My Key Takeaways!
I am tempted to give a huge list of my take-aways because there is so much that I’ve learnt in this year, but, I’ll try and stick to 5 key takeaways- I’ll keep my points short and precise and ensure to give a good mix of community building pointers, technical conservation tech points and lessons from my experiences working with WILDLABS. Some might be, seem or look obvious but they are ideas, thoughts and concepts that are often overlooked yet they contribute so much to the grand scheme of things.
- Building real connections/networks with people is an important aspect in identifying needs, barriers and opportunities in Conservation tech
In order to address conservation challenges, people should be involved! People who are affected by or are interested in being part of the solution and those who'll vocalize the challenges they face in their work and projects, the gaps, the barriers, and opportunities, to inform how best to channel resources to solve the issues. The process of building a community with an aim to serve its members through the resources shared, the events delivered, questions answered and programmes designed revolves around what people articulate. The networks and connections built with stakeholders should cut across and include those working in protected areas, those in academia, in private (not-for-profit and commercial) public institutions, inter-governmental institutions and any relevant individual or group. Each will have different feedback and views and, in my experience, the input from all these interactions will mostly overlap and will be very useful at one point or another. It’s important to note that conservation tech is interconnected and efforts should therefore ensure effective capacity sharing of knowledge and skills.
On a personal level, building professional networks is also very key as you will at most times know who is doing what and who you can speak to on a specific project etc. Creating these networks and connections is also very crucial in building one’s career, exchanging ideas and sharing knowledge.
- The conservation technology field in East Africa is advancing and slowly being recognized as a key contributor to conservation efforts.
With emerging and innovative technological solutions, there is a growing need to utilize the tools in marine and terrestrial conservation. Persistent conservation challenges such as poaching, habitat degradation and loss, climate change, human-wildlife conflict among others, the region are also a major contributor to the increase in the adoption of tech solutions aimed at solving the issues. Technology has for a very long time been a major direct or indirect contributor to the conservation challenges we face presently and has therefore often been mistrusted by conservationists. However, many have now realized that we can leverage technology, in a sustainable manner, to benefit the field and support conservation work.
In a nutshell, conservation technology is a concept that is broadly understood by conservationists in East Africa, but the technicalities and emerging trends are yet to be fully explored. Although not fully adopted in the region, camera traps, thermal cameras, Protected Area Management tools such as Earth Ranger and SMART, GIS and RS, are some of the common technologies deployed in conservancies and protected areas. On the other hand, machine learning & artificial intelligence, acoustic monitoring, eDNA and networked sensors are some of the technologies that many researchers and those in conservation are really interested in and are currently exploring, to understand how they can be adopted in solving conservation issues in the region.
To accelerate the field, there is a need to amplify the current gaps, barriers and opportunities in order to influence policies, drive investments and resources to the field and have more capacity building efforts to upskill researchers, engineers, developers, conservationists, biologists and conservation technologists.
- All you need is right here/there!
‘You just have to ask!’- You’ve probably been told this before and I am here to reiterate that. I was very fortunate to work with an excellent team who were very supportive and were always willing to help in whatever way to ensure I have the right skill, knowledge or resources to deliver on a project or work. I came to learn very quickly that even though we were a small team, everyone was great at something and we all had diverse skill sets, so I just had to ask whenever I needed help or guidance. Same applies to building the East Africa Community- there are so many people working on great projects and if at all you need to explore, highlight their work, understand their scope, etc, all you have to do is reach out and ask, and you’ll get a response most times (and if not, it’s still okay- well, at least you tried!:) ).
Doing a lot of research is also very key in understanding the needs and gaps present, and you will find great open source resources available. Through research you can map out relevant stakeholders and reach out to them to lead you to other resources and people, and help unpack the challenges they have experienced first-hand.
- Collaboration is a core aspect in conservation
East Africa is renowned for its diverse and rich biodiversity, as well as the unique and beautiful landscapes, dominated by the Great Rift Valley. Being home to the most endangered and endemic species, the region hosts several organizations and projects with missions geared towards providing solutions to conservation challenges. These concerted efforts are immensely beneficial, but there are still evident gaps that exist and that need to be filled through collaboration and the integration of innovative ideas to already existing tools, systems and solutions.
Many local projects emerge in isolation which leads to duplication of work that could easily be avoided, and that’s one of the reasons why the WILDLABS East Africa Community exists. Collaboration in conservation projects means resources in terms of finances, expertise and time are pulled together to ensure the most efficient output. There is a Swahili phrase that I'd like to drop here that basically summarizes this point: ‘Umoja ni nguvu!’ (Translates to: ‘Unity is strength!’)- I just think it sounds very profound when said in Swahili. Coordinated and inclusive conservation efforts will therefore always thrive and have a much greater impact!
- Having a proper strategy for every project and/ task makes execution much easier!
Since I am quite early in my career, working with WILDLABS has been a great learning curve. One of the things I have learnt is to always have a proper strategy for whatever work, projects or tasks. You might spend a lot of time planning but when you have a proper plan, execution isn’t as challenging. Throughout my internship, spending time on brainstorming sessions and strategy meetings was very valuable since you’d get input and feedback from the team and you’d be able to incorporate the ideas in whatever you’re working on. It was easier implementing once we had everything laid out and when you know what you are doing exactly. Detailed analysis of how every piece that should move in order to achieve the set objectives should be done and documented to guide the entire process. The team has always been keen on having great strategies for every phase of the East Africa Community since we aim to foster connections and collaborations of conservation and technology players in East Africa as well as make a true positive impact by tailoring resources and opportunities that will help solve conservation challenges in the region.
I know this might be very obvious but for any conservation project, task, initiative you’re looking to work on, consider having a proper vision of how the future looks like and a great strategy of how best you’ll get there.
My Vision for the WILDLABS East Africa Community!
I envision the East Africa community being the go to place for everything conservation technology in the region. A vibrant hub where the community can access and share their work, have meaningful discussions that help answer questions raised, and are able to accelerate their work through collaborations and opportunities. A platform where stakeholders can get sufficient information on up to date and relevant conservation technology tools to inform their management, purchasing and research decisions. A resource that can inform national and international policies surrounding conservation and tech- over time, from the heap of discussions, articles, research on the gaps and opportunities in conservation technology, I believe information gathered from the community would definitely influence policy formulation and amendments.
A space to share conservation technology project failures with learning points, that will help another researcher, biologist, conservation technologist or any interested party avoid the same errors or troubleshoot if they encounter similar challenges. An impactful network with programmes, events, fellowships and awards designed to support regional conservation tech work and accelerate the efforts already in place. A place where ideas are born and nurtured into innovative and sustainable conservation tech solutions that can be easily adopted and upscaled regionally and globally.
I hope this vision resounds greatly and drives you to contribute to this amazing network!
My final words!
The conservation technology field has great potential and needs sustainable funding, impactful capacity building initiatives, coordination of efforts, and work towards bridging the gap between conservation and technology in order to advance. This will only be achieved through joint contributions of stakeholders and when we, as conservationist technologists speak in one voice and channel resources, strategies, ideas and work to innovate and conserve our ecosystems.
I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to work with WILDLABS to establish and grow the East Africa Community. I have seen so much growth and I hope that through this internship I made a contribution to conservation and made an impact, however small. As I progress with my career and academic life in conservation, I hope to still contribute to building this hub and to the vision.
My sincere gratitude goes out to Fauna & Flora International, WILDLABS, Ol Pejeta Conservancy and the Conservation Leadership Programme for supporting, facilitating and greatly contributing to my internship. I had a great support network in the teams I worked with and learned a great deal from them. The skills, knowledge and experiences gained from this role will empower me to achieve my goals in life and I will always treasure the moments I shared with the teams I worked with. I enjoyed working with you and I really look forward to our paths crossing again in future.
To say that it has been an incredible journey is an understatement!
Thank you! Asante sana!