Over 35 landowners and managers from private and community ranches gathered at the Mpala Research Center on April 15th to discuss the future of LWF, providing important feedback to use in our strategic planning process.
During the meeting, Executive Director Peter Hetz described the origin and history of LWF and explained our current strategic planning processes. He encouraged members to be honest about their opinions and provide clear feedback on his presentation.
In his presentation, he described LWF’s vision for organizational growth by 2030. As part of this vision, he highlighted a real need for change. This change is necessary in the face of new challenges stemming from devolution, population growth, contentious land tenure issues, increasing human-wildlife conflict, and the distinct absence of spatial planning and policy enforcement.
With 98% of LWF’s funding ending in June of this year, a new approach is required to reengage the Forum’s members, making them more active participants. The organization cannot rely completely on a single leader, such as an Executive Director, for its direction. What is required is a more robust, sustainable model to make real change happen.
A “forum” is a place, meeting, or medium where ideas and views on a particular issue can be exchanged. It was acknowledged that LWF has lost sight of this idea to a degree. Members agreed that being able to get together and work out neighbourhood problems “under a tree” is still a valuable tradition, and yet it seems to have fallen by the wayside.
Where are we now?
LWF has suffered from a disengagement of its members. It has become an organization which implements numerous projects but struggles to find one cohesive path that can satisfy the diversity of its members. Donor funding in some ways has led to an expensive model whose program design and implementation has tended to be top-down.
In the past, the strengths of LWF have been its ability to be an honest broker on issues related to wildlife, water and forests. The Forum played a coordinating, supportive role, but real success always lay with its members who engaged with their neighbours more frequently. The success of large-scale Forum funding has reduced this level of engagement, as the Forum turned more and more to Community Based Organizations, and implemented less through neighbourhoods.
All members value LWF’s commitment to grass roots groups, whose cultural and ethnic backgrounds may be diverse but whose goals and hopes for the future are the same. We do not want that to be lost.
We all understand that the threats facing the landscape have grown in their scope and scale recently, especially because of intensive grazing pressure from the north. We know we must engage our northern neighbours to restore rangeland health that will benefit everyone.
Additional issues that face the landscape require huge resources and a collaborative approach. At the top of this list is water management. Tackling this issue is expensive and requires collective support, including donors. We acknowledge that we are better off approaching donors and the government as a unified front rather than as separate individuals or communities.
What do we need?
We need to help LWF grow and to embrace a new way of thinking that allows us to deliver more benefits to our neighbours and neighbourhoods that ultimately support conservation. We need to take the original foundation of LWF and grow it to be more responsive to our growing diversity of members and membership needs.
We know that LWF has had shortcomings as an implementing body. Some projects have been conceived and implemented without adequate community engagement. Some projects have simply not shared enough information in their neighbourhoods and the links between project benefits and neighbourhood priorities has not always been evident. Some communities have not felt a sense of ownership, and have sensed a bias toward wildlife over people. We will change this by encouraging greater collaboration among all forms of land and resource use, and fight against insularity, so that rangelands and wildlife provide benefits to more people in Laikipia.
The big landowners – no matter what ethnicity, community or individual — are the drivers for this approach. They must reinforce the solidarity of neighbourhoods and accept their social, economic, environmental, cultural, and conservation responsibilities. For this, we need an overarching body for advocacy and lobbying, especially on crosscutting issues such as water, spatial planning, or infrastructure. A revitalized LWF must address county, local, trans-boundary and national issues. Yet, while stepping up to address new challenges, we can’t forget where we have come from.
Together we must create a truly sustainable organization, less reliant on any one personality or donor, and more reliant on the strength of its governance structure. We need active board members, advisory trustees, and stronger, more deeply committed members. LWF’s roots and branches are all part of the same tree, and both are critical to protecting land for our people and wildlife, forever.
We continue our dialog with LWF stakeholders this month and next to finalize our vision and strategic plan for the future of LWF. Thank you to the participants of more than the 40 different group meetings that have taken place in Laikipia and Nairobi so far. A new, more responsive LWF is emerging.