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A Bold New Experiment in Social Science Training

By: James Danoff-Burg

Ensuring that Indigenous People and local communities (IPLC) not only participate in conservation but also lead or co-lead these efforts is crucial for ensuring that these projects are desired by local communities and thus more likely to be sustainable. One of the most effective approaches to achieving this is by enabling outside conservationists to engage with, learn from, and understand the needs and desires of these communities through basic training in social science.

Here at The Living Desert, we have been pioneering the training of individuals in conservation social science since 2018, initially prompted by a Fulbright Specialist Program I undertook in India. Over the past six years, we have conducted 27 classes, training over 500 individuals from 34 countries, establishing ourselves as one of the leading providers of conservation social science training globally.

Our Building Community Conservation Success social science workshops typically span five days and are primarily theoretical. Despite longstanding requests for more extensive, hands-on training, logistical constraints, such as travel time limitations, have hindered our ability to offer such programs in the past.

Last year, we devised a new format for our BCCS workshop, doubling its duration and dedicating almost half of the program to fieldwork. As we journeyed to our field training site, my colleague Katie Shaw and I felt a mix of nerves and excitement. Thanks to the support of our invaluable Zimbabwean partners, Imvelo Safari Lodges, as well as faculty from Lupane State University (LSU) and the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), the planning process proceeded smoothly. However, given the unpredictable nature of fieldwork, concerns about potential challenges, such as interference from elephants, power outages due to load shedding, or fuel restrictions disrupting our movements, lingered.

Fortunately, none of these concerns materialized. Instead, the outcomes exceeded our expectations. We recently concluded our 10-day workshop, and we plan to share detailed results and findings in subsequent blogs.

It’s safe to say that we will certainly replicate this initiative with Imvelo, LSU, and NUST to benefit both nature and the local communities residing along the southern boundary of Hwange National Park. Through our work, we discovered a strong willingness among IPLC in the Tsholotsho Communal Lands to engage in effective, forward-thinking, community-led conservation projects. We are eager to continue collaborating with these remarkable individuals in this area.

Thanks for helping to make all of this great work happen by supporting The Living Desert!

Yours in Conservation.

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