Working conditions in conservation: A chat with Melina


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This week, I had the privilege to reconnect with Melina Gersberg, who currently works as Impact Officer at hummingbirds. We spoke about the working conditions in conservation and how these can vary between the different positions, organisations, and geographic locations. Check the interview outline below for a sneak preview!

Bonobo feeding near Luikotale Bonobo Project in DRC. Photo credits: Melina Gersberg

Interview outline: 

  • Introduction
  • How we met - through the CoalitionWILD global mentorship programme 2020-2021! A shout out to the their team  @Flavia Martinelli and @Crista Valentino  for matching us up!
  • (3.46 min) Melina’s work as an impact officer in her current company while being based in Paris, France
  • (5:15 min) How to monitor project impact, including social impact 
  • (6:30 min) Can you describe a typical day in your role as an impact officer at the place of your work?
  • (8:10 min) What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in your current or previous work environment? Work environment challenges: the importance of a safe work environment and the support of the management on one’s mental health and personal life

  • (10:15 min) How do working conditions vary between different conservation jobs or locations?
    Melina’s work ranged from complex problem solving in urban Paris, to challenges in meeting human basic needs in remote locations in the Congo basin. 

  • (13:00 min) What measures were in place to ensure the safety of conservation workers, especially in remote or hazardous locations?

  • (15:20 min) Melina shared how inequality was caused by people joining from different backgrounds and that they were responsible themselves for paying for protective gear. The level of protection became depended on what they could afford. 

  • (15:50 min) a day in the life of the Camp and research administrator at a Bonobo habituation programme in DRC and its challenges with coordinating basic needs like food provisions, loneliness (22:00 min)
  • (24:50 min) Melina sharing how working in a very remote forest impacted her personal life.

One one side, you live exceptional moments in an incredible place, but it comes at a cost. The cost is that you are not there for others, who you left back home”. (Melina Gersberg)

  • (26:30 min) Melina sharing what it was like to move back to Paris after a year working full-time in a remove field campsite in DRC 
  • (29:03 min) What kind of support, if any, did you receive from your organization for mental health and well-being in any of your roles? 
  • (31:10 min) In your role at the Luikotale Bonobo project, how did you address and mitigate the risks of hazardous situations (e.g. fallen trees)? Melina discussing the risks - what you can prevent, and what you cannot. 

Photo credits: Melina Gersberg

  • (35.10 min): organisational culture and peer pressure influencing people’s health and safety
  • (37:00 min) What improvements would you suggest to enhance the working conditions for wildlife conservationists in that site and more generally? Melina’s view on the importance of truthful communication, being able to speak up, expressing your concerns and that these are listened to.

Putting the right procedures in place is a real game changer." (Melina Gersberg)

  • (41:35 min) How baselines of working conditions can change, and of people’s risk perception. Rites of passage and conservation’ greater good.

Just because something is done in a certain way for several years, it doesn't mean that it cannot be changed” (Melina Gersberg)

Thank you Melina for your willingness to be interviewed and for sharing your lessons learned with the WildHub community 🌷

Melina in camp, Power Ranger Force Pink!

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Go to the profile of Dinah Awino
about 1 month ago

Thank you for the Rich Webinar Melina and Thirza. Alot learnt.

Go to the profile of Thirza Loffeld
about 1 month ago

Wonderful to hear Dinah! Thanks for your feedback and perhaps you and I could do a webinar like this sometime to discuss the lessons learned based on your important work as well? 

Go to the profile of Dinah Awino
about 1 month ago

Of course. We can find time together. Thanks.