As a new SOS call for proposals for the threatened lemurs of Madagascar runs into its second week and applicants register via the online portal, the practical value of an inception workshop in January comes clearly into focus.
Thanks to a significant donation from a private Geneva-based foundation in October 2016, IUCN’s SOS – Save Our Species could announce a further five years of support to civil society organisations implementing lemur conservation projects in Madagascar. All projects will be aligned to recommendations of the Lemur Conservation Strategy – a document published by IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC) Primate Specialist Group.
As an immediate next step in this ambitious plan, SOS convened approximately 50 professionals from across Madagascar and beyond to participate in a multilingual workshop in Antananarivo in January 2017.
The topic was of course how to make the most of this fantastic opportunity for lemur conservation! As such it was an occasion to catalyse a network of conservationists aligned to one common vision - saving lemurs. It was also a chance to test the premise that explaining the vision behind an SOS initiative and the different aspects applicants need to consider during their project development would lead to better implementation of projects.
Presentations and interactive sessions were performed mainly in French and some in English with ample opportunity to experience Madagascar’s rich and warm culture during the coffee breaks and lunch time conversations. It was also an opportunity to introduce a new SOS team member Dr. Sylviane Volampeno.
Interacting with people working across this island provided a valuable learning experience about the practicalities of coordinating conservation in Madagascar. While the solutions for saving lemurs are relatively straightforward – and necessarily require engaging communities - context is everything. Work can be slowed by issues with telecommunications and infrastructure as well as inclement rainy seasons, to name just a few challenges. For good reason, a common local idiom is “mora mora”, or, “slowly, slowly”!
With several current grantees attending – SOS funded 11 lemur projects in 2015 – the process of knowledge sharing was enriched. Through testimonies and anecdotes grantees could share their insights and lessons learned that only come from experience in the field. There were success stories and even tales with caveats about the unexpected consequences of too much success!
Consequently some take home messages could include a shift in thinking from “plans” to “planning”, so as to adapt to an evolving situation and to seek synergies through collaboration between different organisations. Thirdly it was useful to underline a core tenet of the SOS model – helping existing civil society organisations do species conservation work in the most effective and efficient way possible. Most importantly, the SOS team gained a deeper hands-on understanding of the dynamics of the conservation landscape in Madagascar.
Naturally, reporting on such a workshop has a focused target audience. But lemurs are charismatic species and symbolic of Madagascar’s unique natural heritage – one that could be successfully leveraged to support the country’s socio-economic development if managed wisely.
Further, the successful funding of a species action plan highlights the potential of IUCN as a turnkey solutions provider – convening experts (the SSC Primate Specialist Group), drawing on their knowledge to develop a strategy and translating that into results based conservation action and news via a communications oriented grant-making initiative.
With this broader relevance in mind, we look forward to sharing a report on the subsequent field trips as well as on news from the successful lemur grantees of 2017 and beyond.
Also we invite you to share news from SOS with your networks as together we promote a universal cause: saving species.