by Domoina Rakotobe, Madagascar, ELP 2014
Written on July 20, 2014.
Madagascar is considered one of the world’s hotspots for biodiversity, with unique fauna and flora embedded in fragile ecosystems. Since 2003, the Network of Conservation Educators and Practitioners (NCEP) has worked to strengthen conservation capacity in Madagascar, which is facing severe threats and a lack of trained individuals to meet them. Through a system-wide approach, we have convened key players to develop long-term strategies and worked collaboratively to implement solutions at the individual, organizational, and national levels. We have pioneered open-access educational materials tailored to the Malagasy context and improved the breadth and quality of conservation training available. Our work on assessing capacity development needs, developing competence standards for conservation professionals, designing complimentary training programs, and setting up systems of certifying professionals has set an important precedent and foundation in the country.
Despite my long experience in training, my experience as a trainee in my turn at the Environmental Leadership Program (ELP) shed light on potential progress of conservation capacity development in Madagascar and namely for NCEP.
Most of the ELP courses were dealing with prediction of the future. The haunting question is what might happen if…? Then, how could we, as environmental leaders, be better prepared to face these future challenges? What are the available options we have or need to develop to address them? Those are important questions to adequately address environmental challenges. For capacity development in Madagascar, three paths are worth considering in order to overstep the current myopic behavior. The first one is to increase exposure of local conservation professionals and educators to information, tools and skills that help better understand the future. For instance, geoengineering, land use change science or technological approaches to water management are among interesting topics that should be incorporated into academic and professional debates. Unavailability of technological resources should not impede a greater understanding of those global trends. NCEP could help organize conferences or develop training resources on such topics. The second direction would be investment in talent sustainability of conservation institutions; in other words, time and resources are invested to make sure that their staff is competent to fulfill job requirements in an attractive workplace where success is praised. This approach, more common in the private sector, should be extended to conservation. The NCEP certification program in protected area management has aimed to highlight current staff competencies and to address competency gaps. But it could, in the future, encompass institutional capacity building to optimize human resources. The third path is to increase development of leadership skills in conservation trainings either in academic or professional settings. Course content and format should better help environmentalists to be more proactive rather than only reactive. NCEP has disseminated wide use of active teaching techniques, but there is still room for training more effective conservation leaders. What might happen if Madagascar, as a main depositary of world biodiversity, does not have competent and visionary conservation agents?