Photo © Rachel Ambrose

After two long days of flights, airports, taxis and buses, I finally arrived at the African Leaders Network workshop in Tanzania. Standing on the porch of the tented camp overlooking the beautiful Lake Burunge — with grey storm clouds on the horizon, zebras grazing in the shrubs below, and a pink spattering of flamingoes along the shoreline—I was many miles away from my windowless office in Victoria, British Columbia, working for TNC Canada in the Pacific coastal temperate rainforest.

As the others arrived by minibus and Landrover from Tanzania, Nambia and Kenya, I was struck by the feeling that I was sitting on the sidelines of a family reunion, watching people’s eyes light up as they shook hands, hugged, laughed and expressed excitement to be in each other’s company again.

Honestly, I felt a bit reluctant and awkward. I had been asked to come to the workshop to learn from the success of the Africa Leadership Network, a group of leaders from organizations in East Africa working to engage communities in conservation. The network includes organizations like The Northern Rangeland Trust in Kenya, which has helped communities create 33 wildlife conservancies across 10.8 million acres, resulting in a 30 percent decrease in elephant poaching compared to areas outside these conservancies.


I was there to see how I could apply strategies around leadership training and network development from the ALN to our work in Canada and in the Emerald Edge to support and strengthen Indigenous led conservation. Our approach in the Emerald Edge looks at the Pacific coastal rainforest as a whole system, stretching 100 million acres from Alaska’s Tongass Forest, through Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest, to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. There, we work with communities to support Indigenous leadership and authority to steward lands and waters. We find ways to support emerging and existing leaders, such as helping to host community exchanges, where groups can share information and pass on strategies.

But with different cultures, different histories, different landscapes, different threats, different socio-political drivers, what commonalities could there possibly be? What learnings could I bring from East Africa to the Pacific coastal rainforest, where grizzlies roam, whales swim and salmon spawn? Or the other Canadian landscapes I work in, like the Boreal Forest in the Northwest Territories and Manitoba, with its wild rivers and continental-scale migration of caribou?

Despite my initial trepidation, I was amazed and inspired by the many common issues and themes that characterize community-based conservation work no matter where you are in the world including the importance of supporting local communities to play a central role in conservation so that solutions are lasting and durable. For example, in Africa 60 percent of wildlife live and move outside of protected areas. So conservation successes depend on involving local communities to identify the problems and design relevant solutions that both protect the environment and sustain local cultures and livelihoods – in East Afrcia there is a big focus on shifting grazing practices to benefit both communities and wildlife. Likewise, in Canada, the First Nation communities we work with rely on the landscape for their cultural and economic well-being. So it’s crucial that the people actually living and working on these lands play a central role in protecting them.

The workshop in Tanzania addressed issues like these by equipping leaders with new tools and strategies to affect change at personal, organizational and systems levels. I was inspired by the openness to exploring leadership and change in each of these three intersecting spheres. I was also inspired by the actions the group had implemented just since August, when the first workshop had taken place. One group had involved all of its staff when it restructured the organization, using a participatory process they’d learned at the first workshop that empowered their team and made them feel more connected to the conservation mission. Another group of organizations had joined forces to collaborate and form a working group to represent rural voices in an international forum.


At the end of our week as we sat together as a group on the porch overlooking the beautiful Lake Burunge in the closing circle, my heart felt big and open. I was moved by the people in the group and their choices to commit their lives to the work of community-based conservation — to defending the rights of communities to manage and steward their lands, to seeking solutions to really complex and layered problems, to committing to peace-building where there is violence that impacts conservation work, and to do all of this with much laughter. Over the week, the gap between East Africa and Canada had narrowed, and now I was ready to take my learnings and new perspectives back to my team in Canada and the Emerald Edge. I am grateful to all the participants who welcomed me and shared their ideas and experiences, and also to The Nature Conservancy in Africa and Maliasili Initiatives for their efforts to organize and host this gathering of brilliant leaders.

TNC Global Indigenous Peoples & Local Communities (IPLC) Program’s Allison Martin also travelled to Tanzania to attend the second group action-learning seminar of the African Leadership Network (ALN). Read her perspective on the trip on

Claire Hutton is a Community Conservation and Leadership Advisor for TNC Canada based in Victoria, British Columbia. Claire has worked with Indigenous communities in Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest for over a decade to support the authority of Indigenous peoples to steward their lands and waters. She oversees TNC Canada’s Indigenous Stewardship Strategy, and prior to joining TNC, she was the coordinator of the Coastal Guardian Watchmen Network with the Coastal First Nations Great Bear Initiative.

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