In 1994, the Russell E. Train Education for Nature Program (EFN) was created at WWF to offer financial and educational support to the next generation of international conservation leaders. Named in honor of WWF’s former president, Board chairman, and founder chairman emeritus Russ Train, and guided by his conservation ethos, EFN answered a need that was as simple as it was profound.
Mr. Train wholeheartedly believed that the single most important thing we could do for conservation was invest in the training of young people around the world, so they could manage the natural resources in their countries. That is precisely what EFN has done for the past 25 years: empowered more than 2,700 local leaders and communities around the world.
Here we’ll introduce you to a handful of the conservationists supported by the program over the years who are changing conservation in their communities and countries, and around the world.
Andreas Lehnhoff is passionate about protecting and improving the environment while also working to achieve harmony between nature and people. For the majority of his career, he has contributed to this cause from different leadership positions, ranging from running a local conservation group to serving as head of public environmental agencies in Guatemala to holding leadership roles in various environmental nonprofit groups. With WWF support, he earned his master’s degree in environmental economics and policy from Duke University, which helped advance his career early on and increased his impact as a conservation practitioner.
Currently, Andreas is leading WWF’s conservation work in Guatemala and Mesoamerica. Much of his time and attention is focused on ridge-to-reef conservation of the Mesoamerican Reef Ecoregion, which contains the largest coral reef system in the Western Hemisphere and is shared by Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. Like other coral reefs in the world, this one is threatened by the effects of climate change, runoff and pollution, overfishing, and coastal development. Andreas and his team are working with the gamut of local, national, and regional stakeholders to ensure any conservation strategies they employ have an integrated approach. The team has already made considerable progress in conserving watersheds in the region, supporting community-based tourism, improving fisheries, and strengthening coastal and reef resilience.
In addition to his WWF work, Andreas has served as an environmental leader for Guatemala. In the wake of the peaceful citizen protests in late 2015, Andreas was invited to serve as minister of environment and natural resources of his home country during the four-month transition in government. In this short period, he convened and orchestrated the country’s first-ever Environmental Pact among the country’s main societal groups, reformed critical bylaws of the Environmental Law, and helped reach a successful Paris Agreement at the COP 21 Climate Conference.
"With support from EFN, I'm researching how to best create and implement effective and equitable marine protected areas in Peru, and proposing alternative solutions to tackle the marine biodiversity crisis worldwilde."
"Thanks to EFN I became the first Congolese person to receive a doctorate in the study of mushrooms, a key food and livelihood source in the Republic of Congo. Through my research, I have preserved previously undocumented fungal specimens, discovered new species, and mentored students in the field."
Brazil is the most biologically diverse country in the world, home to more than 120,000 species of invertebrates, about 9,000 vertebrates, and more than 4,000 plant species. To protect its species and ecosystems, the country requires conservation expertise in many localities and fields. However, due to the country’s abundance of natural riches and its expansive territory, there are gaps in conservation expertise. Suzana Padua is working to ensure these knowledge gaps are filled so Brazil can better protect its invaluable biodiversity.
To achieve this, Suzana and her husband, Claudio Padua, founded the Institute for Ecological Research (IPÊ) in 1992. The organization works to conserve Brazilian biodiversity and create environmental leaders through research and education. From the beginning, education was at the forefront of their work, and IPÊ eventually created an education center to teach short courses and provide advanced degrees focused on conservation and sustainability. Suzana’s goal was to reach as many different audiences and sectors as possible, to ensure conservation and sustainability were incorporated into different fields of work throughout the country.
To receive formal accreditation from the Education Ministry, IPÊ required additional doctorates on staff, so Suzana decided to pursue her PhD with support from EFN. In the years since, she has supervised more than 40 students who are now working in conservation in Brazil. To date, IPÊ has graduated 131 students with master’s degress and 53 MBAs, and supervised more than 5,000 students who have taken short courses across many subjects. Suzana’s dedication to conservation education is helping create the next generation of experts working to conserve and manage Brazil’s natural resources for years to come.
Ila Shrestha is an ethnobotanist and medicinal plant expert in Nepal. She currently works with the government and local nonprofits to distribute high-value medicinal plant seedlings to rural communities and educate community members on their worth and uses. Medicinal plants are valuable, especially in remote communities, as they can be used as medicine or sold for income. To date, more than 20,000 seedlings have been produced and distributed.
Vatosoa Rakotondrazafy Andriamampandry is helping local communities in Madagascar protect and manage their fisheries. Madagascar’s coast stretches more than 3,000 miles, with a majority of the population depending on the ocean for their livelihoods. Coastal communities throughout the country are among the most isolated and vulnerable in the world, and with few marine management systems in place, the coastal resources are rapidly being depleted, putting livelihoods at risk.
Since 2015, Vatosoa has served as the national coordinator for MIHARI, Madagascar’s national network of locally managed marine areas (LMMAs)—areas of ocean managed by coastal communities to help protect fisheries and safeguard marine biodiversity. Under her coordination, the organization is working to ensure marine areas are protected and small-scale fishers have a voice in the development of national policy. Through MIHARI, LMMA managers are also able to come together to share their experiences and develop solutions to the key challenges facing fishing livelihoods. To date, MIHARI has connected more than 200 community associations and NGOs along the country’s coastline to share best practices and develop management guidelines.
Vatosoa dreams that one day the majority of marine protected areas will be community-owned. Through her work with MIHARI, she has witnessed firsthand that giving coastal communities opportunities and a voice greatly improves livelihoods, protects fishing grounds, and creates a sustainable marine habitat for future generations.
The first Train Fellow from Solomon Islands, Henry Kaniki studies the impact of climate change on turtle nesting habitats in the Arnavon Islands, home to the largest population of critically endangered hawksbill turtle in the region. In 2017, through the hard work and determination of Henry and the Arnavon Community Marine Conservation Area Management Committee, the Arnavons were declared the country's first nationally protected area.
"Invasive species are a leading cause of extinctions on islands and biodiversity loss globally. I've spent my career focused on restoring islands and removing invasive species that threaten them. Thanks to the support of EFN, I completed my PhD, which led to significant contributions in this field."
Suyadi (many Indonesians use only one name) has dedicated his life to protecting the forests and communities in Sumatra, Indonesia. He grew up poor and displaced around Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (BBSNP), the third-largest protected area in Sumatra and the only place in the world where iconic species like orangutans, tigers, rhinos, and elephants coexist. Through education and mentorship, Suyadi saw the benefits a healthy forest could provide, but also learned about conservation challenges. Concerned about deforestation and its implications for humans and wildlife in BBSNP, Suyadi decided to pursue a master’s degree to dig deeper into the issue.
With support from WWF, Suyadi received his advanced degree from Bogor Agricultural University in 2007. During his studies, he discovered that tiger numbers and densities in BBSNP had dropped by more than half between 1998 and 2006. To conserve the critically endangered Sumatran tigers and their habitats, Suyadi recommended taking immediate and dramatic action focused on conserving the remaining forest, reducing pressure on tigers in peripheral forest areas, and restoring deforested areas. To be successful, Suyadi noted that local communities must be supported and must participate in the conservation activities. Pulling from his own experience, Suyadi recognized that locals, given the right resources and education, could become guardians of the park.
To expand this work further, Suyadi helped establish the Bina Alam Lestari Foundation. The nonprofit works with marginalized groups in BBSNP to establish sustainable livelihoods, enforce conservation initiatives, and provide educational opportunities for youth. Recently, the organization established a school of conservation for children living around the forest, which integrates local wisdom and religion as a tool for wildlife and forest conservation. These collective activities have not only made communities more financially stable, but have also shown community members the value of the forest and empowered them to protect it.
Somchanh Bounphanmy has been a leader at the National University of Laos since 1996, first as a biology professor, then as dean of the Faculty of Sciences, and now as the first female vice president of the institution. Over the past three years, she has worked with EFN to secure funding for university students working toward conservation-related degrees, ensuring a next generation of Laotian conservationists.
Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world and has limited resources available for conservation efforts. With support from EFN, Harith Farooq is developing methods to rank different regions according to their conservation value so the country can increase and concentrate efforts in the areas of most critical importance.
“My degree funded by EFN not only improved my academic background and built my confidence in talking about conservation issues, but also truly developed me from working on a field level to a managerial, decision-making level.”
“Early in my career, EFN supported me to conduct research in a fishing village struggling with overfishing. There I learned the importance of partnering with community members and fishers to monitor reef health, perform surveys, and conduct other critical research. I have used this successful comanagement approach ever since.”
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