Transforming African conservation from old social cause into next-gen growth market

Africa’s conservation challenges are daunting. The continent faces rapid human population growth, expanding agriculture and infrastructure, and globalized demand for its natural resources, including its forests, oceans, and wildlife. On top of that, Africa is expected to be particularly affected by climate change, which could produce more extreme weather events, exacerbate conflict, and drive large-scale human migration.

On the surface it would seem that time is running short for African wildlife, but one Ghanian entrepreneur sees conservation as one of the great opportunities for Africa.

“We need to challenge the idea that Africa’s extraordinary biodiversity and wildlife is a diminishing resource that needs to be protected and reframe conservation as a growth sector,” said Fred Swaniker, the Founder and CEO of the African Leadership Group who has won accolades from the likes of Bill Gates, Time Magazine, and the World Economic Forum for his efforts to transform higher education in Africa.

Conservation, Swaniker told Mongabay, has three critical characteristics of a growth sector, including the enabling conditions needed to recast Africa’s wildlife as one of the continent’s greatest assets, a magnetic appeal to attract top talent, and the potential to yield financial returns for investors and local communities.

For these reasons, Swaniker has made conservation one of the central priorities of his efforts to develop and enable the next generation of African leaders through African Leadership University (ALU), which currently has two campuses and aims to have 25 across Africa by 2025. ALU’s School of Wildlife Conservation (SOWC) specifically aims to help Africans use their knowledge, experience, and big ideas to “own and drive” the conservation agenda in Africa.

“Today, most African communities do not see wildlife as an asset that they ‘own’; and strong African voices are largely excluded from the conservation agenda,” states the SOWC’s web site. “We believe that unless African communities feel ownership of wildlife and the natural environment, they will have little incentive to conserve it. Given the continent’s demographics (the average age of an African is 19.5), we need to bring in younger, talented Africans and more women into the room. We need to change the narrative and engender new champions for conservation.”

“The ALU School of Wildlife Conservation is the first of its kind on the continent, dedicated to growing the next generation of world class conservation leaders in Africa,” he continued. “The continent needs home-grown African leaders to spearhead new and innovative approaches in the business of conservation.”

Ahead of ALU’s Business of Conservation Conference taking place September 8-9 in Kigali, Rwanda, Swaniker spoke with Mongabay about equipping conservation leaders with business, managerial, and leadership skills “to transform a generations-old social cause into a next-generation high-growth market.”

Read the interview with Fred Swaniker on Mongabay