From fundraising to sunsets, and everything in between
High up on a massive boulder I sat with my two kids, my husband, and Seriamu, our morani (Maasai warrior) local guide, enjoying the view. It was the ‘magic hour,’ that time of day when the sun drops just enough to turn everything slightly golden, warm and soft, and from our vantage this practically lit up the Enduimet plains, which to the south creep up the slopes of Kilimanjaro and to the northwest run into Amboseli National Park in Kenya.
My five-year-old son had been listening intently to our conversation and asked me about the difference between a community wildlife management area versus a national park. “But there’s wildlife in both of them,” he pondered. He’s right - we had just driven past zebra and giraffes, elephants and gazelle, but we’d also seen livestock and herders.
It wasn’t just the golden glow making our view magic, but it was the community conservation model sprawling across the vast landscape creating something very special too.
Enduimet is one of two community Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) in northern Tanzania that I’ve visited in the past couple of months. Both WMAs - Enduimet and Randilen - offer impressive landscapes and wildlife, and a unique tourism experience that goes beyond park boundaries. But while these places may seem wild, they actually require a huge amount of investment by people to make them work. Our partner, Honeyguide, is one such organization that is making this investment. There’s the management of the landscape and of the rangers monitoring it; there’s environmental education and generating sufficient benefits for communities so they are willing to live alongside wildlife; there’s protecting farms and people; and there’s even accounting and bookkeeping, often overlooked yet critical components of effective conservation models.
Honeyguide works alongside the WMA teams on all of these different things because they all matter for community conservation to work, and they all require support to be put in place properly.
After twenty years of investment and struggles to get WMAs to work in Tanzania, Honeyguide, taking a collaborative and business-like approach, may be the one organization that has developed an effective solution.
Despite the impact Honeyguide has had (and I should mention they work in more places than just Randilen and Enduimet), last year there was a moment when I wondered if Honeyguide was going to make it as an organization. For reasons outside of their control a key donor withdrew critical funding, leaving Honeyguide without enough funds to make it through the year. Fortunately, they took it as an opportunity, and used their strategic plan as their guide to weather the storm. They made budget cuts and stopped operations in some places; they made tough decisions on how to best deploy their resources, including laying off staff; and with Maliasili’s help, they buckled down on their communications and fundraising efforts, developing strategies to guide their efforts on both and investing in these areas in hopes it would pay off down the line.
I stopped by their office a couple of weeks ago and it was buzzing with activity - new staff receiving training, white boards covered with plans and operations' targets, vehicles being repaired to return to the field.
Since the financial blow last year, Honeyguide has rebounded, raising more than $350,000 in new funds to support their work, and developing new relationships and potential opportunities. All the while, real results continue to happen on the ground.
There has been zero elephant poaching where they work and community farms are 90% safer from animal invasions. It’s not quite a 'rags to riches’ story (there’s still lots to do), but it’s certainly one of transformation. Honeyguide’s Executive Director told a colleague recently that their funding crisis was “the best thing that ever happened” to them. It forced the organization to become more disciplined, build new partnerships, and become more aligned with donors, which was possible thanks to strategy, hard work, and passion.
Seeing this play out in real life - from the beauty of Enduimet to the Honeyguide office - was a different kind of ‘magic’ moment for me, one of purpose and pride.
This is what Maliasili is all about - helping great organizations realize their potential so that people and wildlife can continue to co-exist and thrive.
By Jessie Davie, Portfolio Director at Maliasili