The Future is Now

The Future is Now

Micaela Samodelov

Chiles and Tambara reflect on their roles at AWF

Like many early-career professionals, Sarah Chiles and Edwin Tambara are looking to the future. But where some may be thinking solely of their own prospects, Chiles and Tambara tend to focus on the bigger picture. They’re considering the rapid pace of development taking place in Africa and what that may mean for Africa’s wildlife and wild lands. And they’re especially aware of how their own actions may shape the continent’s path.

“Young people today are occupying a unique moment in history, where decisions being taken now will have a long-lasting impact on the world,” explains Chiles.

The consideration with which these two approach their place in the world may come from the fact that both are dedicated African conservationists. Chiles grew up in South Africa, studied anthropology and urban studies, and honed her field skills working in a couple of community conservancies. Tambara, a native Zimbabwean, came from a heavy research background, specializing in tropical ecology, resource management and agriculture.

The two became cohorts and fast friends when they joined AWF’s Conservation Leadership and Management Program (CLMP) in 2013. Two years later, they became fellow graduates from the rigorous management training program.

Today, as AWF colleagues, they use their knowledge and passion to make an impact on AWF and Africa. In July 2015, Chiles became AWF’s conservation strategy and issue analyst. Tambara took the position of conservation planner. Both are based at AWF headquarters in Nairobi.

Making a lasting impact

In their current roles, Chiles and Tambara each put AWF’s long-term conservation strategy into practice, but in different ways. Chiles helps AWF advocate for incorporating conservation into Africa’s development considerations, while Tambara creates detailed conservation plans for specific sites and projects, tailoring AWF’s strategy to the local context for each.

Now working with AWF’s program design and government relations team, Chiles really does look at the big picture—her job literally requires staying informed on the development targets that countries and regional organizations like the African Union are setting, and how they may affect conservation.

She supports AWF’s advocacy efforts by searching for common ground between proposed development targets and AWF’s conservation goals. By regularly updating organizational strategies, she ensures that AWF’s efforts will have a lasting impact.

A planned development corridor threatens Kenya's Samburu landscape

Chiles is working to ensure that the planned LAPSSET Corridor does not have adverse effects on the Samburu landscape in Kenya.

Chiles’ portfolio also includes analyzing emerging issues that may have more immediate repercussions for wildlife. For example, the planned Lamu Port Southern Sudan–Ethiopia Transport (or LAPSSET) Corridor will involve a new railway, road network and oil pipeline that traverses Kenya.

The infrastructure is intended to carry oil to an upgraded port in Lamu, just off Kenya’s coast—but together with other planned development, also has the potential to severely impact community conservancies, wildlife corridors and wildlife populations in Kenya’s Samburu landscape.

As the AWF lead on this issue, Chiles helped form a coalition of local communities and NGOs to respond to the upcoming projects. The coalition is now collaborating with government authorities to decide how best to protect the landscape’s ecology.

Integrating conservation into Africa’s rapidly changing economies may seem like an insurmountable feat. Chiles, however, maintains a positive outlook. “Working in strategy lets you turn challenges into opportunities,” she says. 

Samburu landscape is a key habitat for Grevy's zebra

Kenya's Samburu landscape boasts a variety of iconic species, including the Grevy's zebra.

As conservation planner, Tambara’s “opportunities” lie in making sure AWF’s land conservation plans apply the organization’s overarching strategy and best practices in ways that suit each local context.

He leads conservation planning at the landscape and site levels, shepherding the process of developing management, business and tourism plans for protected areas. He also works closely with stakeholders on the ground to produce local land-use plans with communities.

To create plans that endure, Tambara must understand the perspectives of diverse stakeholders who often have competing interests. This gives him an opportunity to use some of the lessons he learned during his time as a conservation management associate in CLMP.

“In the early days of CLMP,” he notes, “I quickly realized that to contribute effectively to the organization and conservation at large, I had to be an active listener.” Today, he relies on these skills as he builds trust, consensus and a sense of project ownership among communities, government authorities and an array of other stakeholders in AWF’s landscapes. 

Part of a greater whole

With a new class of conservation management associates to start with AWF in a few months’ time, we asked Tambara and Chiles about their CLMP experiences.

Tambara’s favorite CLMP assignment was overseeing the planning process for the Nimule National Park management plan—the first-ever management plan for any national park in South Sudan.

Since then, he has supported conservation planning in key wildlife areas throughout Africa: Laikipia, Masai Mara and Amboseli in Kenya; Mbeya and Iringa in Tanzania; and Kazungula in Southern Africa.

Along with the problem-solving nature of his role, Edwin appreciates the results his efforts can achieve. “My work allows me in a small way to influence how people manage their resources, not in one country but in many parts of the continent. At my age, I count it as a blessing,” says the 31-year-old.

But he is quick to note the influence of other perspectives on his own. Indeed, with on-the-ground assignments in a couple of different AWF landscapes and close working relationships with AWF’s technical experts, the uniquely comprehensive experience provided by CLMP prepared Tambara and Chiles well for their current roles. “CLMP gives you a sense that you’re part of a greater whole,” Chiles observes.

AWF helped develop the management plan for Nimule National Park in South Sudan

Tambara contributed to the development of the first management plan for Nimule National Park in South Sudan during his time in the CLMP.

During her tenure as a conservation management associate, Chiles attended a workshop where she became involved in the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas Young Professionals Group. The group brings together early-stage conservation professionals from around the world.

Chiles now serves as the group’s East and Southern African lead and was a lead author for “Growing Our Reach: Intergenerational Leadership Toolkit for Conservation,” a publication recently presented at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in September.

For Chiles, involvement in this group, with its spirit of collaboration across cultures, fields and experience levels, remains the most exciting outcome of her time in CLMP.

But there will undoubtedly be more exciting times—and outcomes—to come. After all, the future is in the hands of Chiles, Tambara and other young conservationists—including the latest class of conservation management associates.

As Tambara says: “Young people are seen as leaders of the future when for conservation, the future is now.” 

About the Author

Micaela is the Program Design Officer at African Wildlife Foundation and a previous AWF intern. She studied abroad in Kenya and interned with a grassroots NGO in Nairobi. She is passionate about sustainable development on the African continent.