Seeking to Sharpen your Leadership in Market-Based Conservation?

Ruth Norris, a member of the Kinship Conservation Fellows faculty, writes about the challenges conservation leaders face and what she has learned in the process of working with more than 100 mid-career conservation practitioners from all over the world.

Market tools have been changing the way conservation is practiced. The private sector has generated a wealth of new tools and approaches, from private standards, certification and labels, to mitigation banks and carbon offsets, cause-related marketing and socially beneficial enterprises. Every year, there are more tools, more choices, and more confusion and pitfalls facing emerging leaders in the field.

Conservation leaders launching or scaling up market-based programs face two challenges. One is putting programs in context –understanding the forces that affect outcomes, learning from others’ experience and applying analytical tools. The other is building a high-performing team, up to the challenge of continuous adaptation and improvement. These are related but different skills –on the one hand, a technical focus on the right intervention, on the other, getting the best not only from yourself but from many others. It’s as if you need both an MBA and an advanced degree in human resources.

The Kinship Conservation Fellows program is a unique fellowship that addresses both challenges, in a month-long summer program and an ongoing learning community.  Applications for 2013 are open now at  I’ve had the pleasure of serving on the Kinship faculty for six years, working with more than 100 mid-career conservation leaders from all over the world.  Here are a few things I’ve observed.

Innovation is the easy part.  A great idea for a new market mechanism, or an insight about how to replicate from one sector or location to another, is only the start.  The real test comes in building an organization that can deliver, to prove the concept and go to scale.

Leading a team is different from succeeding as an individual.  Many of the mid-career professionals we meet in Kinship have made impressive achievements by sheer individual creativity and effort.  They hit a wall when it comes time to go to scale and they can no longer do or oversee everything themselves.  It takes a whole new set of skills to evolve, from the leader who comes up with the answer, to the leader who instills a culture of problem-solving, excellence, and accountability in a large team.  One of the Kinship program’s great strengths is giving these leaders the time and resources to work out this transition.

A good network makes everyone smarter.  Under pressure, one of the first things to go is the sense of perspective, and the time to seek wise counsel from others who have faced similar challenges.  Leaders who maintain ties with a community of peers and mentors have a great advantage in having this resource at hand for anything from a quick brainstorm or reality check to serious help in a crisis. One of the things I value about the Kinship community is the way it helps each Fellow build this resource for him or herself.

Ruth Norris is an executive coach and advisor to conservation organizations and funders, and a member of the Kinship Conservation Fellows faculty.  For more information visit

Leave a Reply