I recently had the opportunity to hear a dynamic speaker with an important message. Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka is a veterinarian and conservationist and listening to her talk about her work in her birth country of Uganda was inspiring in a number of ways. The unique organization she founded, Conservation through Public Health (www.ctph.org), provides wildlife health monitoring in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park with a focus on the mountain gorillas that make their home there, almost half of the remaining population of this highly endangered species. What makes this organization different from other conservation groups is its approach to integrating public health and volunteer programs in communities around Bwindi for the benefit of local residents, livestock, and wildlife, enabling them to coexist in and around Africa’s protected areas.
As she began to work in Bwindi, Dr. Kalema-Zikusoka realized that conservation of any wildlife species requires a multi-pronged approach. But her work didn’t stop with helping the mountain gorillas. She astutely recognized that public health and economic issues contribute to and sometimes create conflicts that can be detrimental to conservation efforts. So if you want to help the gorillas, you must help the people that live near the gorillas to help themselves. CTPH’s community health volunteer networks have dramatically improved health practices and conservation attitudes among local people, engaging them in income generating livestock projects and connecting them to the international community via a Telecentre.
As Dr. Kalema-Zikusoka shared the objectives and results of CTPH’s programs in her talk, I was particularly interested in the partnership model that emerged from this approach. What makes this program work is the willingness of all partners to look at the issues from a variety of perspectives in order to find common ground that enables them to help each other achieve positive results. Too often, “partnerships” are approached in such a way that one party attempts to get what it wants at the expense of another. In the world of nature, that would be called parasitism, not partnership.
It may not always be easy to take a step back from your own desires and discover what a partner needs or wants, and how you might be of help in obtaining it, but if you want to be successful in your partnerships, this shift in perspective is absolutely critical. Simply expecting a partner to be supportive of your efforts without getting anything in return could be the primary reason why many partnerships fail within a fairly short time frame. Everyone must have a reason to continue participating in the partnership.
I strongly urge you to visit CTPH’s website and learn more about the work that is being done in and around Bwindi. It’s an exciting model that is getting real results and it’s very much an object lesson in developing and sustaining successful partnerships in community-based programs.