The phrase "lean in" is a buzzword you may have noticed in the news earlier this year, chiefly due to the popularity of Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandburg’s book, Lean in: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. In it, she discusses her own experiences as a working mother and successful businesswoman in the often male-dominated field of business and leadership. She encourages other women to "lean in," in other words, to pursue their goals regardless of what fears and challenges might prevent them from otherwise acting on their ambitions.
In Uganda, the USAID / Uganda Tourism for Biodiversity Program (implemented by African Wildlife Foundation), in partnership with Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), recently launched the Women in Conservation Leadership Program designed to recognize women who are "leaning in" within the conservation field in Uganda. An awards ceremony, attended by over 400 guests, was held at the Kampala Serena Hotel in order to recognize the achievements of ten women from the Uganda Wildlife Authority who have contributed a great deal to their field. This event, the first of what they hope will become an annual tradition, signifies UWA’s commitment to building the professional skills of women in conservation.
These women’s stories, as you can read, are all unique. No two career paths read exactly the same. However, all of these women, whether based in the field (as a veterinarian, or pilot, or game warden) or in an office (handling public or government relations) all have one thing in common—the desire to promote and protect Uganda's wildlife and wild lands. All of their roles require a high level of selflessness, teamwork and coordination - skills that are essential when dealing with wild animals, tourists, and high-level officials. These skills often come in handy at home, as many of these women are also mothers and wives who are focused on their families in addition to their careers.
Uganda is one of the poorest countries in the world and has high illiteracy rates, especially among girls, so it is important to celebrate these women who serve as inspiration to budding conservationists in Uganda and the world over. These ten women are next challenged to form mentorships and to brainstorm activities to help attract more young women to their profession. UWA’s hope is that by arousing interest and fostering a community of passionate, engaged youth, more women will participate in conservation work and threats to biodiversity can be mitigated.
As part of my role as Membership Service Associate at AWF, I often receive questions from high school and college age students in U.S., interested in launching their own careers the field of conservation. I encourage them to reach out to their teachers and professors for guidance, and to read the biographies of conservationists whom they admire. Ultimately, each student will find their own unique path within the field, but these simple first steps help them gain an understanding of the kind of coursework, field experience, and job requirements their future career will entail. It's hard work, as these women in Uganda would no doubt tell you, but choosing to 'lean in' against fears and challenges can also lead to opportunities and accomplishments you never dreamed possible.
Marie is AWF's former Membership Services Associate. With her background in the travel industry and experience living in Southern Africa, she is most interested in how the right balance of conservation and tourism can benefit both people and wildlife. She is an avid photographer and blogger, and shares these passions on her website One Carry-On Travel.
AWF Blogs bring you to the critical landscapes we work in, where conservation benefits both wildlife and people alike. The blogs are written by our staff - men and women who have dedicated their lives to Africa's wildlife, people and wild lands.