MAVA, Fondation pour la Nature / 5 May 2022

Why investing in leadership development matters

Investing in courageous, collaborative leaders is a prerequisite for successfully tackling today’s most pressing social and environmental challenges.


The following article was written and published by MAVA, Foundation pour la Nature

With all life on Earth at risk from climate and ecosystem breakdown – including our own survival as a species – the demands on today’s conservation professionals are huge.

At MAVA, we believe that investing in them, especially in the development of courageous, collaborate, visionary leaders is a prerequisite for successfully tackling today’s most pressing social and environmental challenges.

That is why, in partnership with Common Purpose and Mowgli Mentoring, we created the MAVA Leaders for Nature Academy.

Passion for people

In our experience, many people start off in conservation with expert knowledge and a passion for the natural world but as their careers unfold, they often lack access to high-quality leadership development – because either their organizations are unfamiliar with the benefits, or simply lack funding to support it.

So, when we began to consider how to ensure our partners might continue to thrive once our funding comes to an end later this year, we realized investing in leadership development could play a central role and address a number of specific needs. These included strengthening personal and organizational resilience; empowering young conservation professionals and enabling career progression; supporting collaboration between sectors, generations, geographies, and cultures; and creating new opportunities for mentoring, coaching, and personal development.

Through the Academy, we sought to meet these needs by complementing our partners’ natural passion with leadership know-how, emotional intelligence, and resilience, and balancing a focus on results with recognition of the value of people and relationships.

Intergenerational innovation

One aspect of nurturing good leadership that we felt was particularly important was to provide the opportunity for different generations to learn from and grow with one another. We put this at the heart of the Academy’s programme, developing a unique intergenerational approach through which participants worked together in dynamic ‘duos’ from different generations.

Joining the Academy in pairs comprised of one younger and one more senior professional from the same organization, each participant was then matched with someone from another organization in an intergenerational duo, younger with older, and older with younger. Duos then worked together through the Academy’s mentoring programme while also engaging separately in generation-specific peer groups tailored to their particular development needs.

This unique approach helped younger leaders develop and progress more confidently with the support of more senior leaders who in turn sharpened their own leadership skills through working more closely with the next generation.

Lasting impact

Drawn from across MAVA's programmes in West Africa, the Mediterranean, and Switzerland, conservation professionals participating in the Academy all had profound, career-changing experiences – you can read about some of them in our new  Academy Impact Report. And often the programme’s impact went well beyond the individual level, triggering organizational transformation, and boosting ambition, confidence, and conservation impact on the ground.

Having launched in 2018, the Academy’s sixth and final cohort will graduate in July 2022. Across all cohorts, greater personal impact, stronger relationships, more effective teams, shifts in organizational strategy and culture, cross-sector partnerships, and intergenerational collaboration were some of the main outcomes.

Bridging regions and cultures, the Academy has helped us forge a strong community of partners that support and trust one another, and that have found new and unexpected opportunities to collaborate. And by developing leaders equipped and inspired to take the conservation sector forward, the Academy’s overall impact has exceeded initial expectations.

Over to you

Investing in leadership development that helps conservation and sustainability professionals collaborate, support each other, innovate, and pioneer the solutions we need, matters.

We firmly believe our own investment has helped strengthen the resilience, impact, and sustainability of our partners – but the scale of the challenges we face today means the need for similar investments across the wider conservation community is only growing.

Together with all the Academy’s alumni, we encourage donors, businesses, and conservation organizations to support leadership development in the conservation and sustainability sectors.

To find out more, please read our new  Academy Impact Report which offers further insights and learnings about how you, your colleagues, grantees, and partners can benefit from leadership development.


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