Career Placement: Amplifying the Conservation Technology Community in East Africa

March 20, 2024

In May 2023, emerging conservationist Esther Githinji began a CLP career placement with WILDLABS (an online community dedicated to conservation technology). Having now secured a permanent role within the organisation, we spoke to Esther to get her insights on what she’s achieved, the lessons she’s learned, and what the future holds, both for her and the East African conservation technology community.

Esther Githinji speaking at the inaugural Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2023 © Esther Githinji

CLP career placements aim to provide early-career conservationists with an opportunity to learn new skills, build their conservation networks, and ‘learn on the job’ in field- and office-based environments. To that end, our trainees typically work on a specific project with an experienced mentor within a regional office of one of our partner organisations.

“I think what CLP does is extraordinary. It’s pushing young people towards the careers they want and getting them to stay in conservation,” said Esther.

Amplifying Conservation Technology in East Africa

Esther is engaged in a communications-focused project aimed at growing and supporting the East Africa regional community in the WILDLABS’ global network, to support the effective use of conservation technology.

Esther explains: “I previously worked in conservation but I was always looking for that next step. When I saw the CLP career placement, and the opportunity to work in conservation tech, I thought: ‘tech being used for good? That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard!’”

As a young Kenyan conservationist, with little previous experience of conservation technology, the career placement gave Esther the chance to not only learn more about this emerging space but develop her own ideas to amplify the important work being done.

Esther talked about her dedication to engaging people and getting them excited about contributing to conservation, especially young people. She quotes Sir David Attenborough (saying on social media in 2020): “Saving our planet is now a communications challenge. We know what to do, we just need the will.”

Women in Conservation Technology

One of Esther’s first experiences during her career placement was coordinating and delivering the 2023 WILDLABS Women in Conservation Technology (WiCT) Programme in Tanzania. First launched in 2022 in Kenya, this three-month experience offers a cohort of early career women in East Africa the chance to explore technological solutions to overcome conservation challenges.

As part of her role, Esther created various designs in Canva to promote the second WiCT Programme, which were so effective they recently won a Canva Community Award (Campaign Champions category).

“The [Women in Conservation Technology] Programme is very close to my heart… just being a part of it and seeing what goes into it has just been so inspiring! Getting acquainted with these amazing women across East Africa and facilitating the sessions really helped me learn so much about not just conservation technology but also about community and capacity building.”

Although most of her early involvement in the WiCT Programme had to be remote from her home in Nairobi, Esther got the chance to visit Tanzania (for the first time in her life) where she gave two presentations during the closing workshops.

Esther Githinji delivering a presentation at the Women in Conservation Technology Programme 2023 Closing Workshop, Tanzania © Stephanie O’Donnell

The Africa Climate Summit

In September 2023, Esther had the amazing opportunity to attend the inaugural Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, where she shared success stories emerging from the WiCT Programme at the First Lady’s Pavilion (a space created by the First Lady to highlight underrepresented groups working in the climate sector). She was ecstatic when people came up to her after her talk, keen to learn more and join the community, and see how they could participate.

“I was nervous at the beginning, as the only [WILDLABS] team member based in Nairobi going to this massive event, standing in front of all those people. But it went really well. And I so appreciated that the team trusted me to go to such a high-level event and represent them.”

The Summit served as a platform to influence commitments, pledges, and outcomes on climate change mitigation – both globally and particularly in Africa – and ultimately led to the development of the Nairobi Declaration. During the event, Esther realised how important it is to highlight conservation technology and create such platforms for sharing information about it.

“There are still so many people who are not well-acquainted with [conservation technology]. I’ve really learned that we need to show them, not tell them. So, at WILDLABS I’ve been focused on creating content that’s very visual and generates a conversation.”

Esther delivering a presentation on the Women in Conservation Technology Programme at the first-ever Africa Climate Summit in the First Lady’s Pavilion, Nairobi © Esther Githinji

In conversation about conservation tech

Trying to generate conversations about the conservation technology landscape in East Africa led Esther to conceptualise and host the aptly named WILDLABS podcast series, “InConversation”. In the series, Esther interviews conservationists in East Africa to find out about the tech they are using and why it’s important.

Esther explains: “Developing and hosting [InConversation] has helped me learn so much about conservation tech. During the interviews, I would often forget the whole interview process and just get into a really deep discussion with these incredible experts about such fascinating topics.”

What’s next on the horizon?

Esther told us she’d like to stay in the conservation technology space after her career placement. “I just think [conservation tech] is the future: using tech to protect and preserve our biodiversity is a dream. I just hope more people, especially in the tech industry, get involved and realise the tech they are developing can actually do good.”

Shortly after this interview, we received the wonderful news that Esther has been offered a permanent role as the WILDLABS East Africa Conservation Technology Coordinator. Not only is this a testament to Esther’s incredible talent and achievements, but it has also accomplished CLP’s vision for our placements to act as a career ‘springboard’ for emerging conservationists.

“The skills I’ve developed during my career placement with WILDLABS have been instrumental in achieving this next step in my career,” said Esther. “The placement allowed me to ‘jump in the deep end’, which has helped me learn so much about programme management, logistics, engaging with different stakeholders and community building from a people-centred perspective. It has also boosted my communications skills 100 times over!”

WILDLABS InConversation podcast series promotional poster © WILDLABS

Career placements: An important foundational step

Esther recalls someone in the WILDLABS community saying, “There’s no course you can take, no book you can read, that can teach you more about conservation tech than by being part of this community.” She agrees wholeheartedly and attributes her successes to being immersed in the workplace and community on a daily basis, surrounded by the work she wants to do.

“WILDLABS has been such a flexible space for my development. It was an amazing experience being able to come into such a brilliant organisation, have such expert mentors, and get the opportunity to set up entire projects on my own while getting the support and the resources I needed,” she said.

“Career placements like this one are so important as a foundational step,” she added. “They help ground the skills you already have and further propel them forward. It’s been an eye-opening experience for me because it has helped me realise what fits with my ambition and skillset, and what I want to do in my career.”

For other conservationists just starting out in their careers, Esther has some advice: “Get involved in a career placement or internship that’s aligned with what you want to do and find mentors to have conversations with beyond the work you are doing. That will help guide you towards the career you want. Build on what you know already, and learn from applying it. Every day is a new step. Work up towards the career you want.”

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