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Reflections on Being a Kinship Fellow

Earlier this year, Andrea Savage, EcoLogic’s CarbonPlus Program Manager, was selected as one of the 2013 Kinship Conservation Fellows. Andrea and the rest of this year’s Fellows met for a month this summer in Bellingham, Washington as part of the Kinship program’s in-residence instruction in market-based solutions for environmental issues. This post was originally written and posted as part of a series for The Kinship Lens.

I breathed a sigh of relief as Kinship Fellows Director Nigel Asquith introduced the program during my first week as a Fellow, by explaining that the following month would not give us a “one-size fits all” recipe that miraculously pops out the perfect market financed conservation project. You see, I currently spend the majority of my time in the world of REDD+ (Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation)—a mechanism to help poor, rainforest communities or countries conserve their forests by selling carbon offsets. Like many conservation practitioners, I have been to far too many conferences and bombarded with countless manuals, standards, and guidelines that walk you through the technical steps of building a REDD+ project modeled on a project far from my region of work. While great at highlighting the desired end result, all of these guidelines do little to prepare you for the majority of the bumps and derailments that occur when trying to conserve the environment.

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2013 Kinship Fellows and faculty member Ruth Norris in a small group discussion.

The Kinship application process includes a proposal for a project that each Fellow hones throughout the month. It is this component of the fellowship that grounded my Kinship learning experience in reality and prevented it from becoming yet another frustrating “how to” recipe. It allowed me to put what we were learning into the context of the project I work on in southern Mexico, and dissect real challenges with the expertise and moral support of an exceptional group of peers and faculty.

As our leadership coach, Beatrice Benne said, “Developing a conservation project is not at all like baking cake where you simply add the correct amount of ingredients.” If the recipe for a REDD+ project calls for clear land ownership documents, three indigenous communities will not instantaneously align their diverse interests to resolve boundary conflicts and present a set of agreed-upon tenure documents. However, I and other fellows focused on REDD+ projects could take what we were learning in the classroom at Kinship and later in the evenings discuss over a beer how it may or may not apply to the REDD+ projects we are each working on. Or Andre and I, who both work with indigenous groups, could exchange community engagement tools and contemplate the challenges of navigating the gap between indigenous cultures’ priorities and the demands of globalization.

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Andrea presents ideas to the group prior to a final project presentation.

When it came time to leave Bellingham, Washington, it was sad to say goodbye to my new Kinship family, but I was fully charged by the words of conservation all-stars like Al Appleton who said in his session with us, “Provide the glue to build a great idea.” I certainly did not have all the answers to my real life challenges, but I felt equipped with a combination of leadership tools and new knowledge that I had already begun to assemble for our real life situation in Mexico. Now I can, in my own way, provide the glue (not the recipe) that helps three Mayan communities develop a conservation project that works for them.

—Andrea Savage, EcoLogic CarbonPlus Program Manager
As manager of the CarbonPlus program, she specializes in the socio-economic aspects of conservation and collaborates with the CarbonPlus senior manager and community coordinator in designing and implementing the initiative in Mexico. Andrea has been working on REDD+ projects since 2008.

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