“The three ACLN sessions have shifted my view of leadership. I’ve taken more leadership roles in my organization. I’ve learned enough to give me confidence in guiding others, at the same time embracing my new role as a manager. I really appreciate how the sessions were planned, focusing first on individual leadership and later organizational leadership and how the agenda was designed to allow for a lot of side meetings, which were incredibly valuable, especially for discussing common challenges, solutions and possible partnerships. The trust that’s been built over the ACLN sessions formed a strong foundation for deep collaborations and partnerships going forward.”
–Sam Shaba, Program Manager, Honeyguide
Just over a year ago, Maliasili and The Nature Conservancy began an ambitious experiment: to pilot a new leadership development program and network targeting the best emerging African conservation organizations- the kinds of leaders that both our organizations support. For Maliasili, doing this was sparked by the recognition that we needed to do more to support the individual leaders within our partners, and that there was a huge but untapped potential for peer-to-peer learning across our growing portfolio. We also believed that bringing these African conservation leaders together would lead to new collaborations, relationships, and insights- not all of which were predictable, but which might prove valuable to all the participants.
In mid-September, the leaders of these eight conservation organizations in Kenya, Tanzania and Namibia completed their third leadership development session together. Their journey has taken them to each of the three countries represented within this first cohort, with the final event taking place in Namibia’s north-eastern Zambezi Region at the heart of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area.
At this last session in Namibia, the trip combined a three-day study tour of conservancies and other community conservation initiatives in the region with a four-day workshop on organizational leadership. The workshop featured newly developed curriculum delivered by Maliasili and TNC staff, including building and managing teams, communications, fundraising, and exploring aspects of systems leadership.
“Time invested in the organization is the best thing you can do in leadership.”
–John Kamanga, Executive Director, SORALO
Relationships are key
A key theme throughout the entire leadership pilot has been the centrality of relationships in all aspects of leadership, from the individual to the scale of system-wide collaborations. From management to fundraising to communications to recruitment, we emphasized that relationships are key to success. But relationships have also been a core theme in the shared experience of the pilot program itself. Participants observed how remarkable it was that after only three sessions, their cohort had developed a level of trust that allowed them to share their vulnerabilities and struggles, which ultimately allowed them to learn from each other and grow.
One of the most exciting developments from the past year’s experience developing the program has been witnessing new collaborations – based on those relationships developed – emerge in an organic way. For example, NACSO (Namibian Association of CBNRM Support Organisations) and KWCA (Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association) have collaborated in advocating for a new platform for rural communities at the 2016 Conference of the Parties to CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) conference. More recently, organizations such as Honeyguide, SORALO, and Lion Guardians – all of whom work in the transboundary rangelands of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania – have hatched new plans and ideas for working together. New relationships, and the friendships born from this shared and reflective, intimate experience, have enabled these to emerge, and to start laying the foundations for a conservation leadership network that puts peer learning and collaboration at its core.
Learning journeys inspire innovation and partnership
Namibia’s conservancy program is used to hosting visitors. But this time six Namibian conservancies and a neighboring community trust in Botswana were hosting their peers – people who work with communities like them and leaders who have overcome similar struggles to establish conservancy organizations that assist communities to conserve wildlife. As a result, the learning was mutual. The Kenyans and Tanzanians spent several days with staff of local organization IRDNC (Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation) and WWF in Namibia, who facilitated lively discussions that continued late into the night.
A group of leaders passionate to reverse the decline in lions outside of protected areas met with Namibian peers, some of whom drove over a thousand kilometers away, for the opportunity to share experiences with the East Africans.
The African Conservation Leadership Network has come full circle – just over a year after its inception, Maliasili Initiatives and The Nature Conservancy’s theory that nurturing leadership and promoting collaboration would spark off learning, action, and new collaborations has become a reality. The first, ‘pioneer’ cohort group is keen to use what they have learned to mentor the next cohort. Imagine several cohorts down the line some years from now- the power of this web of collaborations stretching to countries and organizations that we cannot even envisage today, all the while strengthening leaders and organizations to work together to solve the environmental crises faced in Africa and beyond.