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Lesson Learned

Brian Reeves, program coordinator, Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa.

Reeves served as a project coordinator for the CEPF-funded St. Francis Conservancy Project, which established and developed a pilot private conservancy in the St. Francis area of the southeastern lowlands of the Eastern Cape Province of the Cape Floristic Region Hotspot, known for its highly threatened fynbos habitat.

What was the most important lesson learned?

Finding a balance between providing too little and too much support in community-based conservation is a crucial factor in a project’s long-term success.

Describe how you learned this and whether / how you have adapted your approach or specific project elements as a result.

Working as a project implementer on a community-based conservation project, my relationship with the community has been key.

On the face of it, one might argue that a project implementer cannot provide too much support. However, I found it can inadvertently cause a range of problems including:
  • Inhibiting community involvement: some community members felt their direct involvement wasn’t required because the necessary actions were being undertaken by a professional.
  • Inhibiting the development of internal leadership: as the communities had no pre-existing internal leadership structures – they are a group of neighbouring landowners – leadership development was sometimes limited as the community looked to the project implementer for leadership.
  • Reducing community buy-in: people are likely to support what they participate in creating. Where I was doing too much work, some community members did little themselves, reducing support for the overall project as a result.
  • Leaving a vacuum on project completion: although we had a carefully planned exit strategy, it has been difficult to leave entirely and I feel torn between wanting to help and knowing the Conservancy has to fend for itself.

Like many things, the optimal approach lies somewhere between two extremes – I tried to provide sufficient support without being over-nurturing. Although we were conscious of the problems associated with providing too much support, we nevertheless had to really bring that awareness up front during the implementation of the St. Francis Conservancy Project.

- March 2006

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Photo courtesy of Brian Reeves

WESSA is one of the leading environmental organizations in South Africa. Its mission is to promote public participation in caring for the Earth.

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