Building leadership skills in African organizations

“This is unlike anything I’ve experienced before in this field.’

‘I wish I could have been part of something like the African Conservation Leadership Network (ACLN) ten years ago.”

Members of the 2018 African Conservation Leadership Network (ACLN) met for the second time in Naivasha, Kenya in September 2018 for a week-long session aimed at improving practical organizational leadership and management skills. This was the second of three sessions that comprise this cohort-based leadership development program.

The ACLN aims to provide a platform for investing in a new generation of conservation leaders across Africa. The program focuses on strengthening the leadership skills of key individuals in the African conservation field, with cultivating new platform for connecting, learning, and collaborating across different individuals, organizations and geographies.  

Before they gathered, the select group of mid-career professionals comprising 17 leaders of nine African organizations from Tanzania, Kenya, Namibia and Zambia, were invited to conduct an internal organizational assessment – a diagnostic tool designed by Maliasili to help organizations identify the areas that need strengthening. This set the scene for an intense week, where Maliasili’s team built on the foundational theme of self-leadership that was tackled during the first workshop, to demystify organizational leadership.  

Practical issues that leaders face on a day-to-day basis as they run their organizations were tackled, including the difference between leadership and management, building organizations, leading teams, fundraising, communications, and managing both staff and the board. Participants reported that the workshop was extremely useful to understanding, and applying, organizational leadership’, and ‘my greatest learning was how much I, as a leader, impact my team and my pivotal role in creating a happy, cohesive and productive team’.


Why is ACLN different to other leadership development programs?

  • For a start, it is designed and tailored to the requirements of African conservation organizations, many of whom operate in remote and difficult conditions with limited opportunities for peer learning.

  • The ACLN also creates a unique forum for Africa’s top conservation organizations – all of them working to address the greatest threats facing conservation on the continent - to convene and to build connections. Members reported a ‘great sense of togetherness and unity’ and said that ‘we have common purpose and a connection’ after the second gathering. One participant said that she valued ‘finding a safe space to discuss my own biases in a constructive way’.

  • Something else that sets the ACLN apart is its learning style - participatory sessions and presentations are facilitated using approaches that can be modified by the cohort in their own work. Several organizations found the first workshop so useful that they adapted the material and delivered similar training with their own teams.

  • The involvement of members of the first cohort, who have overcome challenges and are able to share openly both their successes and failures, has started building the connections outside the 2018 cohort, and will be further expanded when the 2016/7 and 2018 cohorts meet for the first African Conservation Forum in Tanzania in January 2019. One participant said ‘I’ve been given an opportunity to learn from great personalities and to borrow from their successes’.

The ACLN strives to elevate mid-career professionals, helping them to realize their leadership potential, investing in this new generation of conservation leaders across the region, and helping them grow and work together. Believing that an investment in leadership will improve organizational performance and durability, build relationships and collaborations, and ultimate scale the impact of effective conservation models across Africa. Each successive cohort will build off the success of the precious, building a trusted network primed for impact.