Procedure & challenges in creating a grassroots conservation organisation

In order to repair some of the damages done by humans and maintain the environment for future generations, we need to act as one, and now is the time.
Procedure & challenges in creating a grassroots conservation organisation
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My name is Fai Collins Ndi from Cameroon. I'm a WildHub Conservation Catalyst, and a conservationist working towards the creation of a grassroots conservation organisation called “Eco-literacy and Conservation Organization (ELCO)” with aim to foster research, education and conservation in Cameroon.  I had the pleasure of learning and sharing ideas and experiences with Henry Opio on procedure and challenges in creating a grassroots conservation organisation, a topic that has been much discussed on WildHub recently. Henry has been in the conservation sector for the past 18 years and working within organisations in Uganda and abroad and has a lot of insights to offer. I am pleased to share our discussion with WildHub members.

Fai: Hi Henry, it’s a privilege to have you today to share your insights with us on how create an organisation. The knowledge acquired here will not only benefit me but other conservationists in our WildHub community. Would you mind telling us about yourself and your role in conservation?

Henry: Thank you Fai and I am happy to meet you too. My name is Henry Oding Opio. I am a conservationist/ environmentalist. Currently I’m working with the National Centre for Wildlife, Riyadh Zoological Garden in Saudi Arabia as a General Zoo Curator. My wildlife conservation journey started in 2005, at the Uganda Wildlife Education Center (UWEC) as an animal keeper. I was in this position for 6 years, after which I was promoted to General Head Keeper. In 2016, I moved to United Arab Emirates (UAE) to join a new team at Dubai Safari Park as a Zoo Collection Supervisor. Finally, in December 2019, I took another position to work with Worldwide Zoo Consultancy (WZC) in Addis Ababa Ethiopia, as a Curator.

Fai: Wow! Amazing. Your life has really been devoted to the conservation of biological diversity and I would love to learn a lot from you. Diving straight to the questions. Are there some crucial steps one needs to follow in their quest to create a conservation organisation?

Henry: First, I would like to indicate that it depends on the country where you want to set up the organisation but what I know generally is that:

  1. Before setting up a conservation organisation, you must have initially identified conservation challenges you would want to solve within the country or region of your interest.
  2. You must make sure there is sufficient stability in the country or region of your interest, for example with regards to war, conflicts and tribal conflicts among others.
  3. You could register it as a non-governmental organisation (NGO), with focus on conservation such as environmental or conservation education with its specific mission, vision and objectives. And, in Uganda, the organisation must have its own lawyer, to help in drafting the organisation's legal documents, and others. For example, in Uganda, to be exempted from many taxes it is good to register your organisation as a “Community Based Organisation”.

Some conservation challenges might be poaching, uncontrolled deforestations, pollution, climate change, lack of conservation and environmental education” (Henry Oding Opio)

These are the first crucial steps you must work on before getting to the next level.

Fai:  Are they some attitudes or best practices one should engage in during this process?

Henry: If the organization has to do with the grass root then the answer is yes. I must stress on this,

the first thing you need to do is to make sure there is community engagement”

Engaging the community will open your ways to more information from the locals and make sure you do not bring anyone outside of those communities to work on the projects. Train them and work with them, use local contractors in your activities. Once you involve them, they may make it their personal project; they will monitor and maintain it even if the project comes to its end, they will be able to sustain it. 

Another best practice is gender equality

Also, your funders are interested in this as you are often asked the percentage of males to females employed in the projects.

Involve local leaders

This group of people are influential in the community. The community follows their leadership and when you don’t engage them, it is unlikely that you will succeed.

To summarise, the local people are the backbone of any conservation initiative”

Why should they engage? Communities are involved in wildlife poaching, deforestation, habitat fragmentation, pollution of rivers, lakes and wetlands. So, engaging them and facilitating their capacity development is likely to bring about a change in attitude which will help your conservation activities succeed.

Liaise with existing conservation groups or organisations in your area

These groups could help your team, share opportunities such as sourcing for funds, share implementation activities, amongst others.

Fai:  What challenges might one face in the process of creating an organization and how should they be addressed?

Henry: There are many challenges when it comes to creating an organisation, some of which are;

  1. Political interference
  2. Information gaps between the local leaders and community
  3. Difficulty in community mobilisation 
  4. Lack of technical staff at the community level
  5. Funding

Now, how do you curb these challenges?

  • For political interference, make sure that your objectives, mission and goals are clear, then involve authorities in the process at some point. If you don’t involve them, you may encounter problems. Even if they are not going to be actively involved, it is best practice to inform them. You can do this verbally but always do it in writing. All they need is to be informed about activities going on within their jurisdiction, as a way of recognising them.
  • With regards to information gaps between locals and community leaders, this will depend on your approach in the flow of information. Firstly, get to the local leaders and inform them about your mission and let them convey the information to their communities. 
  • You can try to curb the difficulties in community mobilisation by motivating the local leaders and community team leaders. Once this is done, activities within their communities are more likely to run smoothly.
  • With the lack of community technical staff, I will advise you to employ people from other sectors, like teachers and other community members who have secondary or higher level of education. You can always help them retrain and work with them.
  • Lastly, funding; always search for organisations that are funding conservation activities. It’s advisable to be specific with what you do, what you want to do and check your organisation’s eligibility for their support.

Fai:  Henry, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to share this knowledge with me. This will not only benefit myself but other community members on WildHub. It was a great moment with you.

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Go to the profile of Eyos Kevin Acha
3 months ago

This was quite interesting and helpful. Thank you

Go to the profile of Adam Barlow
3 months ago

very insightful - thanks a lot for this!