Levente is reinventing the field of nature conservation for post-communist Hungary by rolling out a series of new institutions, mechanisms and approaches that are rooted in citizen action and local level private-public partnerships in his home region of the Vertes. As a national parks ranger in the 1980s, he worked inclusively with diverse citizen stakeholders—including recreational hunters, farmers, nature lovers and public agencies—living in the ecologically diverse marshes and mountains of the Vertes region to build a powerful local constituency to protect the Vertes from inappropriate “development.”

This first principle paid off when he succeeded in reversing state-led efforts to drain the Vertes wetlands, which are home for four endangered species, and the second when the citizens successfully opposed the placement of electricity pylons through the region.

When successive waves of public land reclassification and privatization began after the collapse of communism, Levente was again prepared. He and his citizen volunteers succeeded—through field activities to protect endangered species combined with local level political advocacy—in getting large areas proclaimed as “protected areas” and mobilized foreign funding to purchase other ecologically significant parcels in the name of the country’s first conservation land trust. He has supported these and other conservation measures with a growing public and schools education program, including the publication of a landmark book, One Little Drop of Hungary, which ensures a steady stream of new volunteers to his cause.

Levente is currently consolidating these conservation and education activities in the Vertes Mountain Public Foundation for Nature Conservation and the Vertes Natural Science Museum and has begun to export his Vertes conservation model throughout Hungary and the wider region.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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