The successful implementation of the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund’s (CEPF’s) conservation strategies is due to the engagement of the regional implementation teams (RITs).
These locally based leaders are a key link between the fund and local stakeholders and grantees who are implementing conservation on the ground across biodiversity hotspots. CEPF recently gathered a group of RIT members ― 28 people from 13 hotspots ― to participate in the first-ever RIT Exchange. Held from the 15th to the 20th September at the Smithsonian-George Mason School of Conservation in Front Royal, Virginia, the RIT members and CEPF Secretariat shared experiences on networking and capacity building; discussed communications, sustainability and fundraising; and theorized about the ideal RIT design.
“I think it’s a perfect program, it’s focused. CEPF would not need the RITs if it wasn’t so concerned with building civil society in the regions, but it is, and that makes the RITs essential and wonderful,” said Borut Rubinic, Balkans program officer for the Mediterranean Basin RIT.
The experience generated innovative ideas and solutions, fostering dialogue across hotspots that participants plan to continue.
“I enjoyed meeting like-minded people with a wealth of experiences from different hotspots. I was also able to identify those people to continue exchanging ideas with because of their experiences on issues relevant to my hotspot as well,” said Zewditu Tessema, the project coordinator for Ethiopia with the Eastern Afromontane RIT.
The experience also allowed RIT members and Secretariat staff to connect on a personal level. In fact, Luisa Faith Lewanavanua Tagicakibau (from the East Melanesian Islands RIT) and Siniva Tuuau-Enosa (from the Polynesia-Micronesia RIT) reconnected – having seen each other here, many miles away from home, for the first time since going to high school together in Fiji.
Some of the RIT members even stayed in the area following the exchange, taking the opportunity to sightsee. The Mediterranean Basin RIT members ― consisting of Liz Smith, Sharif Al Jbour, Borut Rubinic and Awatef Abiadh ― went camping in Shenandoah with CEPF’s grant manager, Laura Johnston.
Perhaps most importantly, the experience allowed CEPF RIT members and Secretariat staff to express their appreciation for all of the hard work that the team members do and to go home inspired by each other’s commitment to conservation.
“This was really a brilliant opportunity to meet everyone in the same place. It was the first time I really felt the whole implications and workings of CEPF ― it’s difficult to get your head out of your own hotspot sometimes!” said Liz Smith, the RIT administrative manager for the Mediterranean Basin Hotspot. “To actually see and speak to other people from the regions and CEPF makes the whole organization seem more real, like a family (I really did feel like we’re in this together) and it was incredibly motivating.”
Some thoughts of the South African RIT Exchange participants such as Azisa Parker for the Cape Floristic said “I enjoyed the opportunity to meet with people from other RITs to get a sense of the points of similarities, opportunities and challenges.”
“The energy and enthusiasm of my RIT colleagues from all over the world was just incredible.” said Lubabalo Ntsholo for the Succulent Karoo.