Locally focused, locally led

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27 July 2023

Challenging the status-quo – Q&A with an Innovation Challenge Champion

This is the first in a series of Q&As we will be publishing over the next few weeks with our innovation challenge winners. From their experiences in the incubation and co-learning programme, they have gained unique insights into operationalising their ideas and approaches in the real world and overcoming challenges in the conservation sector. Each interview will capture their inspiring journeys towards disrupting the conservation status quo, shaking things up and making a difference in the conservation space for more regenerative and equitable futures.

In focus: ANNA HAW
Project title: Herding 4 Health (H4H)
Themes: Reimagining Operational Models | Rethinking Power  
Lens: A world where conservation work is locally focused and locally led (Proposition 7 in our report ‘Exploring possible futures for conservation NGOs’)
Pathway: Empowering local community actors

See how Anna Haw is challenging the status quo through the H4H initiative, a partnership programme between the Peace Parks Foundation and Conservation International. Here, she shares valuable lessons she has learned over the past year while experimenting with a new approach and operational model for conservation work.

1. What is your conservation story?

Growing up, I had the privilege of immersing myself in the natural world and developed a deep love for wildlife, especially the wildlife and ecosystems of Africa’s rangelands. However, as a South African, this love for wildlife and conservation was challenged by my desire to address some of the past injustices and root causes of poverty. The more time I spent in wilderness areas, the more I realised that the very conservation initiatives that I backed and praised were partly responsible for perpetuating the inequality and poverty that I was fighting against, especially the inequality faced by livestock farmers. 

Conservation strategies centred on establishing protected areas at the exclusion of people and their livestock have neglected to support and value what pastoralists bring to biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. Not incorporating Indigenous people and their livelihoods into a systems-level conservation agenda has led to tension between conservationists and farmers and ultimately the degradation of critical ecosystems. Today, most of Africa’s rangelands are degraded, destroying water catchment functions and driving poverty traps (a situation wherein environmental degradation and poverty reinforce each other in a vicious cycle) for livestock farmers throughout Africa.

2. What is the change you want to see in the conservation sector?

To better empower and support local actors and organisations. To provide them with the necessary resources, value for their stewardship and, most importantly, trust. When we find good leaders on the ground, we must support them.

3. How are you working towards that change with your project?

Herding 4 Health (H4H) offers an alternative approach to conservation by focusing on people, specifically non-tenured livestock farming communities (farmers who graze on communal lands) at the wildlife-livestock interface. The H4H strategy relies on a systems thinking approach, which incorporates community-driven participation, sustainable rangeland management practices, integrated disease risk and food safety control, as well as rural development principles.

4. What is the biggest challenge you are facing today in effecting that change?

The project’s initial implementation successes were partly attributed to the model’s founding partners' in-depth knowledge of the local context. How do we scale a model to areas where we do not have the necessary knowledge?

But in order to scale, we realised we need to reduce the barriers for local organisations to do what they are best at – working with communities and understanding the local context. From an organisational perspective, the biggest challenge is letting go of control. It is not so much about ‘owning’ a model or programme, but rather helping to create the enabling environment for local communities to take what works best for them and then helping ensure the people and nature benefits are realised. It is not about putting a rubber stamp on a particular programme to ‘claim’ it, but rather being willing to adapt the model based on feedback from the ground and letting it evolve into what works best for specific areas. The challenge lies in finding the balance between providing the necessary tools and resources for local communities, without dictating exactly the way they should apply the tools and principles.

There were also personal challenges; for example, learning to elevate my own voice and make myself heard, particularly as I was new to the organisation. In trying to promote the opportunity to enter the Future of Conservation NGOs innovation challenge and engage with the process of reimagining conservation work within the wider organisation, I encountered barriers, as senior colleagues were preoccupied with their own, understandably important, workloads. There seemed to be a lack of appreciation for the bigger picture. At times, I could not help but wonder if I would have received more support and been able to bring together a broader community for collaboration and learning had I been male or held a more senior title.

This experience highlighted the importance of listening to those who may not hold senior positions in an organisation. It is essential not to underestimate the value of ideas, connections and insights that may come from youth or those without significant power in an organisation.

5. What is the impact the incubation programme has had on you? Personally, and professionally.

Participating in the challenge, winning it and joining the incubation programme gave me a boost of confidence in my thought processes and values. It also provided me with a much-needed supportive community to continue challenging the status quo when necessary. As we advocate for more distributed governance models, amplification of Indigenous voices and dismantling of patriarchy in the Global South, it is imperative that Global North organisations take a closer look inward. It is often easier to say the right words than it is to live the change.

The incubation process demonstrated the importance of creating networks and shared visions for the future of conservation NGOs. It gave me the confidence to challenge traditional hierarchical organisational structures and promote more innovative and inclusive approaches.

The incubation programme created a safe space to ask difficult questions such as, “Is a hierarchical organisational structure the best for catalysing large-scale change?”

6. What is the one key leadership lesson you have learned?

That systems-level change will require giving up some control, letting others shine and knowing the right time to step back or step up.

7. What is the most unexpected thing you have learned thanks to this project?  

I was inspired by the other people and initiatives in this project. I learned that we are all in this together – all seeking ways to make conservation more inclusive and impactful. No person or entity may hold all the answers, but if we keep asking questions, learning from each other and holding each other accountable, we can begin to catalyse the necessary global shifts to ensure our valuable ecosystem services are resilient and able to flourish for the benefit of all people. Everyone has something to contribute in some way, we just need to be open to learning and listening.

8. What is next for H4H?

Our plan is to develop an open-source, user-friendly monitoring platform for consistent impact measurement of H4H. We continue to improve practices through science and aim to also conduct an impact evaluation in the coming year. We will also establish financial and sustainability mechanisms that ensure the long-term sustainability of H4H sites and catalyse the organic uptake of the model across the continent. 

To find more about Herding 4 Health please visit:

H4H aspires to catalyse systems change by enabling community-driven rangeland restoration and wildlife protection. The H4H model uses skilled herding, strategic kraaling and livestock management to regenerate Africa's rangelands, enable wildlife-livestock coexistence, unlock livestock value chains and enhance the climate-change resilience of pastoralist communities.

Location: South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe with imminent expansion across Africa.
Approach: Focus on people, holistic, community-driven, creating networks and shared visions
Model: Trying to strike a balance between providing the necessary tools and resources for local communities without dictating exactly the way they should apply the tools and principles.
Leadership: Letting others shine and knowing the right time to step back or step up.

The content of this interview represents the author’s own views and does not necessarily represent the views of Unearthodox or the Future of Conservation NGOs project.

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