Defining the Kinship Conservation Fellows Experience

The month Nigel Asquith spent at Kinship opened his eyes to the vast potential of what can be achieved by combining market-based conservation and leadership.

BY NIGEL ASQUITH, Kinship Conservation Fellows director and 2005 Kinship Fellow

Eight years ago, becoming a Kinship Fellows was one of my smartest career moves. My conservation career was at a crossroads. I had just left the Washington, DC-based Conservation International, feeling frustrated with life inside the Beltway. I was on my way to Bolivia to help with the start up of a new NGO, Natura Bolivia, which, with three staff and a $50,000 annual budget, was still defining its mission.

The month I spent at Kinship opened my eyes to the vast potential of what can be achieved by combining market-based conservation and leadership. Eight short years later, Natura Bolivia is a 50-person, $1.5 million-a-year organization, working with partner institutions as diverse as the Beijing Forest Society and the South African government. We have helped create a 1.6 million acre protected area, and by the end of 2012 we will have signed conservation contracts with more than 900 families to protect 70,000 acres of biodiverse tropical forests in return for $250,000 worth of alternative development projects such as training in honey production.

Without Kinship, I think it unlikely that many of these successes would have been achieved. In my month at Kinship I learned of the crucial role that markets have played in achieving more and better conservation. I learned that revealed preference is a valid economic theory and that there is no need to always start with extensive and expensive studies (“if the marginal benefit is greater than the marginal cost, just do it”). I stood with Hank Fischer, my conservation hero, in the Lamar Valley watching the wolves that Hank had helped reintroduce to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. I debated long and hard with my peers about the potential of economics for improving the environment, and I left Kinship with the unwavering belief that armed with market theory, I could do anything I set my mind to.

Having been so profoundly affected by Kinship as a Fellow, I was proud to be appointed director of Kinship Conservation Fellows in 2012. When 31 Fellows met in San Francisco in September for “Market-based Mechanisms in Action: A Focus 2012 Conference,” I was impressed with the depth of Fellows’ innovative experiences with market-based conservation tools. And of course, every year we add more talented conservationists to our network.

I am looking forward to the opportunity to work with the 2013 cohort. For conservation practitioners considering applying, 18 new mid-career Fellows will spend a month in the Pacific Northwest learning how to design, implement, and evaluate market-based tools such as payments for environmental services, in-stream water flow trading, and conservation finance. Fellows will participate in and lead discussions about their own conservation work around the world, and will be mentored by experienced practitioners on how to develop leadership skills and improve their own projects.

The 2013 Kinship Conservation Fellows program will take place on the campus of Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington from June 29 through July 26, 2013. Mid-career conservation practitioners with at least five years of field experience, a bachelor’s degree, and a demonstrated desire to innovate are encouraged to apply for consideration as a Kinship Fellow. Eighteen applicants will be selected as Fellows, awarded a $6,000 stipend and lodging for the month-long program, and gain membership into a global community of inspired leaders. To learn more and access the online application form, please visit The application deadline is January 26, 2013.

Nigel Asquith, Kinship Conservation Fellows director and 2005 Kinship Fellow

Nigel Asquith, Ph.D., is the newly appointed director of Kinship Conservation Fellows and the director of Strategy and Policy at the Santa Cruz-based Fundación Natura Bolivia. From 2005-2008, Nigel directed the transition of the $17 million EcoFund Foundation from being a reactive small donor, to a strategic conservation investor in northern Ecuador. Nigel also has an extensive research program, most recently based out of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, assessing the feasibility of market-based tools for environmental management. Nigel’s technical expertise is in plant-animal relations in neotropical forests, ecosystem service valuation, policy analysis, and the impacts of the oil and gas sector on biodiversity, and he has also worked at the Smithsonian Institution, the Center for International Forestry Research, Conservation International, and the World Bank.

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