Despite the public image(s) that conservation NGO’s like to perpetuate and develop, inter-organisational cooperation between such NGO’s is rather strained. More often there will be cooperation, not because the NGO’s agree with, or have professional respect for, one another but because one needs something from the other. It is imperative that readers note that conservation is a team effort and without such cooperation, however strained or difficult, it would be impossible to conserve and research wild places and animals.
I recently heard a rather disturbing story that spotlights the strain and competition between conservation NGO’s and how one person’s actions can have an impact on conservation in a whole COUNTRY – Zambia.
Some of you may know the people involved and the whole story, I ask that you do not mention any names in the comments and in posts if you share this on social media, as that would not help the current situation. Let’s keep it civil and keep it as a lesson we can all learn from. In addition, if the details are incorrect or something has been left out that is important to the story, please comment with the suggested amendment(s); remember not to use real names of people, places or organisations.
The story is as follows:
A conservation NGO in Zambia had a project managed by a very well respected person in the conservation sector, nationally, regionally and internationally, and has good donor backing. In this narrative, this person will be referred to as “Santa”. Santa decided, for whatever reason(s), to separate from the overarching NGO and take their project “private”. This did not sit well with the boss of the NGO, naturally. The CEO will be referred to as “Tinky winky” in this narrative. Tinky winky then proceeded to fire not only Santa but a large component of Santa’s staff from the parent NGO. In and of itself this was big news in the country and many people were shocked and appalled by Tinky winky’s behaviour. Grumpy then decided to write emails to a large number of international donors in the UK and USA, many of which support more than one project in Zambia; I do not know what these emails said but essentially it was to “burn” Santa and remove any future support for them. This email reached quite a lot of people in other conservation NGO’s in the county as well, many of whom know and respect Santa and knew their side of the story. To add insult to injury, employees within the NGO told several outsiders (myself included) that Tinky winky took Santa to court over equipment, vehicles, etc. that had been purchased with funding granted to the project while under the parent organisation.
I was then put straight by Santa who said no such court case happened – merely a legal settlement was put forward and agreed upon by both parties. Or, at least, agreed by one party and accepted by the other because no other choice existed.
So, what can we learn from this? One person – one very egotistical, manipulative person – damaged the reputation of ALL conservation NGO’s in Zambia, potentially reducing the likelihood of repeat funding. Why? Because rejection was too much to handle for them; or failure. What form of reprimand/discipline/backlash did that egotistical, manipulative person get? Fuck all. Why did they get fuck all? Because “it’s good to be the boss”, and perhaps baby animals and the ridiculously high rates of internal conflict of interest at the NGO.
When working in remote areas with limited funding and expertise it is always wise to keep any potential help as close as possible, and making sure you maintain decorum in all situations. I would not be surprised if, in this particular case, revenge was served cold and frostbite was suffered by more than just one man.