Open the door to diverse voices: Pathways Kenya 2020

Field blog by Naiya Raja, Mobile Unit Education and Outreach Manager

“We all share one planet and are one humanity; there is no escaping this reality.” 
― Wangari Maathai

Leadership and inclusivity are increasingly recognised as fundamental for conservation success.

Women are more than half of the world’s population; responsible for every day environmental decisions about food, water, security and health. Women however continue to be routinely underrepresented in decision-making and leadership roles.

To help address this, the Pathways Kenya 2020 conference, organised by the Pride Lion Conservation Alliance and the Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources at Colorado State University was themed  “Open the Door to Diverse Voices”, to critically discuss the costs of excluding diverse voices in our decision-making teams and conservation programs and the benefits we gain through inclusivity and collaboration.

From Save the Elephants; Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Nancy Odweyo, Maureen Kinyanjui, and myself attended the conference, hosted at Brackenhurst Limuru. Thank you Wildlife Conservation Network for all your support with conservation efforts helping humans and wildlife coexist.

STE Team: Maureen Kinyanjui, Nancy Odweyo, Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Naiya Raja (Right to left)

Elephants and Bees Community and Livelihood Manager, Maureen Kinyanjui was 1 of 30 African scholars (out of 500 applicants) selected for the Women’s Leadership Training, a three-day training workshop before the conference; to help grow and develop leadership skills, building a sisterhood and community of ambassadors of Women for the Environment in Africa.

Maureen presenting on the importance of community welfare in human-elephant conflict

What an incredible platform for powerful and inspiring voices it was! Day 1 began with a plenary session, inviting keynote speakers Krithi Karanth (Executive Director for the Centre of Wildlife Studies, Leela Hazzah (Co-Founder and Executive Director of Lion Guardians),  Alice Ruhweza (Africa Lead, World Wild Fund for Nature), Musonda Mumba (Chief, Terrestrial Ecosystems Unit, Chair, Global Partnership for Forest and Landscape Restoration (GPFLR), UN Environment), and Musimbi Kanyoro (Former President and CEO, Global Fund for Women). Speaking to an audience of nearly 300, they inspired hope and courage, sharing their experiences, challenges and vulnerabilities.

Keynote speakers during the opening panel discussion

Engaging in workshops and interactive panel discussions, we asked questions such as; ‘How can we proactively develop support and structures for women’s involvement in conservation?”, ‘How can we build more female capacity in biodiversity conservation management?’ ‘Conservation for Who?’. We heard about innovative HWC case studies from around Africa and the world, engaged in discussions about power and privilege, and gained important tips for Communicating for impact.

Women Leadership Training Scholars with Shalini Bhalla-Lucas

Dr. Colleen Begg (Niassa Lion Project) reiterated the need to ensure communities basic needs are met, integral for the sustainable success of any conservation initiative; ‘Hungry people cannot care about conservation’. Talks from Judy-Kepher Gona (Executive Directive of Sustainable Travel and Tourism Agenda) explored the long-term decision-making process and critical questions to ask when thinking about community conservancies, and Fred Swaniker from the African Conservation Leadership Academy described his vision of a new generation of African leaders. First Lady, Margaret Kenyatta also attended the event, celebrating women leaders championing conservation.  The three days passed in a blur of back-to-back workshops and presentations, with frequent ‘a-ha’ moments.

Dr. Leela Hazzah, Dr. Winnie Kiiru, First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, Dr. Shivani Bhalla, and Dr. Jen Solomon, (Left to Right)

What blew me away was the abundance of creative energy present, highlighting the strength of collaboration, and the power of working towards our common goals in tandem. Women in conservation matter and women need to play a direct role in safeguarding the natural resources on which they and future generations are dependent, from the community level up to the highest levels of international policymaking and law. Women’s experiences vary and it is critical to have an intersectional approach to leadership in conservation.  So too we cannot think of the conservations of a species or an ecosystem, biodiversity loss or climate change in isolation.

Honorable Tiyah Galgalo Ali, Founder, Foundation For Pastoralist Women, Founder, Community Radio Station (BALITI FM)

Empowering our women doesn’t mean we are leaving our men behind, but instead lifting our sisters up, and working together. As Ewaso Lions Deputy Director Resson Kantai Duff so eloquently put it; ‘The time for elitist models of conservation on this continent has passed. The time for inclusion is now.’…‘we need to take the courage of matriarchs to help us change the narrative, and the foresight of patriarchs – we’re not leaving you behind men – to make what we are planning for this continent, its people and its wildlife a success’.

Interactive workshops learning about rangelands and pastoral livelihoods in North Kenya

Learning about the value of an interconnected ecosystem through practical workshops

It is important we continue moving forward, humbly learning from the lessons in the past.

 “Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own – indeed to embrace the whole of creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder. Recognizing that sustainable development, democracy and peace are indivisible is an idea whose time has come” 
― Wangari Maathai

Thank you to all those who organised Pathways Kenya 2020. It has been an incredibly empowering and inspiring past few days, definitely helping open the door for new thoughts and ideas about the future of conservation, and the steps and conversations we need to start taking, to get us there.


The views, opinions and position expressed in this article belong solely to the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the policy and position of Save the Elephants

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