It’s a component that opens up somebody’s brain. You come to realise who a leader is, what the qualities of a leader are. I have to bounce back, to get back to my resilient zone. With that kind of belief, I’ll be able to be a good leader. "
Matthews Silumesi, Senior Game Scout in Simalaha Community Conservancy, is one of seven ranger leaders from protected areas across Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique who recently attended a pioneering Leadership and Resilience Training course at the College (SAWC). Offering a unique curriculum developed through a collaboration between Peace Parks Foundation, Sophia Foundation, SAWC, and the SANParks Honorary Rangers, the programme, albeit a pilot at this stage, is a ringing endorsement that rangers are more than just the ‘boots on the ground’. They are conservation’s first responders – a force for wildlife and people, and an asset to vital law enforcement activities across vulnerable landscapes. Key to the force driving every team forward is strong, resilient guidance, and investment in those in charge brings valuable returns.
The course participants were nominated by their respective teams for this very reason – identified as showing outstanding leadership and interpersonal qualities in the workplace, and the ambition to strengthen these skills further.
In the conservation areas co-managed by Peace Parks, there are dedicated people working at every level to protect and serve, all aspiring to the best possible ethics and outcomes on the ground. In ranger training, prioritising operational and tactical skills is a given – yet success equally hinges on trust, communication and those at the helm being inspired to make a positive impact on others.
As such, this course is a first in its focus on inner abilities, utilising a unique framework that takes well-experienced team leaders on an introspective journey, discovering who they are and the shifts required to do their best.
The programme aims to incentivise by equipping students with competencies to effectively inspire, lead and build meaningful collaborations; to learn how to access resilience, trust and motivation. Self-trust, first and foremost, is a non-negotiable for all rangers. “If they have all of these things in place, they can also substantiate it within themselves, with the organisation, with the communities and with their subordinates,” says Gysman.
Adventures in self-development brings visible challenges for each of them – the need for an openness and willingness to share and to accept what needs to change, and the conviction to head back out into the field and apply new knowledge.
There are lessons to be learnt by everyone involved in the pilot. A course report with inputs from students and instructors will offer the chance to build constructively upon v.1.0 and make it a working model. But one thing is already clear: opinion is undivided amongst the course’s four partners and seven pioneers that this should be an essential element of training, up-scaled and applied throughout ranger stations across southern Africa – at a time when the rangers’ environment is likely becoming more and more challenging.