Covering more than 15% of the world's land surface and eight percent of the oceans, protected areas are the cornerstone of international efforts to conserve biodiversity. They offer a lifeline to some of the most precious and threatened places on Earth and safeguard vital ecosystem services, upon which communities and businesses depend.
Yet protected areas face a broad range of challenges, and evidence from IUCN demonstrates that many sites are struggling to meet minimum standards, potentially leading to ineffective conservation. A lack of key organisational and business skills is a major contributing factor, but protected area managers rarely have the opportunity to train in this field.
Companies have a wealth of experienced staff and devote significant resources to training for effective business management. However, there are often few opportunities for their managers to consider the value of natural resources to the business.
The Earth Skills Network (ESN) bridges this gap by bringing leaders from the business world and protected area managers together, in a mentor-mentee relationship to share knowledge and transfer key business skills.
The network makes the following possible: sharing key business skills that can strengthen management of the world's most precious natural areas; facilitating open and constructive dialogue between leaders from the conservation and business communities to support mutual learning and understanding; providing corporate employees with the chance to sharpen professional competencies and better understand business risks, impact and dependencies within the context of protected areas.
The Earth Skills Network (ESN) programme partners Shell professionals with people who manage protected areas to share knowledge and transfer key business skills. It works as follows:
Shell professionals and protected areas are matched based on the business needs of the protected area.
The Shell professionals are equipped with the skills and understanding to become effective Business Mentors during a five-day training programme.
The Business Mentors and Managers from the protected areas work together during a ten-day Residential Training Programme to build a real understanding of the needs and challenges of the protected area. From here they develop action plans for applying business planning activities within the protected area.
The Business Mentors provide support and guidance to the protected areas for at least 12 months.
The unique experiential learning programme not only helps to improve conservation management through business skills sharing, it also gives experienced Shell staff the opportunity to sharpen professional leadership competencies and broaden their understanding of how business decisions can impact on the natural world.
Mole National Park, Ghana, is a key wildlife area for elephants and antelopes and is considered an important site by Ghana’s Wildlife Division, which is responsible for all wildlife in the country and administers the protected areas.
Andrew Stevenson is a Global Account Manager from Shell. With a background in strategic planning and previous commercial experience in Ghana, Andrew made an ideal business mentor for Farouk Dubiure, the Park Manager at Mole National Park.
Prior to ESN, Farouk and his team had little exposure to business planning and marketing. Andrew brought a wealth of experience and supported Farouk in these areas during the Residential Training Programme and through ongoing mentoring.
The Residential Training Programme facilitated open discussion between Andrew, Farouk and his team on the needs and challenges of Mole National Park. They worked together to write an action plan to focus on priority needs for the protected area.
Over the 12-month mentoring period, Andrew helped Farouk and his team apply their learnings and implement the action plan. Actions included:
Developing a proposal to finance the upgrading of road infrastructure and the park’s facilities to enable Mole National Park to become more accessible and attractive to eco-tourists. Through this, they secured US$ 30,000 to upgrade critical game-viewing roads.
Developing a marketing plan to increase the visibility of the park. They have since developed a new website on Mole National Park (with the support of a partner) which is helping to attract new visitors to the area. The marketing plan is also allowing them to advertise their new luxury lodge to a different customer base.
Identifying and targeting potential sources of funding to help achieve the park’s conservation objectives. For example, Mole National Park successfully sourced over US$ 130,000 from the African Elephant Fund for the conservation of the park’s elephants.
Participating in ESN has enabled Farouk and his team to further develop their stakeholder skills. The Northern Regional Manager of Ghana’s Wildlife Division commented:
“The ESN programme is showing a visible impact. Since receiving mentor support, the Park Manager [Farouk] is networking and collaborating more with organisations and attracting more development projects for the protected area.”
Andrew was inspired and motivated by his experiences of working with a protected area. The programme provided opportunities for his professional development.
This experience has also benefitted the engagement with his stakeholders in sustainable development. Andrew is engaged in supporting environmental initiatives in partnership with his customers. His experience through the programme and working with Mole National Park has given him credibility in discussions with his customers in West Africa.
Andrew has gained greater awareness and appreciation of protected areas, cultures, communities and operational realities in countries like Ghana. He says:
“The programme meant I was more exposed to the external world. I now have a greater awareness of protected area needs and Shell’s approach to sustainability, as well as an understanding of how other NGOs operate.”
Image: iStock/Eduard Kyslyneskyy