A turning point

From December 11-14, 2017, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Conservation Leadership Programme ran a four-day course “Building Leadership Capacity for Conservation.” Eighteen participants from Central America gathered for transformational personal and professional growth. Meet some our participants and learn about their course experience. This course was funded by a grant from the American Express Foundation to the Wildlife Conservation Society.


Meet Lucero Vaca. Lucero is a conservationist from Mexico who is dedicated to conserving jaguars. She is pursuing her PhD at the University of Oxford and is the Founder of the project “Jaguars on the Move” which aims to understand the behavior and physiology of jaguars. The scientific information collected will be incorporated into conservation practices within rural Mexican communities.

“This course was a turning point for me both professionally and personally. Sometimes as a conservationist you can feel lost when it comes to leadership. The profession requires you to bring together a group of people and yet training is rarely available in how to do this, making it quite difficult to get results in a conservation project. This course helped me learn how to lead a team, how to bring out the best in each member, and how important it is to address interpersonal obstacles.

Having Maureen and Christina as facilitators was so helpful. They have great experience in conservation leadership and the course was well prepared. We were smoothly guided from the basics of what is considered leadership to its applications in conservation. It was very useful to be surrounded by other young conservationists; we each shared our own knowledge which enriched the experience. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to attend this course and I am really hopeful that other conservationists from around the world can receive this training as well.”


Meet Alejandro López Tamayo. Alejandro is an Environmental Engineer with a specialization in groundwater. He is the Mayan Riviera Coordinator of Research, Conservation and Environmental Education at the Mexican organization Centinelas del Agua A.C. He is working to research and conserve the Quintana Roo aquifer. He is an alumnus of the MAR Leadership Program.

“To work in conservation is a challenge. You have to face the government, the private sector, and other stakeholders to show them in the right way, and at the right moment, why biodiversity conservation is important, why ecosystems have economic value, and why we need to implement strategies to live in a sustainable world. I learned ways to do this during the course. For me, this course was a paradise of knowledge. All of the lessons and exercises were rewarding. I was impressed by the preparation of the trainers and the way they worked with participants.

This training gave me the opportunity to learn more about myself and the different leadership styles one can have. I realized how diverse we are as humans, and the importance of understanding and recognizing the strengths of others. One of the most important skills I identified is how to motivate and lead my team and my community to work as one in conservation. After the course I feel stronger and wiser. I feel prepared to face the challenges ahead of me to protect the aquifer and their associated ecosystems in the Yucatan Peninsula and the larger Mesoamerican Reef System.”


Meet Begoña Iñarritu Castro. Begoña is a scientific advisor at the National Commission for Natural Protected Areas (CONAP) in Mexico. Among other things, she has a passion for bat conservation. She is a National Geographic Society grantee.

“I still miss being part of the course. Since the beginning it was an amazing experience. Even though I live in Mexico City, I had never been to the Sierra Gorda in Querétaro where the course was held. The drive to the cabins where we stayed was wonderful, full of complex curves and mountains!

We had a great experience together. The course offered a complete program that was different from most other courses. This was not a class where participants sit for four days and take notes. The workshop was dynamic. By listening and sharing experience with others, we acquired leadership skills for conservation.

One of the things I found most useful for my daily life was to discover which type of leader I am.  It was wonderful to reflect on my strengths and how to use them while working on a project.  Also I came to understand how useful it is to be aware of other’s styles. We need to appreciate our differences to work together effectively.

I am very grateful to have met this group of people. The environment was constructive, healthy, and binding. I really felt we were in an honest and friendly atmosphere where my mates —at first strangers— showed me how strong-minded and unique I am. Sometimes I feel vulnerable and insecure. Other times I suffer from the impostor syndrome. But during this week I realized I am not the only one and that in the end these are thoughts that we create ourselves; these thoughts are not reality. I am also very grateful for the lovely and prepared facilitators and for the advice I received from my peers on this course.

Thank you to everyone for helping uncover and strengthen my inner-self and my biologist-self!”