Staff from PASA member sanctuaries visit Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage, host of PASA's 2017 Strategic Development Conference.

Building Leadership Across Africa’s Sanctuaries

How PASA’s Leadership Development Grant is changing the game for sanctuary staff.

by Diane Toomey

“It made me feel less crazy!”

That effect might be a tad unusual for a work conference, but for Dr. Joshua Rukundo, the Operations/Conservation Programs Director at the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, it was a pretty important one.

When Dr. Rukundo walked into PASA’s annual Strategic Development Conference last year he knew he was surrounded by like-minded folks. “I met all kinds of interesting characters with unique personalities that inspired me. Meeting people as passionate as I am about what they do, and seeing their love for the species they work with energized my own passion for chimpanzees and chimpanzee conservation.”

The conference was a rare chance for the veterinarian—whose many duties include overseeing the medical care of Ngamba Island’s 49 chimpanzees—to connect with colleagues from other countries. “I met other managers involved in the integral operations of the sanctuaries and shared some of our achievements and challenges and discussed mutual problems and solutions. This was a huge learning experience for me.”

And one that Dr. Rukundo would never have had were it not for PASA’s Leadership Development Grant, which covered the cost of his travel from Uganda to Zambia.

The grant has its origins in a stark reality.

“PASA-member sanctuaries have been founded by incredible people,” says PASA’s Executive Director, Dr. Gregg Tully, “people who have determination and a huge range of skills from fundraising to managing staff to negotiating with governments. These people are hard to replace and they’re not getting any younger.”

So to help cultivate a much-needed next generation of leaders, PASA established the Leadership Development Grant to cover conference costs each year for up to three promising staff members—all of whom must be African nationals nominated by their sanctuary directors.

While PASA has always funded these expenses for sanctuary directors, it’s often impossible for these wildlife centers to send any additional staff. As Gregg explains, “Travel in Africa is very expensive, especially from East Africa to West Africa. It can cost more than traveling from America to Africa.”

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Raymond Tchimisso, the general manager of Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue in Cameroon, was the grant’s first recipient. Raymond had never attended an international conference before he participated in PASA’s 2016 meeting in Uganda. Gregg says, “He was so delighted to meet people and to realize that he’s involved in something that has global importance. Often African staff don’t realize that primate conservation is a huge issue that people all around the world are passionate about.”

One conference is good. But more are better. So as the number of grant recipients grows and eventually reaches a critical mass, PASA will offer trainings in specific skills, such as fundraising, managing team of staff, and negotiating with government agencies.

PASA-member wildlife centers hold a shared vision of their futures that Gregg puts this way: “We hope that there will be less reliance on the founder or one or two really passionate people and more reliance on a diverse team of people who can each fill in for each other.”

It’s a vision of sustainability ensuring that, while threats to Africa’s primates continue, so will the vital work of PASA-member sanctuaries.

If you’d like to help us foster that diverse team of African leaders at our member sanctuaries, please consider donating to the Leadership Development Grant.

Raymond Tchimisso, the general manager of Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue in Cameroon, was the first recipient of PASA’s Leadership Development Grant.

Dr. Joshua Rukundo, the Operations/Conservation Programs Director at the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, winner of the 2017 Leadership Development Grant.