Women in Conservation: Q&A with Kinship Fellow

As Director of Madagasikara Voakajy, Julie Hanta Razafimanahaka (2011 Kinship Fellow) is responsible

Blending Finance and Ecology on Western Rangelands

From Florida to Wyoming, rangelands make up 770 million acres of the United States. 2013 Kinship Fel

Proactive Strategies for Protecting Species

This article, featuring 2008 Kinship Fellow Josh Donlan discussing his recently published book, Pro


Women in Conservation: Q&A with Kinship Fellow

April 28, 2015 in Ecosystems & Biodiversity, Leadership and Business Skills

Kinship Fellow Julie Hanta RazafimanahakaAs Director of Madagasikara Voakajy, Julie Hanta Razafimanahaka (2011 Kinship Fellow) is responsible for leading conservation efforts to protect some of Madagascar’s most threatened forests and species.

Julie joined Madagasikara Voakajy, a non-profit dedicated to biodiversity conservation in eastern Madagascar, twelve years ago as an intern and has emerged as an energetic voice for wildlife protection in a country known for both its endemic species and the systemic threats they face.

She recently was awarded the 2015 Young Women in Conservation Biology Award, which recognizes the achievements of young women in Africa who advance the discipline of conservation biology on the continent.

The below Q&A was originally featured on Rainforest Trust.

How did you become interested in conservation? 

I became specifically interested in conservation when I first encountered Indris, the largest extant lemur, at the age of 13. This was a great experience that I still want to renew.

At the university, I chose to study in the water and forestry department because that would provide me with more opportunities to travel and be out in the wild.

When I joined Madagasikara Voakajy in 2003 as a student, I found I really loved working with the team, which was composed of young passionate researchers. I grew up within this team and the organization of which I am currently Director.

Do you face particular challenges as a woman in this field? If so, can you give an example?

In Madagascar, a Director is generally expected to be a tall man.

People are always surprised when my team introduces me at villages where I haven’t worked before. There have been cases when I have been asked, “Where is your Director? Your colleagues said he would be here.”

I don’t consider this as a challenge, but as an opportunity to make people realize that things can change, and everything is possible – as long as you really want to do it.

People are always surprised when my team introduces me at villages where I haven’t worked before. There have been cases when I have been asked, “Where is your Director? Your colleagues said he would be here.”

Why is it important for women to get involved in the conservation field?

Kinship Fellows Julia Hanta Razafimanahaka and Voahirana Claudia RandriamamonjyAlthough women are not generally decision makers in Madagascar, they influence most of the decisions made in households. I also think that women are very good at listening to each other.

So more women should be able to stand up and speak in public about conservation. This will slowly, but certainly, provoke positive changes towards sustainable development and conservation.

Do you have a message for young women interested in conservation?

The challenges that young women sometimes meet in the conservation field can be frightening, but we need to overcome this fear and move forward.

Rainforest Trust is currently working with Madagasikara Voakajy to protect 74,816 acres in Madagascar for endangered species. For more about Julie Razafimanahaka and her work on The Kinship Lens, click here.

Blending Finance and Ecology on Western Rangelands

April 27, 2015 in Economics and Business, Funding, Fundraising, and Finance

From Florida to Wyoming, rangelands make up 770 million acres of the United States. 2013 Kinship Fellow Katie Meiklejohn discusses the complex and integrated factors influencing the resilience of rangelands and ranches in the Western United States. As Katie demonstrates, the capacity to successfully address integrated ecological and financial performance measures adds up to lasting conservation on U.S. grasslands. Below you will find the webinar recording, Katie Meiklejohn’s bio, a Tweet Chat recap, and additional resources on the topic.

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Meiklejohn, Katie (2013)Katie Meiklejohn (2013 Kinship Fellow) has nearly 10 years of experience in landscape-scale conservation efforts and 4 years of experience working closely with ranchers to identify strategies that simultaneously enhance ecological health, financial success, and human well-being. Since graduating from Columbia University with a Master’s in Conservation Biology, Katie has worked with individuals and communities throughout the West as a biologist and facilitator to identify solutions to land management and conservation challenges. Fundamental to her approach is a firm belief that people and communities are an integral component of every healthy landscape. Successfully integrating human social and economic values into functional ecosystems is critical to achieving lasting conservation.


WEBINAR: Blending Finance and Ecology on Western Rangelands from Kinship Conservation Fellows on Vimeo.

Additional Resources:

Webinar Tweet Chat (#KinRange):

Proactive Strategies for Protecting Species

April 3, 2015 in Ecosystems & Biodiversity

This article, featuring 2008 Kinship Fellow Josh Donlan discussing his recently published book, Proactive Strategies for Protecting Species, was originally posted on the UC Press as part of their Behind the Scenes series.

Fixing the ESA

The US Endangered Species Act protects over 2,000 species. Only 10 species have gone extinct after they were listed. On the other hand, only 25 species have been “de-listed” (meaning they’ve recovered enough to be considered safe from extinction).

Between those two statistics lie myriad perspectives on how well the ESA has performed since its ground-breaking inception over 40 years ago.

Josh Donlan
Josh Donlan, 2008 Fellow

Josh Donlan, editor of the just-published Proactive Strategies for Protecting Species, has corralled unlikely bedfellows—private landowners, conservationists, government agencies, NGOs, scientists, academics, and developers—into sharing divergent viewpoints on how best to improve the ESA—that it’s outdated is the one point on which they all agree. (The ESA hasn’t been updated in 25 years, and litigation robs resources earmarked for species conservation.) He also debuts a pragmatic new approach to best conserve species headed toward extinction … helping as they speed toward the falls, rather than triaging after they’ve plunged over.

As Michael Bean notes in the foreword:

For many species, the protections of the ESA come very late in the game, when the odds are heavily stacked against success. If there is one clear lesson from the experience with the ESA over the past four decades, it is that conservation efforts need to get started earlier, before the plant and animal species reach the point at which they are at a high risk for extinction.

Switching from Stick to Carrot

Remember the adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?” It turns out that stewardship applied before a species gets listed means a great deal less animosity among stakeholders, which translates into much less litigation and wasted money. The species fares much better, too. Thus the birth of PLC, or pre-listing conservation, an approach that rewards efforts made “upstream” (before a species becomes a candidate for listing).

So who are these stakeholders, and why are they at odds?

Well, contrary to the vague notions some city folk may have about wildlife existing somewhere over therein national parks, for instancemost species in trouble are found on public lands where environmental projection is not the primary goal (military bases, for instance) or on private property: almost three-quarters of US land is private. (But before you conjure up images of suburban backyards, think large-scale. Private in this context means large ranches and farms or large solar and wind development projects.)

If these landowners face a regulatory morass once a species on their land gets into enough trouble to become a candidate for ESA listing, why don’t they just adopt conservation best practices immediately? The answer is as complicated as the regulatory maze such property owners will find themselves in if they don’t practice sound stewardship. But stewardship is often expensive, either in actual dollars or in lost opportunities, and heretofore the “stick” of legal tangles has been the tool of choice over the “carrot” of reward.

The PLC approach aims to change that, adopting a landowner-centered approach of persuasion rather than punishment.

Around the world, success in environmental conservation depends in some part on actions in two overlapping spheres of policy: policies that prevent further environmental damage from occurring and those that promote proactive measures to improve environmental conditions. Laws like the ESA are strongest at preventing additional harm from occurring. In contrast, the ESA and most biodiversity laws around the globe offer few mandates that incentivize stewardship investments. (p 220)

As Josh Donlan notes, “the way we tend to value species in the US and elsewhere around the world is that it’s worth very little in terms of our decision-making until it becomes endangered, and then it’s worth almost an infinite amount as soon as it gets listed in the ESA—which is a really bad way to manage species and a really good way to create perverse incentives and piss people off.”

Donlan runs an NGO called Advanced Conservation Strategies. His job is to offer better conservation solutions both within US borders and around the globe. The book is “a direct result of a project we ran in the southeast for about 2 to 3 years in collaboration with Todd Gartner of the World Resources Institute that focused on the Gopher tortoise.” Part of the range of the gopher tortoise is listed under the ESA and part of its range is not: it’s a candidate species. Donlan notes that like many species in the US, it has declined over the past decades because of “multiple drivers but mainly from habitat destruction because it only lives in long-leaf pine forests.”


Case Study: the Gopher Tortoise in Georgia 

To design a program that shifted incentives for “doing good’ for species and habitat conservation before ESA listing, Donlan and his team used the gopher tortoise as an on-the-ground case study. They worked with the Department of Defense, the US Army at Fort Benning, Georgia—the tortoise was doing just fine inside the base’s almost 200,000 acres, since there was no development—US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in Washington DC and in the southeast, as well as with NGOs in and around Fort Benning to try to create an overall program that covered three main areas: the supply side, the demand side, and transactional infrastructure. The questions they hoped to answer for each area:

  • Supply Side. How do we create a program that forest landowners will sign up for voluntarily, to improve their land management so habitat—in this case gopher tortoise habitat—can be created and maintained?
  • Demand Side. How do we finance that? The idea is to provide private individuals or the government with an opportunity to get credit for “doing good” before the ESA compels them to. And they could bank credits from doing good now to use if and when the species were listed. This “prevention is better than cure” concept also goes by terms like “advanced mitigation” and “insurance,” but, by whatever name, early is always cheaper and easier than later.In this case, the US Army/DOD was worried about not being able to conduct training and maintain military readiness at some future time, if a species were listed. Dealing with that risk in advance was a win-win for the institution and the species.
    Lesser prairie chicken
    Lesser prairie chicken
    Sage Grouse
    Sage grouse

    Donlan points out that such scenarios occur throughout the US. “You can imagine a similar situation with wind energy in Texas, which held lots of risk around the Lesser Prairie-Chicken (listed in 2014), or you can imagine it with energy infrastructure or oil and gas in the Intermountain West with the sage grouse. If those species are listed, they’re going to cause headaches for those companies: financial difficulty, but also time, and environmental compliance and regulatory difficulties, which is a big deal for those trying to secure financing and meet deadlines.”

    Instead of “relying on regulation to generate demand for conservation behaviors, PLC programs rely on the risk of potential regulation and the opportunity to mitigate that risk in advance to generate demand.” But what about the overall “marketplace” wherein supply and demand can occur? This is where “transactional infrastructure” comes into the picture.

  • Transactional Infrastructure. How do we document benefits and impacts, capture biological information, and commoditize all this into a “credit” that can be bought, sold, and traded by private individuals and NGOs in a fair and efficient “market”—all approved, regulated, and monitored by the USFWS? We need a framework. (The USFWS and the National Marine Fisheries Service share responsibility for ESA implementation; like the SEC, they would regulate this burgeoning marketplace.)
    Donlan began with an acknowledgment that in the private sector falls under the rubric of “know thy customer.” To design a successful program with a human-centered design (HCD) approach, “you must understand the perceptions, the preferences, the values and trigger-points of the people involved.” Integrating social psychology approaches results in a program that landowners would want to sign up for (on the supply side) and that buyers (e.g., the US Army or solar developers) want to finance through the purchase of credits (on the demand side).

From a Project with Multiple Stakeholders to a Book with Multiple Writers

By the time the project was ending—that is, funding was running out—it became clear that one way to provide value would be to document all the important stakeholders’ perspectives (USFWS, the Marine Corps, NGOs, ranchers, solar companies) in a book that focused on solutions-based program design. “After working for 3 years on the idea that’s now become known as PLC, it wasn’t hard to put together the authors for this book; we already had a working group,” says Donlan.

Structured as a design handbook with essays, Donlan admits that seventeen chapters with seventeen diverse authors was challenging. “I’m not going to do it again soon, since it’s a lot of work to make one coherent voice while also capturing the diversity of perspectives. But I had fun trying to do so.”

Next Steps

USFWS announced a draft policy in the Federal Register in September of 2014. With the USFWS cautiously optimistic about the PLC template but slow to push for pilot projects, and the DOD and private sector onboard only if they can get assurances from the USFWS, Proactive Strategies for Protecting Species might help prevent a standoff.

“The timing couldn’t be better. We hope this book, with insights for the government and program designers, can help the Service push forward in 2015 … since no one can move forward until they do. The obvious next step is for the Service to approve, promote and support pilot projects for candidate species where PLC make sense.”

Beyond US Borders

Given that this is about the ESA, most people assume PLC doesn’t apply elsewhere, except maybe to select places in Europe and Australia. But it does: “Even though we have this risk of regulation, we’re trying to move the incentives upstream to the other side of that risk. That’s actually closer to how most countries operate—with either very weak environmental regulation or none at all.” Given widely differing legal frameworks, a HCD approach provides a process that can be used to design and implement widely, across diverse conditions.

Luckily, Donlan’s NGO operates widely outside the US, so he’s had plenty of opportunities for field testing. “We are trying this approach to program design around the world: with ranchers in Argentina and fishermen in Chile and Thailand. Our preliminary results suggest that co-designing solutions with the target stakeholders results in more durable solutions—for both people and the environment.“

Donlan, JoshJosh Donlan (@ACSbuzz) founded and directs Advanced Conservation Strategies, which brings human-centered design approaches to problem-solving and innovation in the environmental sector. In Chile, ACS is designing and testing a market model that provides measurable coastal biodiversity benefits while simultaneously providing livelihood security to fishing cooperatives. ACS is also helping to design and implement programs to reverse the decline of dugongs and seagrass habitats in India, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea, and Thailand. Click here for more about Proactive Strategies for Protecting Species.

Investing in Conservation

March 3, 2015 in Funding, Fundraising, and Finance, Kinship Webinar Series

A first-ever survey of conservation impact investing reveals a market of approximately $23 billion across just the last five years, and finds that investments in this space are expected to more than triple over the next five years (2014-2018). Join the report’s authors, Charlotte Kaiser, Managing Director of NatureVest and Kinship Faculty member Ricardo Bayon, Partner and Co-founder of EKO Asset Management Partners, as they summarize the report’s major findings. The webinar recording, speaker bios, and compilation of the live Twitter feed are below.

WEBINAR: Investing in Conservation: A Landscape Assessment from Kinship Conservation Fellows on Vimeo.

Speaker Bios:

Ricardo Bayon, Partner and Co-founder, EKO Asset Management Partners

EKO Asset Management Partners is a new breed of financial institution seeking to find innovative financial solutions to the world’s environmental problems. The company manages a fund that invests in carbon credits aimed at the California market and also provides advice on a variety of other markets for ecosystem services including water, biodiversity, fisheries, stormwater management, among others. Prior to co-founding EKO, he helped found and served as the Managing Director of the “Ecosystem Marketplace,” a web site and information/analysis service covering these emerging environmental markets.  In that capacity he co-authored a number of publications on voluntary carbon markets, mitigation banking, and ecosystem services including “The State of Voluntary Carbon Markets 2007: Picking up Steam” and “Voluntary Carbon Markets: An International Business Guide to What They Are and How They Work,” and “Conservation and Biodiversity Banking: A Guide to Setting Up and Running Biodiversity Credit Trading System”. For nearly two decades he has specialized on issues related to finance, banking, and the environment. He has done work for a number of organizations, including Insight Investments, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank, IUCN, The Nature Conservancy, Domini Social Investment, among others. His articles have appeared in publications such as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Monthly, the International Herald Tribune,. He has also written numerous publications and chapters on mitigation banking, biodiversity markets, markets for water quality, and other environmental markets. He was born in Bogota, Colombia, and is currently based in San Francisco.

Charlotte Kaiser, Managing Director, NatureVest

Charlotte leads product development for NatureVest, The Nature Conservancy’s program developing opportunities to drive private capital to conservation. She managed the launch and sale of the $25M Conservation Note, the first investment-grade retail debt produce offered to conservation impact investors, which sold out in less than twelve months. Previously she worked at Citibank in community development investing, providing debt and equity financing for green buildings, affordable housing, and energy efficiency initiatives. She has also worked for the New York City Parks Department building civic engagement and stewardship of the City’s parks and natural areas, and in Indonesian Borneo on a community-based forest management enterprise in a national park buffer zone. Charlotte holds a BA from Harvard University in Environmental Science & Public Policy, a Masters in Environmental Science from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, and an MBA from the Yale School of Management. She currently serves on the board of ioby, “in our back yards,” an innovative crowdsourcing resource platform for civic groups improving American cities. Charlotte lives in Brooklyn with her husband, an urban planner, and their son.

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. We work to conserve the Earth’s ecologically important lands and waters in local places across all 50 U.S. states and in more than 30 other countries around the world. We create innovative conservation solutions that benefit nature and enhance the well-being of people who depend on vital natural resources for their lives and livelihoods.

Sustainable Community Enterprise for Long-term Conservation

February 24, 2015 in Economics and Business, Mechanisms for Market-based Conservation

By: Wain Collen (2014 Fellow)

It is well understood that the Amazon Basin is a complex ecosystem vital to the health of the planet and life as we know it. Ecuador, located on the Pacific coast between Colombia in the north and Peru in the south and east, is home to around 116,000 km2 of tropical Amazonian forest. Ecuador has made impressive progress in terms of indigenous rights: around 68% of the Ecuadorian Amazon is legally recognized as indigenous ancestral territory. In contrast, between 1990-2000, Ecuador also registered the highest rates of deforestation of all the countries in the Amazon basin.

In this context, there is a growing array of attempts by government, NGO, and private actors to build conservation or sustainable development initiatives with local communities, all underpinned by the two-pronged aim to conserve forest while generating livelihood benefits. These include eco-tourism, non-timber forest products (NTFPs), payments for ecosystem services (PES), community forest management (CFM), reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), agro-forestry, and the list goes on. The problem is that few of these noble ideas actually get to a stage that could honestly be called sustainable – where local communities are driving sustainable development initiatives with local capacities in a way that is financially self-sustaining. More commonly, projects face real challenges to survive beyond initial project funding and to evolve to a stage of local ownership. In the context of climate change, projects that don’t lead to sustainable forest management over 20-30 year periods will not have much impact.

wainAfter working in the Amazon for eight years, I realized that unless something is done to address these broad-based challenges faced when trying to link conservation with indigenous community economic development, then the model is redundant. I have dedicated the last two years to developing an organization called PlanJunto that has the mission to “Build Sustainable Community Enterprise,” with a real emphasis on the “sustainable” aspect. PlanJunto’s vision is that local indigenous communities in the Amazon are able to manage their natural surroundings sustainably and in effective cooperation with their allies. PlanJunto might be called a bridging organization because, rather than setting up new projects with new ideas (there are plenty of those), we provide specialized support to help existing projects incorporate a “Sustainable Community Enterprise” element that strengthens their PES, REDD+, CFM, or NTFP project, by really focusing on how this project is going to last for 20-30 years.

Collen, Wain - field photoAfter two years of refining a rather unconventional business model, improving communication methods, and honing our business pitch, we know our service offering resonates with the needs of our partners. PlanJunto is currently applying its framework and tools to three pilot projects. One is an Amazonian fair trade tea supply chain, the second is a traditional community healing center deep in the forest to treat modern ailments with holistic medicine, and the third is a solar canoe river transportation service linking isolated communities to markets and services and mitigating pressures to build new roads. Despite these projects being varied in nature, they are all dependent on building local community capacity that is able to take these projects, make them their own, and drive them to meet local livelihood needs in service of achieving global environmental benefits.

Becoming a Fellow: An Overview of the Kinship Fellows Application

January 20, 2015 in About Kinship

Becoming a Fellow: An Overview of the Kinship Fellows Application

The application due date for the 2015 cohort of Kinship Conservation Fellows is just around the corner (January 26, 2015). Join Kinship Fellows Director Nigel Asquith (2005 Fellow), Vice President Renee Michaels, and Communications Associate Catherine Rabenstine for a look at what sets the Kinship Fellows program apart from other professional development opportunities and a walk-through of the eligibility requirements and essay questions involved in completing a Kinship Conservation Fellows application.

Click below to listen to a recording of the webinar. Please note, due to technical difficulties a portion of the webinar was not recorded. A compilation of the Tweet Chat is also available below.

With questions about the application process, please email Cat Rabenstine at cat@kinshipfoundation.org.

WEBINAR: Becoming a Fellow: An Overview of the Kinship Fellows Application from Kinship Conservation Fellows on Vimeo.

The Financing Potential of Biodiversity Offsets in Protected Areas

January 15, 2015 in Ecosystems & Biodiversity, Funding, Fundraising, and Finance

Since the Convention on Biological Diversity was agreed upon at the Rio Earth Summit more than 20 years ago, global Protected Area (PA) coverage has increased, but commensurable financial commitments to manage PAs have not. Submitted to the 2014 IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney, this Fellows-authored paper argues that biodiversity offsets can act as an alternative financing mechanism where funding for PAs is inadequate. Cecilia Simon (2014 Fellow) and Paola Bauche (2014 Fellow) presented the evidence-based case for this innovative approach in a December 2014 webinar. Please find the webinar recording, speaker bios, and live Twitter-feed of the webinar below.

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Kinship Fellows Paper: The Financing Potential of Biodiversity Offsets in Protected Areas from Kinship Conservation Fellows on Vimeo.


Simon, Cecilia (2014) - 125x60pxCecilia Simon is a climate change consultant focused on environmental issues. For the past few years she has focused mainly on REDD+ in Mexico. She has also contributed to the development of the Climate Action Reserve Protocol (currently being tested at a pilot project) and has worked closely with different stakeholders, from government entities at the national level to local communities. Cecilia has also been engaged in the development of local forest projects with indigenous communities whereby she has gained significant experience in the voluntary carbon market and project co-benefits. Prior to working as an independent consultant, she headed Pronatura Mexico’s Climate Change program and worked with local communities in the structuring and sale of the first voluntary carbon credits in the Mexican market. Cecilia received a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Universidad Iberoamericana and is currently studying a Master of Science on Biodiversity, Wildlife, and Ecosystem Health.

Bauche, Paola - photoPaola Bauche studied biology in Guadalajara and has a master’s degree in geography by McGill University in Canada. She has worked with non-governmental organizations in natural resources sustainable management, as well as creating local efforts on payments for ecosystem services. During five years she worked in the National Forestry Commission in Mexico, designing and managing the program “Local PES mechanisms through matching funds”, a nationwide program that seeks to incentivize the participation of users of ecosystem services, public or privates, and involve them in watershed and biological corridors maintenance in Mexico. Nowadays Paola is an independent consultant in topics like payments for ecosystem services and climate change in Mexico and other countries of Latin America, and she collaborates with researchers of Duke University in learning more about the aspects that make successful local PES mechanisms in Mexico.

Urban Natural Areas: Enhancing Human and Ecological Health

January 5, 2015 in Conservation Collaborations, Ecosystems & Biodiversity

By: Sarah Charlop-Powers (2009 Kinship Fellow)

Since participating in Kinship Conservation Fellows in 2009, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see an uptick in the use of market-based mechanisms to address challenges in the field of urban conservation. With the majority of the world’s people living in urban areas, there is an increased interest in understanding how natural spaces in cities function, in quantifying the values that they provide, and in using nature-based solutions in response to pressures including rising temperatures and regional flooding.

_DSC0087In 2012, I co-founded the Natural Areas Conservancy, a privately-funded non-profit which works closely with New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (NYC Parks) to manage the more than 10,000 acres of publicly owned forests and wetlands in New York City.  We work citywide, conducting research, creating data-driven best management practices, creating green jobs, and offering public programs.   We are building upon the known and anticipated role that natural areas will play in helping to address issues of landscape resiliency, reducing inequality, and improving human health.

Marine Park Brooklyn

Marine Park – Brooklyn

The Natural Areas Conservancy recently completed its first project, an ecological and social assessment of all significant natural areas under the jurisdiction of NYC Parks. These studies have resulted in a comprehensive dataset, establishing a benchmark of the ecological condition of natural areas, and providing valuable information about how these places are used and valued by park visitors. We conducted research in more than 50 parks, including forests, salt marshes, freshwater marshes, and grasslands. We also interviewed 1,600 park users (in partnership with the US Forest Service) to better understand how these places are used by local communities.

Our research focused on the following questions:

  • What is the condition of natural areas in NYC?
  • Who is using natural areas and how?
  • What long-term management strategies can we recommend to improve degraded areas and protect high-quality sites?
Pelham Bay Park - Bronx

Pelham Bay Park – Bronx

Our results highlight the diversity of our ecosystems as well as some of the challenges and opportunities present to restoring and protecting our natural areas in ways that address the physical site conditions and the community needs. The Natural Areas Conservancy’s research allows for this type of nuance compared to one-size fits all restoration models. Our results include detailed information about the user experience of visitors to our forests and wetlands, and invaluable data about plant regeneration, species distribution, and the extent of invasive plants in our natural areas.

More and more, caring for urban natural areas is seen not as an operational mandate, but as an opportunity to increase the human and ecological health, while promoting resilience in the face of environmental threats.

This is the largest dataset of ecological health for any urban area in the nation, and provides us with a chance to shift from an opportunistic to a data-driven decision-making approach for restoration, conservation, and the creation of resilient landscapes. More and more, caring for urban natural areas is seen not as an operational mandate, but as an opportunity to increase the human and ecological health, while promoting resilience in the face of environmental threats. At the Natural Areas Conservancy, we are excited to work in this innovative field, and look forward to collaborating with our colleagues in cities around the world.

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Read more about the work of the Natural Areas Conservancy:

Bronx Bureau, City Limits: Huge Surveys Seek to Understand the Soil and Spirit of City’s Parks, by Jarrett Murphy | October 2, 2014.

Columbia Spectator: Where the Wild Things Are: Urban Ecology and the Changing Landscape of New York City, by Laura Booth | September 11, 2014.

New York Environment Report: Reporter’s Notebook: Marine Park is Incredible. Here’s Why You Should Visit, by NYER | August 27, 2014.


charlop-powers, sarah - kinshipSarah Charlop-Powers is the Executive Director of the Natural Areas Conservancy. She has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Binghamton University and a master’s degree in environmental management from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She is a 2009 Kinship Fellow. Contact her at sarah.charlop-powers@parks.nyc.gov.


From Ficus to Filter

December 11, 2014 in Ecosystems & Biodiversity, Mechanisms for Market-based Conservation

From Ficus to Filter: Certification as Market-based Environmental Change

BY: Arshiya Bose (2013 Kinship Fellow)

How global certifications fall somewhat short of local biodiversity needs … and the need to innovate for locally relevant and democratic market-based solutions.

As a Kinship Conservation Fellow in 2013, I had strong opinions, but muddled ideas, about how to address biodiversity threats in coffee producing landscapes. As a conservationist and coffee addict, the knowledge that every cup of coffee destroys 3cm2 of rainforest, just doesn’t sit well. And 1.4 billion cups of coffee are consumed daily. As an aspiring conscious consumer, what must I do? If I want to become aware of the ecological footprint of coffee, where can I access information? If I want to drink filter coffee with minimal environmental impact, can I find it? A little over a year later, I have put into motion the beginnings of a social enterprise that aims to use various market-based solutions to incentivize coffee producers, roasters, and retailers to grow and sell coffee grown under the shade of native-tree species. This project, going by the name of Gaia’s Cup, has taken its first steps on the ground.

The core idea for this enterprise model came from two well-researched facts in India. The first was that biodiversity threats from loss of shade cover were measurable and increasing. The second was that global certification schemes did not address these threats in truly transformative ways.

Measuring Biodiversity Threats

With respect to shade trees and biodiversity, the case of certification in India is quite unique. Coffee production in India began in the forests, amidst trees and alongside beasts.

All across the world in some of the most famous coffee locales, such as Columbia, Brazil, and Costa Rica, beans are most likely grown in areas where forests were almost totally clear-felled to plant coffee. In these regions, coffee plantations look like those of tea – endless rolling hills of coffee and one hilltop visible from the next. This method of ‘sun’ coffee is becoming increasingly preferred the world over for its booming productivity.

In India however, coffee is entirely shade-grown. It is one of the only countries in the world where 100% of its coffee is grown under the shade of forest trees. In most coffee growing regions in India, coffee plants compose the ‘undergrowth’ of a forest mosaic.

Coffee farms in India are also teeming with wildlife, especially if one looks closely underneath leaves or in the soil. Many threatened birds either nest in coffee farms or use these farms as safe flying pathways between forest fragments. Charismatic elephant giants are passé weekly visitors, often ignored, but sometimes shooed away for disrupting coffee picking activities. Leopards, however, are considered elusive celebrities!

At first glance, coffee growing in India sounds perfect. Coffee farms exist. So do trees and wildlife. In reality, however, like all coveted things, this harmony is fleeting. Coffee growing has intensified exponentially in the last three decades. Forests, paddy, and fallow lands have been brought under production. Shade trees on farms have been thinned out to allow in sunlight to boost yields. What used to be 100% shade-grown coffee is today less shade-grown and perhaps veering toward sun coffee.

So biodiversity threats have been clearly measured.

Sustainable Certifications Fall Short

Compared to elsewhere in the world, in India, the concepts of sustainable or shade-grown coffee are entirely new. In fact, most Indians don’t know what these terms mean. We therefore have a unique opportunity to discuss, debate, and find meaning in these terms for ourselves, and authenticate these beliefs with impacts on the ground. I think this makes us very lucky.

In the past, normative frameworks (i.e. ideas of good and bad) for social justice, environmental issues and business ethics were vocalised by governments, labour unions, and even religious organisations. However, in the current scenario of globalisation, ideas and cultures around social and environmental issues are ‘transnational’ rather than national. These norms are increasingly pushed for by non-government actors, such as NGOs, businesses, and public-private partnerships. Instead of laws and mandatory regulations, we see ‘voluntary regulations’ (less so in India but certainly elsewhere in the world).

The most prolific of these concepts are ‘sustainability certifications’, also called ‘eco-labelling’. Certifications work by ‘naming and shaming’ bad practices and creating incentives through certifying good practices. These extend beyond coffee of course (see FSC and MSC certifications).

The coffee industry has been one of the most active spaces for such certifications. A walk down the aisle of a supermarket presents a diversity of packages imprinted with images symbolic of the goals that they attempt to achieve – resplendent tropical birds, shade trees and faces of farmers. Intertwined with these images are the stamps of certification labels; Fair Trade, Organic, Bird-Friendly, Starbuck’s C.A.F.E. Practices, UTZ-Certified, and Rainforest Alliance.

Unfortunately, that’s the extent of most people’s experience. Knowledge about these certifications stops at the label. Most don’t know what environmental and social practices each of these certifications require from farmers. Most don’t know whether these certifications have positive impacts – whether they improve forest cover, increase populations of threatened species or secure livelihoods of farmers. More importantly, most haven’t a clue whether they have adverse impacts. We simply aren’t aware of the fine print.

However, most do know that certifications are global, meaning that certifications promote the same standards irrespective of the country or production system. For example, in Fair Trade certifications, farmers have to set up and run co-operatives and trade with buyers as per identical rules across different countries. Similarly, Rainforest Alliance certification requires coffee farms to maintain at least 12 tree species per hectare of farm area in India, Brazil, or wherever else.

Keeping all of this straight seems tricky.

With regard to shade-grown certifications, in India we find (courtesy of amazing scientists at the Coffee Agroforestry Network – CAFNET) that coffee farms can have up to approximately 54.34 species per acre. So while farmers in Brazil have to totally re-jig farming practices to meet biodiversity standards of certification schemes, coffee producers in India can sit back and practice business as usual? Pretty much – which is what I found while I was doing research on coffee certification in India. Despite clear evidence of biodiversity loss, Indian farmers were in compliance with the certification standards.

In addition to conservation problems, current coffee production also leaves social costs. Workers on plantations are often from highly marginalized communities, including landless adivasis (forest-dwelling indigenous peoples). We do not know whether employment on coffee plantations has been beneficial or exploitative of workers, but we do know that global certifications are unlikely to address the entire gamut of environmental and social problems that are peculiar to the Indian context.

So one size doesn’t fit all.

Innovating Locally

This situation causes me immense coffee-related indigestion – not wholly due to the increased consumption of chemical pesticides and fertilisers that go along with intensified farming. So I did what any sensible, strategic thinker would tell me not to do. I started a brand of coffee that wasn’t a business, but was a venture into the alternative. Gaia’s Cup is an experiment to reconcile coffee production with biodiversity conservation. We work on ways to support and incentivise coffee growers to conserve forest trees and wildlife species on their farms. We do this through a social enterprise setup – coffee from ‘conservation blocks’ on farms is sold and revenue is invested back into conservation activities. Or that’s the plan anyway! This started with developing a local farming philosophy for coffee. We have discussed and debated with coffee producers and gleaned the best of the global certification standards into a ‘coffee and conservation practice’ – currently piloted on seven farms in Kodagu district, India.

Gaia’s Cup is an experiment to reconcile coffee production with biodiversity conservation.

Venturing into a meaningful alternative isn’t straightforward. On the contrary, it is replete with dilemmas – ethical, moral and pragmatic. We may come out the other end with a project that is no alternative at all – a coffee company that trades ginormous volumes, imposes rigid rules on producers, but has little meaningful conservation or social impact. Or we could be too small, reaching only ten plantations in ten years. There is no ready prescription for the path we need to take, but the ball has been set rolling. As we roll, we will continue to reflect on our work and its contribution to the sustainable coffee movement. We’re hoping our iterative approach will help us define sustainable coffee for ourselves. For now, it would be fair to say that we’re just experimenting.

For information on our work, log on to www.gaias-cup.org or ping us on https://www.facebook.com/gaiascup.

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Bose_ArshiyaArshiya Bose has been captivated by the natural world ever since her school years at Rishi Valley when they would shake scorpions out of their shoes each morning! In 2005, she completed an undergraduate degree in Biology and Creative Writing from Bryn Mawr College. Although, this was an unconventional combination of subjects and people tried to dissuade her, she was keen to explore interdisciplinary disciplines and experiment with creative ways of expressing biological phenomena. In 2005, she undertook an MPhil in Environment, Society and Development from the Department of Geography at Cambridge University and for the first time, learned about the complexity of protecting nature. She subsequently returned to India to work with Kalpavriksh, an environmental NGO doing policy advocacy on livelihood rights of forest-dwelling indigenous communities. With the desire to learn how to carry out research, she returned to Cambridge in 2009 for a PhD. During her PhD research, she felt very strongly that academic research was not enough to conserve the coffee landscape I had been studying and loved so dearly. Motivated by the desire to make a difference, she set up Gaia’s  Cup, a small organization working on conservation in these landscapes. Through this work, she hopes to build partnerships with coffee growers to enhance sustainability by maintaining the forest elements of coffee plantations. This includes evaluating current market-based incentives such as certification and price premiums for eco-friendly coffee and proposing modifications or alternatives to these existing mechanisms.

Leadership in a Conservation Context

December 1, 2014 in Leadership and Business Skills

By: Christine Ageton (2007 Kinship Fellow)

“What time is it?”

This simple but famous quote by Meg Wheatley, leadership and systems change guru, is more relevant now than ever. What Meg Wheatley is asking is, “In what context are we being asked to lead, right now?” “What are the political, social and financial realities that impact our work?” “What do we know intuitively that is key to the big changes we are hoping to make in the world?” and therefore “What leadership is called for from us in this moment?”

I love this inquiry and I think that it is a perfect launching point for a conversation about the type of leadership that is called for as we navigate astoundingly complex ecological, geo political, and social contexts; all while keeping focused on what is possible for people and planet. No small effort!

Back in 2007 when I was a Kinship Fellow, I only had a glimpse of how my career would evolve. I knew that I cared deeply about worldwide conservation and was fascinated by how less empowered stakeholders could have greater agency in environmental management. At the time, I was working with Native American and Hispanic populations in New Mexico on rural drinking water protection. Armed with master’s degrees in community development and water resource management, I was dedicated to advancing methods for rural leaders and particularly women to understand and manage their communities’ water systems.

As time went on I invested increasingly in becoming a skilled facilitator and adult educator and my work was evolving to focus on leadership training and program building that would create the conditions for conservation and social change leaders to do their best work. I followed what interested me and found myself working less with communities on direct conservation issues and working more with the passion-driven conservationists and social entrepreneurs who were doing the work on-the-ground. After four years on the Kinship faculty and five years living and working in Latin America on conservation leadership issues, I moved back to the U.S. I now oversee three North America-based leadership programs for social entrepreneur change leaders through BALLE (BALLE Fellowship, Funders Circle, and Community Foundation Circle); consult on a two-year fellowship program for doctoral conservationists (Smith Conservation Fellows); and co-direct an international leadership program for non-North American conservation leaders worldwide (Conservation Leadership Programme, a collaboration among Conservation International, Flora and Fauna Intl., Birdlife Intl, and Wildlife Conservation Society).

In this article I’d like to share what I have learned through the course of my career about how leaders learn and how they foster others to learn. I focus on leadership development that supports two main objectives: What makes us happier and fosters deeper meaning in our lives; and what evokes real change toward the kind of world we want to live in. I’ve had the privilege to work with some amazing conservation practitioners who embody those principles. I hope these points will spark conversation about what kind of leadership you believe is called for and what you have seen in your careers so that we can grow from each other.

  1. There is no one leadership theory that serves all needs.

Traditionally, most disciplines are self-referential when it comes to leadership modeling. We ask, “Who within the conservation world exemplifies the leadership we need?” This inquiry is useful as far as it goes, but increasingly to do our best work we need to beg, borrow, and steal from the best systems change and leadership thinking of our time, which comes from many disciplines.

A recent article in Conservation Biology written by my leadership consultant and climate change scientist colleague, Maureen Ryan, and her Smith Fellow colleagues, highlights how the conservation movement has been slower to adopt new advances in leadership methodologies. The article is a call for peers to consider cultivating creativity as an essential skill in their leadership as scientists. The authors encourage their fellow conservationists to look at examples within social movements and the business world to inform their work. I concur and I’ve listed below some the resources that I believe are most useful for all change agents.

In particular, I am a fan of Meg Wheatley (Berkana Institute) and Otto Scharmer (MIT). Both are systems change theorists who study how movements build and the leadership needed to support them. Conservationists are no longer just called to do good science, but also to communicate what is needed in a compelling way, and to help build the new systems that will truly protect our planet. We need to be referencing leadership and change models that speak to these needs.

  1. Focus on your big vision, not your current title, organization, or project.

Many people get lost thinking that a specific project or organization must succeed for them to be successful in their overall vision for conservation success. According to a recent Forbes article, the average North American professional will change jobs every 4.4 years[1]. This rings true for me and many of my colleagues in North America and internationally. So, if this is the case, how can we stay true to our own mission?

The key is to stay focused on your big vision for the world and what you need to learn and do to get there. Change or failure is disturbance, and disturbance evokes learning, and learning is how we grow. The best leadership programs know this and are investing in a leader’s passion, not their current title or project. These programs have a knack for finding the folks with a passion for the cause that is in their heart and will carry through their whole lives. Kinship Fellows is a great example of this, as well as Ashoka, Echoing Green, and Rockwood Leaders of Color – these fellowship programs know that they are choosing fellows for the passion that drives them and they trust that the investment they make in these individuals will carry them through the unknown future trajectory of their career. They believe that this investment will bear fruit because they will continue to be in positions of influence that will serve conservation for the long haul. It matters very little whether Kinship Fellows go on to lead NGOs, serve in the Ministry of Environment, run for public office, or run for-profit consultancies. What matters is that we continue to be change agents resourced with the inner and outer attunement to know what is called for next, and to be able to lead in many contexts. I think that this is a seminal learning point for both individuals and institutions. So often we get hooked on a single project succeeding or on the long term success of our organization, and while these do matter, the bigger vision is paramount. Does this project, organization, or partnership still serve the bigger vision of what I believe will really make a change? If yes, great. If not, move on.

  1. Emphasize peer-to-peer learning.

Another great Meg Wheatley quote is “We are the heroes we have been waiting for.” Many of you already know this to be true, that you and your peers are creating the solutions that will truly change the world. In an expert and authority obsessed world we so often look to an academic or consultant or even funder to determine the right direction when it is our fellow conservation practitioners who have the practical and applied discernment to determine what is really needed. I think that this is particularly important as we seek to partner with other disciplines, like using market-based solutions for conservation. For instance, Grameen and ACCION understand micro lending, but you as practitioners understand the context of the communities where you work. Will micro-lending work in your situation as a tool for shifting livelihoods? Maybe, or maybe not, but it is likely that your peers who are also trying to blend market-based solutions with conservation objectives will offer you the best consult.

This is an important shift in leadership theory and application. When we turn to our peers, not outside experts, we often get exactly the applied information we need. I see this in all the groups I work with, from social entrepreneurs to conservationists to funders. Once they realize what an incredible free resource their peers are and that it is OK to ask for help and insights, the networks light up and things start happening.

  1. We have to dance on the way to the revolution.

A friend of mine returning from the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) conference lamented that it was so depressing. It seems that all the presentations were about limited funding, dire environmental conditions, and over-extended professionals. It is true that the current state of affairs for our global environment is not good. However, all of us need to feel that our work is making a difference and need to celebrate our successes along the way.

Systems change theory is increasingly showing that the pioneers and innovators who are building the new way of being need to have some space away from the dominant system to dream, connect, and create. This is what is called a Community of Practice, a group of like-minded individuals who can come together to not only imagine what is possible but also feel supported and part of something bigger. It is a long way between where we are today and the change that we want to see in the world, and the pioneers of this change need to play and connect so that they can be resourced to keep doing the good work. The networks that do this best both connect on a level of purpose as well as a level of friendship and joy.

It is inspiring to me to imagine all the incredible conservation leaders of this world resourced in a way that they feel they have the support they need, that they understand their path to impact, and that they enjoy the journey. Earlier, I stated that I’m only interested in leadership development that 1) makes us happier and fosters deeper meaning in our lives, and 2) evokes real change toward the kind of world we want to live in. This is what I will believe will create real and lasting change in our individual lives and in the world.

There is much more to read about this, here are a few of my favorites:


Manolis, J. et al. 2008. Leadership: a new frontier in conservation science. Conservation Biology 23:879-886.

Ryan, M. et al. 2014. Cultivating Creativity in Conservation Science. Conservation Biology 28: 345-353.

Scharmer, C.O. 2011. Leading from the Emerging Future: Minds for Change – Future of Global Development, Paper prepared for Ceremony to Mark the 50th Anniversary of the BMZ Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Berlin, Germany, November, 2011.

Wheatley, M. 2008. What is our role in creating change? Berkana Institute.

Wheatley, M. and D. Frieze. 2010. Leadership in the age of complexity: from hero to host. Berkana Institute.


Heifetz, R and Linsky, M. 2002. Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading. Harvard Business School Press.

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Christine_headshot_200wideChristine Ageton is Chief Program Officer at BALLE and is based in Bellingham, Washington. She provides oversight and strategic direction for all BALLE leadership and convening programs, including Fellows and funders, while also guiding overall organizational strategy. Christine has extensive experience in national and international non-profit leadership, organizational development, program design, and facilitation. Previously, Christine designed and implemented programs in economic development (Clinton Foundation-Peru, Project Healthy Children -Kenya, Haiti), drinking water protection (New Mexico Rural Water Association), and conservation planning (IDB, World Bank –Belize, Honduras and Guatemala). Christine is also an instructor who has taught international development and conservation leadership (Conservation International & College of Santa Fe) and guided peer-to-peer learning for conservation professionals (Kinship Conservation Fellows program). Christine received her bachelor’s degree from Skidmore College and holds two master’s degrees from the University of New Mexico in Community and Regional Planning and Latin American Studies. She is a 2007 Kinship Fellow.

[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeannemeister/2012/08/14/job-hopping-is-the-new-normal-for-millennials-three-ways-to-prevent-a-human-resource-nightmare/