By Nduta Waidhima, LGT Impact Fellow for Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancy Association, Kenya
Being used to a busy city life in Nairobi, Kenya, as a local director at Play for smiles, a Foundation that works to provide basic necessities to children exposed to abject poverty, I did not know what moving to the Mara would be like. Handing over some of the key tasks I ran, were among the transition activities on my agenda. Changing my wardrobe was top of my list, along with snippets of national geographic in anticipation. This was the start of a magical experience. Different environment, but still in my element – cut out to work with communities in social impact.
Rosebell, our operations officer at Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancy Association (MMWCA) was my very first interaction to this new journey. She made sure I was picked up from my doorstep bright and early en-route to Narok. Here I met the rest of the finance and operations team. I was proud. William, head of transport and logistics, took me on a tour to the Mara. This was a Friday. I must admit the welcome was so warm, with no doubt I felt at home. I got to enjoy amazing game drives as I settled in over the weekend, got my hands on “The Voice of the Mara”, a publication done by MMWCA. The publication profiled the amazing work MMWCA is doing in the greater Mara highlighting stories about its impact. What struck me most was the number of conservancies: 17. How would I visit and get to know them all?
My interaction with the MMWCA staff was very individual, giving me independent interaction to learn a lot more about the organization and scope of work. Angela, heading the gender department, was the very first person I interacted with. Very approachable we instantly connected on so many levels and she looped me in on her field visits in my early days. Olderkesi – Siana, Olderkesi – Pardamat and Olare-Motorogi were among the very first conservancies I set foot into. I quickly understood Angela’s scope of work: empower women through encouraging them to participate in leadership spaces and equipping them with tools for social inclusion and economic growth. Meeting these amazing women at these forums gave me an upper hand to recognize their willingness to participate more in leadership spaces. This automatically gave insight to the direction my fellowship experience would develop towards. Women empowerment. It is true where women are, children and the youth. Education and social entrepreneurship were also key aspects edged on my brain.
Learning Maa, the language of Maasai people (at least the basics) was part of the mission to better interact with the communities during my service. Emmanuel, the communication person, was very instrumental with storytelling. Working with him in different conservancies really enriched my understanding of the culture and work dynamics, learning a few tricks working and living with the locals and as well learning Maa language, a key aspect of belonging. I knew I had to join the programs team. This worked so well as I quickly integrated into the system and my interaction at the community level were a bit easier. I was ready to work.
With a background in reforestation, Svein, a tour operator at Basecamp Explorer and philanthropist, was happy to onboard me to the MMWCA programs team to pilot a reforestation/afforestation program. We had an ambitious target – we still do – transforming sections of the Pardamat Conservation Area (PCA) into green spaces by covering the eyesores in community centres with vegetation and as well improving the forest cover. Jackson who happens to be a very charismatic leader was extremely supportive with introducing me to Pardamat (one of the 17 conservancies) by calling it a maternity ward for elephants. I knew very soon PCA would be my workspace and area of impact, the pieces of the puzzle were slowly fitting in.
With a very proactive programs team led by Eric, the chief program coordinator, I was very well inducted to the operations between conservancies, landowners and tourist partners – a very symbiotic relationship that builds sustainable conservancies. This relationship was very evident in the hearts of Lawrence and Daniel Muli through the numerous so-called Barraza’s meetings (community meetings, mostly held under a tree) they had with the landowners for land leases as community welfare, benefits and protection. These interactions added a lot of value to my work around sustainable conservancies. I did not understand the Maa language during all the field session, but the message was visible through the passion and enthusiasm as they spoke.
November and December were crowned by a series of such amazing activities, I almost could not keep up. These included visits from the LGT Venture Philanthropy management team. Together with Marc from LGT Lighstone and the Fellows Justin and Miriam we have spent an amazing weekend visiting the beautiful Leopard Hill camp in Naboisho. It was exciting to meet them again, a second time after such a wonderful and empowering experience in Switzerland during the Fellowship kick-off workshop. During the stay at Naboisho, I fell in love with the private conservancy and the beauty in conservation. Naboisho is one of the most successful models of conservation in the entire Mara, which is rich in wildlife as well as a beautiful landscape. With the team, we spent some amazing time at Basecamp Foundation for seedlings nursery learning about the vision, planting trees and as well uncovering the Fellowship experience so far. With great pleasure l got a chance to meet Oliver Karius, CEO of LGT Venture Philanthropy along with Dr Alexander Leeb, Chairman of the LGT Venture Philanthropy Foundation Board. I was happy to carry home some information from the brains behind the great business models in impact investing and a brief history on LGT Venture Philanthropy, which did offset me to work on my current ongoing sustainable model of conservation, namely a women led social enterprise development with emphasis on honey harvesting and manufacturing. Once successful, this will impact the community by providing numerous employment opportunities to the women and the youth in Pardamat conservation area, a scalable model of conservation that will impact the greater Mara in various conservancies.
Reforestation as well took shape, over December with Diana, another LGT Impact Fellow, visiting us from Malawi to participate in the launch of the program as well as enjoy the safaris. The pupils in the local primary schools continue to be the frontline implementers of the reforestation program, they nurture and protect the tree seedlings under the wildlife clubs, through a new program called “Next Generation Leadership”. Through this program, the children will access more growth spaces as we are looking to collaborate with existing organizations in conservation education. We as well hope to build a community library to further equip them with learning material both in their academics and in conservation.
The move to PCA was timely, I was warmly received by Teriano, Gideon and Jackson, the dream bearers transitioning Pardamat Conservation Area to a fully-fledged conservancy. The team lead by Jackson works tirelessly to open up wildlife corridors that are currently fenced by sealing beneficial commitments with the land owners and communities. My interaction in PCA has developed a sense of belonging for me, with a fruitful relationship working under Jackson’s leadership to develop sustainable programs for the conservancy. A defining moment in my career advancement.
Despite the effects of the COVID-19 global crisis, I’m looking forward to doing more on the months ahead of us.
I’m more than humbled by our CEO, Sopia, for his personal guidance, direction and leadership. Conservation was something I got wind of while at the Mara. Working under his leadership has given me utmost experience to grow, be curious and thrive.
I’ve been reading a lot more on social entrepreneurship and innovation – the direction that my career is growing towards. I’m looking to pursue further learnings and centre the community as the solution providers to social growth and change and global issues.