A conservation leader in the making

Cycling to lectures through Cambridge’s medieval streets, learning leadership skills from pioneers in conservation of the environment, splashing into the turquoise waters of the Caribbean to observe marine life. These are among the many memories that Joy Juma will take home to Kenya after a year at the University of Cambridge as one of the first cohort of graduate students on the MPhil in Conservation Leadership programme.

The past year has been one of the most varied and demanding in Joy’s life. Not only has she experienced one of the coldest British winters on record but she also spent seven weeks on a placement with the Cambridge-based conservation organisation Fauna & Flora International (FFI) on the islands of Antigua and Barbuda, extending her practical and grass-roots knowledge of marine conservation.

Her visit to the Caribbean entailed gathering data on the marine environment and the ways in which it intersects with two of the area’s most important sources of revenue –  fishing and tourism – which are vital to the livelihoods of thousands of people on modest or low incomes. The emphasis of her research was on marine governance. “On Antigua, I was based at the Fisheries Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands, Housing and the Environment, and also spent some time talking to individual fishermen about their working lives. It was so encouraging that the fishermen are really keen to conserve their environment and they showed a deep understanding of ecosystem dynamics,” she said.

“On Barbuda, I found that people felt an even stronger sense of ownership of the marine environment, perhaps because land there is communally owned. This revealed itself in their interest in marine conservation. On both islands, there is a profound commitment to sustainable management and a willingness to work towards this that was really exciting. It shows how conservationists and communities can work together to protect threatened species and the habitats they live in. What emerged most forcefully from my placement was the similarity of conservation problems globally and the opportunities for learning from each other.”

Once back in Kenya, where she works for the East African arm of FFI, Joy will apply her experiences in the Caribbean and what she has learnt on the MPhil programme in Cambridge. In 2009, together with colleagues at FFI, she was instrumental in setting up marine conservation projects with fishing communities at six different landing places on the south coast of Kenya. The objective is to manage marine resources in a way that is sustainable and participatory. “It’s a scheme that brings diverse stakeholders together for a common purpose – and the early indications are that it is very effective,” she explained.

Joy has been passionate about conservation ever since she was a teenager. On leaving school, she took a degree in environmental studies at Nairobi’s Kenyatta University, concentrating on community development. After graduating, she spent a year working as a volunteer for the East African Wildlife Society, a Kenyan-based NGO. “I worked on the restoration of a lake that straddles the boundary between Kenya and Tanzania, and during this time I gained essential skills and experience,” she said. Having excelled as a volunteer, and shown her ability to co-ordinate and manage projects, Joy was offered a post with FFI as a programme assistant. After four years she was promoted to a programme co-ordinator.

In East Africa, FFI works across four countries – Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Sudan. In her five years with the organisation, Joy has been involved in various projects, including participatory forest management and species recovery. During this time she twice visited the headquarters of FFI, which has strong links with Cambridge University as a founding partner of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI). “I liked what I saw of Cambridge, which is a real hub for conservation and has a strong international ethos. So when I heard about the new Masters in Conservation Leadership, I was really keen to apply for a place,” she said.

“What appealed to me about the course was the chance to develop skills that are crucial in project management. I liked the way in which the course is structured to give participants a solid grounding in leadership – such as communication and financial planning – as well as incorporating a placement with a partner organisation that would offer a chance to see another environment and another set of challenges.”

When FFI and the MAVA programme in Conservation Leadership agreed to sponsor Joy’s place on the programme, she was thrilled but also nervous. “I knew it was a huge opportunity to develop myself professionally. I was also aware that I’d be thrown back on my own resources far from my usual support network in East Africa,” she admitted. She need not have worried. The 12 students from nine different countries on the programme quickly formed a strong bond. “We have a huge diversity of backgrounds and interests, so we have been able to learn a vast amount from each other,” she said.

The Masters comprises two parts: the first of which is largely taught by lecturers from every organisation in CCI, talking about their specialist fields, and the second of which is the placement. “In the first two terms we had lectures from many of the pioneering groups and centres based in and around Cambridge – it was an amazing chance to hear from them and to be able to ask questions. What I found especially useful were the leadership lectures from people at the helm of established institutions,” added Joy.

Life as a Cambridge student has been rewarding and challenging. “Spending a year living and working in Cambridge has been a stimulating experience. I will be returning to Kenya ready to be an innovative and effective conservation leader.”

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