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Building Capacity With Private Sector-Conservation Skill Share Partnerships


Earth Skills Network (ESN) is a collaboration between Earthwatch, UNESCO, IUCN & businesses. It connects leaders from the business and conservation sector through mentoring & skill-sharing. Through ESN, Protected Areas (PAs) can access relevant skills within businesses & build constructive dialogue on the need to manage environmental impacts. Through ESN, businesses can identify solutions to pressures on natural resources & nurture sustainable business leadership. Most PA managers are trained biologists, which gives them a solid grounding to respond to a wide range of challenges, but means they frequently lack key business planning skills. The challenges they must address go beyond those relating to ecosystem health and include those related to running a site’s organisational systems and processes, including human resources, marketing, fundraising and risk management. If a PA lacks organisational effectiveness then it will be compromised in its ability to deliver on conservation objectives. The private sector can offer a wealth of experienced staff and considerable expertise on the methods for effective business management. So by training business leaders as mentors for protected areas, the Earth Skills Network can help these sites to take a more strategic approach to organisational resourcing and planning. ESN represents win-wins for both the business sector and PAs. It benefits business by allowing senior staff to understand the role of PAs and how the ecosystem services they safeguard deliver economic and social benefits. The programme helps businesses to build constructive dialogue with conservation organisations, through which they can better understand and manage their impacts and dependencies; and to look for opportunities to enhance or protect the environment.

Problem, challenge or context: 

1. PAs are the cornerstone of international efforts to meet ambitious conservation targets, but many sites are ineffectively managed, failing to meet minimum standards and leading to ineffective conservation. Lack of staff training in business planning and other key organisational skills has been identified as a significant contributor to ineffective management.

2. Businesses are often working in complex and changing landscapes. In order to thrive sustainably and maintain an authentic licence to operate they need to be innovative, to understand and manage their impacts, and to look for opportunities to enhance or protect the environment. However business leaders often lack the insight into environmental risks, opportunities and dependencies that is required if they are to balance the competing demands on natural resources.

Specific elements of components: 

Experienced business leaders are selected from ESN partner organisations and trained by Earthwatch. This sharpens professional competencies in mentoring, coaching, leadership and facilitation, and helps individuals to explore the protected area context within which they will apply existing leadership and business planning skills.

Mentors work directly with three representatives from a PA, which has evidenced how training in business planning and effective management practices will support improved conservation outcomes. Central to establishing this relationship is a 10 day residential course for mentors and protected area staff. This is set in an inspiring natural location, within a protected area, thus providing and immersive and inspirational ‘on the job’ setting for sharing ideas and building constructive dialogue. Throughout the course a series of coaching and leadership development activities ensure that mentors and PA representatives have the confidence and capabilities to put what they have learnt into practice.

Following the training, mentors and site staff begin a period of at least 12 months collaboration, which supports PA organisations to incorporate business processes into conservation management practices. This includes organisational business planning and numerous other activities that address the specific challenges faced at site level. For example, developing a marketing plan to diversify revenue through ecotourism, establishing community forums to explore the drivers of illegal logging and encourage local entrepreneurship, and at one site, a detailed finance review that delivered an annual cost saving of $25,000.

Crucially this is a two way exchange of knowledge and ideas, through which the business mentors learn about the important role of protected areas, develop new skills in valuing natural assets and gain a deeper understanding of potential business impacts on ecosystems. Coaching and mentoring are important skills for the modern manager and without continually growing the capabilities of staff any business that depends on its people assets will start to fall behind. Through the ESN, mentors practice and enhance these skills in a real situation, which enables embedding of learning away from the work-place pressures that reinforce old habits. By considering different perspectives and contexts in which to apply new and existing business-planning skills, business leaders can unlock their leadership potential.

Key lessons learned: 

1. The importance of identifying PAs where a lack of business planning and organisational management skills is a critical constraint. Enhancing business skills may not have a discernable impact where other salient factors (e.g. lack of political support, severe lack of resources, or security issues) are prevalent and prevent progress.

2. Protected areas must be able to invest fully in the programme, at a senior level. Although the training is funded, PAs need to be able to send three members of staff onto a 10 day residential training programme, and commit to at least 12 months of business planning implementation. These individuals must be in the right roles to deliver on business planning activities and need the full support of senior staff.

3. Building strong relationships is vital for success.

At the heart of the ESN training is a 10 day immersive residential training programme that:
- Builds relationships between business mentors and PA representatives
- Transfers valuable information on business planning and organisational management to the PA through training and discussion.
- Develops the leadership attributes of PA staff
- Establishes a clear plan for working together, to apply learning at a site-level
- Provides an opportunity for networking between PAs from around Africa
- Helps business mentors to understand the importance of effective PAs, and the possible impact of business decisions

Impacts and outcomes: 

Case Study:
Shell has been a member of the Earth Skills Network for seven years, helping to support their commitment to operate responsibly in a way that lessens their impact on biodiversity. To date (end of 2014) Shell has trained 30 business mentors (recruited from senior staff) and has funded nearly 100 staff from protected area organisations in Africa and Asia. The Shell Foundation and UNESCO has also developed a Business Planning Toolkit for Protected Areas, which is available to download for free from the UNESCO website (

An example from Shell’s involvement in ESN is included below:
In 2013 Pendjari National Park in Benin was successfully awarded a place on the Earth Skills Network training and mentoring programme. They were partnered with Giannandrea Abbate, an Economist from Shell in the Netherlands. Following a week mentor development course, Giannandrea joined three representatives from Pendjari National Park at a residential training programme in Kenya. Over the course of a 10 day programme they developed a strategy for enhancing business planning at Pendjari National Park and a plan to continue their collaboration for the following year.

After the residential training programme, Giannandrea travelled to Pendjari to support his PA colleagues with the implementation of business planning activities, and to look for opportunities to engage other key individuals within the organisation and beyond.

Business planning implementation at site level within Pendjari has been recognised by the National Centre for Wildlife Management (or Centre National de Gestion des Réserves de la Faune – CENAGREF), which is responsible for the conservation and management of national parks in Benin. This has generated opportunities in future to scale up the business planning work conducted at Pendjari to a national level.

The relationship between Giannandrea and Pendjari is on-going, beyond the minimum 12 month commitment; but some initial outcomes and areas of on-going collaboration include:
1. Pendjari National Park carried out an in-depth stakeholder analysis, which helped support the creation of a new tourist organisation. This has established closer links to local businesses and communities in order to generate new revenue opportunities from ecotourism.

2. The team are working to analyse Pendjari National Park’s strategy of employing former poachers as rangers, to see if improvements can be identified. This will ensure that regulations and quotas are adhered to, and the benefits are quantified.

3. A stakeholder analysis identified the potential benefit of greater levels of research and monitoring, and an opportunity to engage international universities to generate additional revenue through research placements.

Contact details: 
Ben Jack, Senior Manager, Earthwatch Institute
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