Conservation leadership skills more important than ever

Environmental Sustainability Agency, the ESA, Developing African Conservation Leaders, Developing agri-wildlife hubs, Inclusive rural economic development, Localising supply chain, conservation leaders, clive poultney,

As the conservation world grapples with the effects of the Covid 19 pandemic on stakeholders and funding models, leadership has never been more important, says Environmental Sustainability Agency’s Clive Poultney, speaking about the launch of a new leadership programme at the Southern African Wildlife College near Hoedspruit.

“Like the rest of the world, conservation organisations are having to deal with the fast-changing reality of a world impacted by lockdowns, shrinking revenues and the need to keep an essential work force safely deployed. The ones that thrive post-Covid are going to be the ones that are the most agile, responsive and value-driven, which is why strong leadership skills are more important than ever,” notes Poultney.

Funded by the MAVA Foundation, via Peace Parks Foundation, the African Intergenerational Leadership Hub (AIGLH) successfully launched its community leadership programme in KwaZulu Natal in January 2020. In July 2020, it launched the conservation leadership programme with more than 30 senior and young leaders from various conservation organisations around South Africa taking part.

Facilitated through the Southern African Wildlife College and leadership development organisation Common Purpose, the programme’s goal is to develop future leaders involved in conservation and environmental practices.  With the possibility that all sessions will take place online given the ongoing restrictions on in person contact due to Covid-19, a blended learning approach has been adopted.

“Future leaders in conservation and environmental practices are key to leading policy and implementation of natural resource management in Africa. Young people within such organisations are often not involved in developing management strategies or management decisions, due primarily to the top down management style of many formal conservation agencies and NGOs,” says Poultney.

By having multiple generations participate in the programme, the idea is to disrupt that model as young leaders are identified and developed through the mentorship of existing conservation professionals. At the same time, those professionals are taken through a change management process within conservation organisations that helps adapt their processes to be more flexible and open to inputs from young professionals.

“This intergenerational approach is really an innovative way of contributing solutions to current and future conservation challenges,” says Common Purpose’s Elsbeth Dixon, who has been excited by both the quality and calibre of the participants.

She notes that with the ever-increasing environmental challenges facing the African continent and its wildlife, it has become progressively important for conservation organisations to equip their staff with the skills needed to tackle the demands ahead.

The 32 participants currently fill various roles at their respective organisations. Anathi Wonga Pama, for example, is a Section Ranger at West Coast National Park. He has been working in the nature conservation and biodiversity management sector for the past six years, starting his career in 2014 as a field Ranger at SANParks’ Tankwa Karoo National Park. Within six months, he was promoted to Ranger Sergeant. At the time, Tankwa was an emerging park, which gave Wonga the opportunity to assist in conservation operations and administration necessary for the development of the park. For two years in a row he was honoured with SANParks’ Excellent Performance in the Workplace award and in 2017 he joined the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency (ECPTA) as a Section Ranger in the Great Fish River & Mpofu Nature Reserve.

Not all participants have a role in the field. Chené Barnard, Data Capture Administrator at Peace Parks Foundation started at the company as an intern in 2018 and has been on a few adventures within the organisational structure since then. In 2019, she started as a Research and Development Intern with the New Technologies Programme (NTP). At the beginning of 2020, she moved on to Human Resources and helped with data capturing. She is now assisting the Combating Wildlife Crime (CWC) department with financial and budget-related data capturing.

Another participant, Esther Matthew, Specialist Conservation Officer at the Endangered Wildlife Trust, completed her M.Sc. in Environmental Science in 2015 and as part of her studies she successfully raised and trained a scent detection dog to locate Giant African Bullfrogs (Pyxicephalus adspersus) underground. The project ignited Esther’s interest in training canines for conservation and research. As a result, she pursued additional training with national and international professionals in the canine behaviour and scent detection fields.  Esther joined the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Drylands Conservation Programme (EWT-DCP) in 2016 and is currently working as their Specialist Conservation Officer, focusing on in situ Endangered species conservation and research. Esther also has a passion for sharing conservation knowledge and is a highly dedicated and motivated conservationist.

“These are just a few examples of the young people we’re working with,” notes Dixon, who reports that the first virtual real time live engagement Zoom session was exciting and inspiring for all. “Throughout the programme, participants will develop their skills to become leaders who can bring about positive change within their organisations and society, something that’s becoming more urgent than ever before in these challenging times,” she says.

The collaboration between the Southern African Wildlife College, Common Purpose, and the Environmental Sustainability Agency (ESA) is an exciting one, as they leverage their various strengths in support of this work. The College has a more than two-decade long history of equipping people with the qualifications, practical skills, and thought leadership to manage complex ecosystems, conserve wildlife, and empower local communities. Common Purpose is a 30-year old international not-for-profit organisation that develops leaders who can cross boundaries to better solve complex problems, while the Environmental Sustainability Agency is a for-profit enterprise that seeks impact through the development of rural inclusive agro-wildlife economies in partnership with landowning communities.

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