How to work for the Cambridge Conservation Initiative?
Elizabeth Allen is the Collaborations and Communications Manager for The Cambridge Conservation Initiative. CCI is a unique collaboration between the University of Cambridge and leading Internationally-focussed biodiversity conservation organisations clustered in and around Cambridge, UK. It represents a critical mass of expertise — on a scale unparalleled anywhere in the world — at the interface of research and education, policy and action, for the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems and exists to deliver transformational approaches to understanding and conserving biodiversity and the wealth of natural capital it represents.
WHY DO YOU HAVE A CONSERVATION JOB?
I’ve always been really interested in the great outdoors. I used to read a lot of books about wildlife, such as the ones by Gerald Durrell, which added to my love and appreciation of wildlife. I went to university and studied Zoology at Bristol, and then I did a Masters in Conservation at University College London (UCL).
I gradually realized that not everybody shares my passion, which led me to be interested in how you communicate conservation to others. What is it that makes me so enthused, but others not, for example? So having come from a Zoological background I’m now equally as interested in the people side of conservation.
WHAT’S IT LIKE BEING A COLLABORATIONS AND COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER FOR CAMBRIDGE CONSERVATION INITIATIVE
Lots of Cs! The main part of my role is to foster collaborations between all the partners that make up the Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI). Cambridge, UK, has one of the richest clusters of conservation organisations in the world. CCI is a collaboration between nine internationally-focussed biodiversity conservation organizations based in and around Cambridge, and Cambridge University. Through our partners we’re connected to many other networks around the world.
The majority of my job involves talking to our partner organizations and trying to find out what they need to do more and better collaborations; what are the barriers they face; and what does a good collaboration look like. I’m looking to identify ways to support these organisations to work together and do great conservation.
I’m also looking for opportunities where people need another ‘brain’ to understand a problem. For example, if someone needs an innovative solution but can’t access those skills, how can we help to bridge the gap and address the issue? CCI offers a way of bringing these skills together thanks to the partnership between the researchers and the thinkers within academia, and the practitioners within the conservation organizations.
WHAT’S THE BEST PART OF THE JOB?
There is so much benefit from bringing people together. The point where you’ve made a connection, and you can step back and see things working is very satisfying.
WHAT’S THE WORST PART OF THE JOB?
It can be frustrating when you’re looking at something that might be quite big in scope and people can get quite hung up on the tiny details. The small things do matter, and the concerns are genuine, but it can stop people from acting sooner and slow things down.
WHAT KEY STEPS IN YOUR CONSERVATION CAREER HAVE YOU TAKEN?
I’ve always been inspired by individuals. When I was fourteen I did work experience at the Zoology Museum here in Cambridge and I met someone doing a PhD and was so excited by their work and research that I thought that’s what I want to do.
My Masters from UCL was quite practical and applied, and was really interesting because it used the UK as a case study of conservation.
After university, I applied to become Editorial Assistant of the journal Oryx at Fauna and Flora International (FFI) and stayed there happily for seven and a half years. During my time at FFI I moved around a bit – always working with Oryx, and supporting people in their desire to publish in a peer-reviewed conservation journal.
In later years I spent more time looking at FFI’s internal organizational capacity – working to understand what conservation organizations need to do their work better. I was also involved in setting up and managing the intranet to improve internal communications within FFI and across its networks.
FFI were just lovely to work for. They are good at recruiting people who really complement a team, so you end up with a solid team of people. If you get on well with your colleagues then you can put up with all sorts of pressures like deadlines because people support and help one another. You always have a supportive net of people around you.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEONE WISHING TO FOLLOW IN YOUR FOOTSTEPS?
Be open to talking to people and put yourself out there. Just make connections, understand the difference and look at the whole gambit of what people do in conservation. You have to learn to be a good listener and good at interacting with people. People like talking about things, and you need to find out what people’s buttons – if you can make a connection then opportunities will flow from that. Networking is hard but important.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE SONG?
It’s a very difficult question… but at the moment probably The first time I ever saw your face by Roberta Flack.
Conservation Careers Advice Map
Careers Advice, Celebrating Diversity in Conservation, Communicator, Interviews, Mid Career