The COVID-19 pandemic has affected various dimensions of our lives including the leadership of nations, organizations and institutions. Among those severely affected is the conservation sector which is facing reduced revenues due to a decline in tourism, reduced field activities for many staff and office closures. These challenges have forced leaders to make tough decisions in order to cushion their organizations and employees from the economic, social and other shocks caused by the pandemic. During these uncertain times, leaders need to employ adaptive management skills that will enable them lead effectively.
With the aim of sharing leadership practices that conservation leaders in Africa are implementing in response to COVID-19, a consortium of organizations including the Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group (ABCG) organized a webinar titled, COVID-19 and Adaptive leadership, which was held on August 11, 2020. This important and timely discussion involved the leadership of different conservation organizations: Michael O’Brien-Onyeka, Senior Vice President Conservation International-Africa; Munira Bashir, Kenya Program Director, The Nature Conservancy; Ademola Ajagbe, Africa Director, Birdlife International; Luther Bois Anukur, Regional Director, Eastern & Southern Africa, IUCN; and was moderated by Lucy Waruingi, Executive Director, African Conservation Centre.
While speaking about crisis management in times of a pandemic, Ademola Ajagbe said, “COVID-19 has brought us to a watershed in the history of leadership as never faced before. It is very easy to underestimate the impact of this pandemic on our staff, families and even on ourselves especially when it comes to the drastic change in our lifestyle and mental health. These changes are creating anxiety, fear and a sense of insecurity that is affecting everyone including leaders.”
To cope with the situation Ademola mentioned that leaders need to develop flexibility in how their staff work, unlearning, learning and relearning approaches on how to deliver the organization’s work. Leaders should be transparent with their teams when making changes that may affect their employees. Ademola further added that leaders should know what to prioritize and how to change the approaches used in their programs to maintain organizational productivity even during this crisis.
Still on the topic of crisis management, Michael O’Brien-Onyeka stated that organizations need to have a contingency plan as a method of preparation for future crises. In times of crisis, this would involve measures such as taking pay-cuts to avoid laying off staff, restructuring teams to ensure productivity during the uncertainty, and having flexible working hours among other measures.
With disruptions in conservation activities especially ongoing fieldwork projects, Munira Bashir mentioned that like other organizations, The Nature Conservancy, has had to adjust its work plan by increasing the project durations or postponing some activities due to the set COVID-19 guidelines.
Speaking on the topic of COVID-19 and its link with biodiversity, Luther Anukur acknowledged that the African conservation status was already in crisis before COVID-19 due to low funding for the effective management of protected areas. Furthermore, the threats to biodiversity loss as a result of human activity, wildlife trade, pollution, among other threats were high.
Luther highlighted two key lessons learnt during this pandemic period with regards to conservation, firstly, the current business model of funding conservation is inadequate and there is need to reduce overreliance on governments, aid and tourism revenue as a source of funding because they also have their shortcomings. Secondly, there is a need to position conservation in the right place of the national economy and national development, making it possible to link conservation and development since Africa’s economies to a large extent depend on ecosystem services.
As a recommendation to salvage the economy of African conservation sectors, Munira suggested that African countries should find ways of aggressively marketing domestic tourism, in order to raise their tourism revenue as they are currently losing out on revenue from international tourism.
“Every adversity carries along with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit” Napoleon Hill. This is a period when conservation leaders can form synergies and pull resources together to ensure the conservation sector keeps thriving even when faced with such catastrophes.
To learn more about how conservation leaders can maintain productivity in their organizations during this pandemic, listen to the recorded webinar on ‘COVID-19 and Adaptive Leadership’.