Leading Women in Conservation – Selvia !hoaes [interview]

DURING the time she spent working in the southern Kunene region, zoologist Gail C. Potgieter has come across a number of women who have become leaders within their conservancies.

In a series of interviews, she asked them for some insights into how conservancies are managed and how they view the future for the conservancy programmes in Namibia. Selvia !Hoaes, the chairperson of Sorris Sorris Conservancy, is the second woman leader to feature in this series.

How long have you been involved with conservancies?

I became a member of Sorris Sorris Conservancy in 2001 when it was first established. I was elected as the chairperson in August 2012.

How did you become involved with the conservancy programme?

I initially became interested in the conservancy because my mother was one of the founders of the conservancy and she inspired me. The conservancy is meant to help the community, and also to conserve our wildlife and natural resources. I realised that I also own the wildlife, so I should take an active role in managing this resource – rather than just sit on the side-lines. I thought that the conservancy might help rural development in our area.

What do you think are the most important roles for conservancies in Namibia?

Conservancies must improve the living standards of rural people by creating jobs and building capacity, especially among young people. There are many old people and single mothers in this area too, who need help. The conservancy can provide this help, using the income generated from tourism.

What are some of your best memories from your work in your conservancy?

I think the most important thing we did in this committee was to review the conservancy’s constitution. I remember that before the lodge construction started, and the campsite was not being used yet, there were many jobless young people. Madisa campsite looked rundown and unused. Now, the lodge and campsite have provided jobs, and these places look attractive to the tourists. One of my best memories was when Madisa campsite was given to the conservancy.

What do you rate as your greatest achievements during your work?

Firstly, we held a very successful AGM in the conservancy, which I think was very important. When the committee was looking for ways to earn money to help the conservancy, I suggested that we hold two fund-raising events. The first one was a gala dinner, and the second was the Environmental Cup tournament. My fellow committee members and I worked very hard to make these two events a success, and we raised money for the conservancy. Raising funds in this way is a first for conservancies, and we received wonderful support from businesspeople and the government.

Do you have any aice for others working in conservancies?

A chairperson must be flexible and able to make things happen in the conservancy even with few resources. You should be able to handle conflicts within the committee, and try to ensure that everyone works together as a team. The chairperson must be able to delegate tasks to others and not try to do everything themselves. In this way, other people in your team feel involved. You must be willing to listen to suggestions from others. Transparency within the management team and towards the members is very important. I would like to tell other conservancies that they should not just wait for the government or NGOs to help them, but they must think of ways to raise funds for themselves.

What direction do you think conservancy programmes should take in future?

The conservancies should aim to increase benefits for the members in the future. I feel that this is especially important for vulnerable people in the conservancies like the elderly and single mothers. Conservancies should be helping those people who are struggling to survive. In order to do this, conservancies must work hard to make more tourism opportunities, which will bring in more income for benefits. We also need to look after our natural resources by forming g teams with other conservancies and the government to reduce poaching.

In the past, men were usually elected to lead conservancies, but in the future, I would like to see conservancies become more gender-balanced. This needs special attention among cultures that make it difficult for women to take a leadership role. I also think that there should be a system where hard-working people in conservancies are acknowledged at a national level. This will provide an incentive for people to try and make their conservancies successful.

There are some conservancies that are not supported by NGOs as much as others, so they will struggle to improve. Some conservancies do not have any tourism investors, so I feel that the government should help these conservancies to increase their income from other sources. I think that the recently established Kunene South Conservancy Association should bring up these issues, as it would be good to see all conservancies being treated equally.

What are your personal hopes and dreams for conservancies?

SH: Personally, I am planning to open a school in the conservancy area, which will help local children receive a good education. For the conservancy, I would like to see staff housing built and a borehole drilled to supply water for the office. These were our main objectives for raising funds for the conservancy. It would be great for Sorris Sorris Conservancy to become a role model for other conservancies. In order to do this, we need to stop infighting and make sure that the conservancy is a success. In future, I would like to see the conservancy supporting children who do well in school so they can study further.

Would you like to add anything else?

I would like to thank the NGOs that have helped us, especially for the training sessions they held for us. One of my most memorable training unit was the Women in Conservancy Leadership course held in Otjiwarongo. There we learnt what a leader is and how you should lead others in the conservancy. We also learned that a leader does not have to have high qualifications, but we must be sure to work according to the constitution of the conservancy. Committee members must always remember that the community elected us to work for them, and not for ourselves. We should bear this in mind and work for the people who elected us.

Source : The Namibian