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Partnerships and capacity building in South Africa with Earth Skills Network

Project manager Seren Nelson reflects on her first few days co-facilitating Earth Skills Network (ESN), a programme held in South Africa which brings together leaders from the worlds of business and protected area management to share knowledge and transfer business skills.


Having arrived at the Lajuma Research Centre in South Africa, it's now clear to me why everyone describes the landscape as magical. It's now day 5 of the Earth Skills Network programme, a collaboration between Shell, Earthwatch, IUCN and UNESCO. On our first team of 2019, we have 3 Shell mentors working with protected area staff from Gola Rainforest National Park in Sierra Leone, Kibale Conservation Area in Uganda, and Lajuma Research Centre itself set in the Soutpansberg mountains of South Africa.

One of the first things I noticed is how committed and enthusiastic all of the participants are to learning from and listening to the incredible knowledge each person brings. Mentors and protected areas alike have so much to share with the group. On day 5, the protected area participants have crafted their vision and mission statements, and are beginning to think strategically about how they can improve their areas through stakeholder analysis. We have discussed their challenges and needs, and have learnt about their local cultures and values.

This is my first time as co-facilitator on this programme and it has been such an eye opener into how partnerships really are the key to building capacity and knowledge. At the half-way mark of the programme we are now setting objectives and really getting to know the challenges ahead.

Each protected area faces a different challenge. Gola are keen to take their ethical and fair trade chocolate to market, but are yet to discover who their consumer base would be. Kibale have 3 very different participants who all work on very different areas, and their challenge is to understand how they can better communicate and support each other to enhance these areas. Lajuma are right at the beginning of their journey and are trying to understand how best to work with other partners. However, even though each protected area has its own unique goal, they are all committed to supporting each other through feedback and suggestions, and are forming a vital network to support African conservation as a whole.

Find out more about our Earth Skills Network programme here

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