Building leadership capacity for conservation in Southeast Asia

By Leala Rosen (CLP Program Officer, Wildlife Conservation Society)

In May and June 2022, the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) organised a virtual course to help rising conservation leaders in Southeast Asia learn about effective leadership in conservation practice at the local, regional and national level. 

Screenshot from the live session, “Strengthening the Leader in Me”

Implementing conservation faces a range of challenges, especially given the current multiple crises facing the planet; biodiversity loss, pandemics, and climate change. There’s no doubt that dealing with these challenges requires effective leadership and teamwork.   

CLP’s leadership training course allowed 12 early- to mid-career conservationists (including two recent CLP Future Conservationist Award-winners) working in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia to become more aware of their leadership potential and how to be effective, collaborative, strategic, and creative leaders in their conservation projects and organizations.  

What did the course involve? 

The course involved eight interactive sessions held over four weeks. It was facilitated by two experts in leadership and training facilitation: Sarilani Wirawan, co-founder and director of Digdaya Selaras (an Indonesian coaching and mentoring service) and Tony Lynam, SMART Coordinator, Conservation Technology Field Solutions, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS – one of CLP’s partner organisations). 

I worked with Sari and Tony to custom-design the course so it would suit the needs of young emerging conservationists in Southeast Asia. We employed an experiential approach that included time for individual and collective reflection on the connection between conservation and effective leadership. 

“The experience of facilitating this year’s CLP virtual workshop together with Tony and Leala was truly energizing, insightful, and inspiring. I appreciated the commitment of all the participants in this course, which was shown by their active work on individual learning materials, engagement in the online interactive sessions, and open conversations held during the individual sessions. I hope more young conservation leaders will benefit from this program in the future to become stronger and more confident in their career decisions from early on as conservationists.” – Sarilani Wirawan. 

Trainees teaching each other some dance moves during the closing session in June

Sari and Tony delivered the course content through interactive exercises and related discussions, supported by specific examples, relevant case studies, videos, TEDx talks (including some delivered by CLP alumni) and a CLP alumni panel discussion. Short practical exercises and assignments were completed by participants throughout the training course.  Each facilitator also engaged in individual coaching or mentoring sessions with participants related to their work, and personal and career development needs. 

One participant, Sue Ong (a previous CLP intern and 2021 Future Conservationist Award-winner), commented: “The training was well-planned, with the different activities and real-life case studies helping me further understand the importance of each topic discussed. The interaction with other participants was also very enriching and also let me put into practice what we learned while connecting and building our relationships throughout the training. 

During the alumni panel discussion, the course participants met two CLP alumni from the Southeast Asia region, specifically Malaysia (Sandra Teoh, council member of the MareCet Research Organization) and Indonesia (Rafid Shidqi, co-founder and project leader, Thresher Shark Project Indonesia). This resulted in a lively conversation covering personal leadership development, vulnerability and growth, while the participants also gained useful insights into Sandra and Rafid’s personal conservation leadership journeys. 

Two CLP alumni from Southeast Asia, Sandra Teoh (Malaysia) and Rafid Shidqi (Indonesia), joined the training for a panel discussion

What were the key takeaways? 

Interestingly, for some participants, this was the first time they had had the opportunity to self-reflect on their own capacity and they told us they initially felt unsure. The facilitators noted this was a normal reaction they’d previously observed in other personal leadership workshops, acknowledging that self-reflection is not a skill that comes naturally to everyone. The learning techniques shared during the training ultimately provided an alternative and effective method for the trainees to dive deeper into the content and thrive in the process. 

One trainee commented: “This training helped me to reshape my thoughts towards challenges that I have at work on a daily basis. I can now actually overcome those challenges with all the techniques that I’ve learnt in this training – and I now know that it is okay to take time to learn and be kind to ourselves.” – Andina Auria Putri, Indonesia 

As a result of the course, 11 of the participants reported that they plan to take more leadership actions at their organization, while one participant wanted to step back and reflect on their current performance before taking more leadership actions in their work. 

Another trainee said: “This training taught valuable lessons in leadership that I sometimes ignored in the past, but after I reflected back I realized that a leader should hold the core values taught in this training in order to be great leader.” – Devirisal Djabumir, Indonesia 

Screenshot from a live session on authentic leadership and identifying core values

In terms of networking, all participants reported learning from the experience of other participants. It was also encouraging to learn that over half of the participants shared resources or opportunities with others and established one or more collaborative relationships, with one participant commenting,This workshop really helped me get to know myself better and learn from others’ experiences.” – Kate Lim, Philippines  

Overall, the workshop will enable these 12 emerging conservationists to address leadership challenges. It will also equip them with the right tools to more effectively manage and work equitably and inclusively as part of a team – including increasing self-awareness and capacity to work effectively with others, building strong teams and peer networks (including among other course participants) and sustaining energy, motivation, and personal resilience. 

Are you an emerging conservation leader? 

Does your project need financial support? Are you keen to build your skills and professional networks, and access career-boosting opportunities? Then apply for a 2023 CLP Team Award! You could benefit from a project grant of up to USD$15,000 as well as training, networking and mentoring opportunities as part of the CLP Alumni Network (comprising almost 3,000 conservationists worldwide). Find out more: