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Building inspired leaders, creating resilient networks

By Anna Davis, Leadership Specialist

After a long journey from southern Africa, I arrived at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy weary, disoriented and a day late. Never a good start for a meeting facilitator, but the energy and excitement of the cohort of African leaders that greeted me upon arrival was overwhelming and instantly inspiring. After just a day together, the 17 men and women that comprised the second cohort of the African Conservation Leadership Network (ACLN) - together at Lewa for their first leadership development training session that week- had settled into a relaxed group.

Maliasili, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the International Land Coalition (ILC), has now run three leadership program cohorts since 2016, and I am convinced we have found a winning approach. After many years working with different organizations in southern Africa, I have found that conservation efforts are often confounded by the dearth of strong, local leaders who can bring expertise, experience and credibility to development work in Africa. In particular, the community conservation field has failed to grow and nurture sufficient young and mid-careers leaders, thinking that the right skills and capabilities would trickle down from larger organizations. But often this hasn’t happened.

A couple of key elements really sets Maliasili’s approach to leadership development apart. Firstly, we work with the actors that most need this support – African conservation organizations that have a proven track record and the potential to achieve even greater impact. Great care, intent and time is paid to assemble the right combination of participants in a given cohort. This includes a mix of position (we recruit senior leaders), passion and influence in their organizations. We have been able to work with a truly exciting group of leaders: 48 women and men from 23 organizations in total that work with communities to protect their land, natural resources and livelihoods. They have come from west, east and southern Africa.

Our approach is to work on leadership in a nested manner, beginning with understanding and leading one’s self, moving to leading teams and organizations, to finally, leading change within the systems within which our work occurs. The results and feedback from the participants has been clear. Being self-aware makes an important difference, being equipped with solid management tools and approaches is vital (we focus on team building and management, fundraising, strategic planning, board management) and planning and conducting our work with a systems view is key.

The leadership program’s two-fold purpose is to build leaders, help create a connection between them, and foster networks which we view as platforms that support ongoing communication, collaboration and friendships. A remarkable range of collaborations and joint action has sprung from the ACLN and participants have noted that the network delivers both a pool of expertise and wealth of knowledge, but also has the potential to build a stronger African voice that can influence conservation on the regional and even global scale.

ACLN was a unique experience. In those three weeks I was reinvented and what my organization has now is a man on a mission to ensure its success....Maliasili through the ACLN program has equipped TTWCA with the essentials to deliver its mandate. Conservation in the Taita Taveta – Tsavo landscape has a bright future.
— Alfred Mwanake, Coordinator, Taita Taveta Wildlife Conservancies Association (TTWCA)
Strengthening local civil society is critical to accelerating progress on land rights at this crucial time.
— Michael Taylor, Director, International Land Coalition, and Fred Nelson, ‘To strengthen land rights, invest in local organizations’ in PLACE, November 2018.

New African Leadership: Sam Shaba, Honeyguide