Moses Muthoki | Community-based Conservation
During my recent visit to Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya I met Moses Muthoki, the head of community development. Community-based conservation is huge part of the work of the conservancy. Here Moses shares his experiences and career advice for those wishing to follow his footsteps and work in community-based conservation…
Moses’ role as head of community development
I joined Ol Pejeta in 2014, and began as head of the education department, I then became head of community development later that year. My role as head of community development is to ensure that the communities we work with get the developmental support they need. Ensuring that we can build trusting relationships to coexist and continue to work with them is an important part of this. I am the main liaison between the conservancy and our neighbouring communities.
We have 18 community areas that the conservancy works with. Each community has different support needs, from education to infrastructure to digital resources. In some communities we focus on conservation education, sustainable agricultural practices and dealing with water issues during the dry season.
Moses’ previous work
Before joining Ol Pejeta, I worked for an organisation that works with teachers in local Kenyan communities. Some of my colleagues worked with Ol Pejeta, and I became interested in what the conservancy does. Ol Pejeta approached me and asked if I would take on the education programmes and gradually took on a more community development focussed role, and I am now involved with all aspects of the department, not just education.
Challenges of a community-based conservation job
There are a lot of challenges in my role, and they fluctuate depending on season and conditions. For example, during a drought, the surrounding communities face very harsh living conditions and their expectations of the conservancy increase. Trying to meet these demands and expectations can be very difficult. We are based in a remote location in Kenya, therefore some services that our neighbouring communities need are inaccessible.
The cost of delivering services to remote places can be very high and sometimes beyond what the conservancy can offer. In particular, improving roads or getting books to remote schools become a huge challenge to meet the expectations. The biggest challenge of this job is to manage the expectations of communities and balance what we as a conservancy can and cannot do.
Best thing about community-based conservation
The best thing about my job is the little things, these are what matters. For example, the opportunity to help a child get to school and have their future take shape or working with a farmer to improve his yields and improve the lives of families. Using creative design to help a family reduce the time and effort it takes to collect firewood for fuel makes a huge difference to so many people. My greatest joy in this role is seeing these small successes grow and help these communities to flourish. It’s very rewarding to be in a position where you can reflect on the small things that helped to make a big change for a community.
Moses’ careers advice for budding community-based conservationists
As well as having a good education, to succeed in a job like this you need many skills. You need to be a resilient and adaptable person, no two days are the same. When working with communities, the job changes every day with new issues and challenges arising over time. Dealing with people can be difficult and you need to develop a thick skin and be ready to face the conflicts that can occur. From families to communities to local governments, we deal with many different people in differing situations. We don’t always get positive feedback in what we do.
Patience is also a very important skill needed for this work. In education or water projects, there is no quick fix, that’s the reality, you must be patient and dedicated to long term development goals. It’s vital to be aware of the environment you work in, for example, local legislation policies and community cultures. We have different approaches for certain projects in different communities and must have the people skills to deal with these.
Our staff may have different beliefs to those within a community and must be open minded and understanding of other views. Social dynamics and issues can be hard to predict; therefore, an analytical mind is helpful to adapt to changing challenges and anticipate future potential conflicts.
This job deals with many different factors from stakeholders, small traders and farmers, government agencies, local politicians and influential people within communities; we have to be able to talk to all of them in an appropriate way to deliver our projects. We also manage donor projects and government funded projects that require different management.
Overall, the key skill for a job like this is to be adaptable and aware to an ever-changing job role where expectations and issues change every day.
If you would like to find out more about Ol Pejeta and their approach to conservation, visit their website at https://www.olpejetaconservancy.org/ or follow them on Facebook and Instagram.