Department of Geography Ph.D student Sipke Shaughnessy joined Fauna and Flora International for his fellowship, to investigate to what extent the long-term consequences of colonial policy in northern Laikipia, Kenya are responsible for the ongoing political and economic transitions faced by pastoralists in the region

This project was part of a bigger collaborative project between Fauna and Flora International (FFI) and Ol Pejeta Conservancy (OPC) in Kenya, funded by the Department for International Development’s Darwin Initiative. The project was titled ‘Cattle, water and wildlife: enhancing socio-ecological resilience in Laikipia.’ The project had three main components – one which focused on developing and managing access to water in OPC’s neighbouring areas, one which focused on restoring wildlife numbers on a patch of land which had recently come under OPC’s management, known as the ADC Mutara Conservation Area, and one on improving pastoralist communities’ abilities to benefit from livestock markets.

Sipke writes:

“I chose Fauna and Flora International for several reasons. Firstly, I learned that they were participating in a project that focused on the same geographical area in which I had completed my PhD fieldwork, as well as dealing with some of the same themes as my PhD research. As such, it seemed like a great opportunity both to learn more about my field site and to contribute some of the knowledge which I had picked up during fieldwork. Secondly, Fauna and Flora tend to tackle some of the challenges related to the human side of conservation, often working in difficult and insecure areas. I found this exciting as it requires thinking across disciplinary divides – in other words, to think about how societal factors might impact ecological factors and vice versa – which is something I am passionate about. Finally, the work that Fauna and Flora do is increasingly important and urgent, and so I was happy knowing that my work might have a positive impact.

I worked as part of the multi-stakeholder team on developing a socio-economic guidance and proposing models for the project’s livestock marketing scheme. I focused mostly on the livestock elements of the project because of my fieldwork experience and research on pastoralism in this part of Kenya, during which I had conducted extensive interviews on the history of livestock markets and their successes and failures in the region. I drew on some of this experience and knowledge in coming up with ideas for the project and in tailoring the socio-economic baseline surveys to suit the local economic and cultural context. I held regular calls with the Communit Development officer at OPC, as well as meeting to discuss ideas and challenges with my line manager. I was also tasked with reading and providing executive summaries of the academic literature available on these issues, so that the project could benefit from prior research.”

The aims of this fellowship were to a) enable me to translate some of my academic work into workable policy or project ideas, b) to learn to communicate my research findings and the knowledge I had derived from academic literature to a non-academic, practitioner audience, largely within an NGO setting, c) to learn about the workings of a large international NGO, and to learn how projects are developed from the initial conception phase through to execution and d) to gain experience in the practical side of project management, including budgeting and time management.

As well as benefiting my own personal development, the fellowship was also intended to allow FFI and OPC to benefit from my research findings and from the extensive academic literature available on pastoralism in Kenya and the impact of livestock marketing schemes on pastoralists’ economic and ecological resilience. As full-time NGO professionals often have little time to keep up with academic literature, it was hoped that I would be able to provide accessible summaries of the latest research to both FFI and OPC staff.

The fellowship met each of these aims to varying degrees. It gave me the opportunity to try and put some of my knowledge and research findings to practical use, although the extent to which I succeeded in convincing all parties of my ideas is another matter. I got a lot of practice in condensing and summarizing academic literature in such a way that it was accessible and quick to process. In some cases, I did this through the use of charts and diagrams and other visual tools, as I found this to be the most effective way to keep my audience’s attention and to communicate rather complex ideas in a short space of time. I learned a lot about working in a large NGO, including the difference in priorities in an NGO setting compared to an academic one, the different kind of language used in documents and in daily discourse, as well as how projects get developed, funded and implemented. I also got some experience in project management, although I was never really given any managerial responsibilities.

I think that this fellowship has brought added value to me in many forms. First and foremost, it demonstrated to me that there is a demand and a need for the kind of academic work in which I have been engaged, but that the main problem in getting academic work to filter into practitioner circles is communiciation. Most people working in policy or NGOs (and I presume also the private sector), have a limited amount of time available to them and find themselves unable to spare enough of it to keep up to date with the latest academic research. Having done the fellowship , I feel that I am better equipped to think about how I might communicate my own work outside of academia, and to convince others of the relevance of my research. It is often easy as a PhD student to think that the work one is doing is largely irrelevant to the outside world, so I found this experience encouraging. The fellowship also added value to my student experience by demonstrating the alternative career options available after I finish my PhD.

The fellowship will impact my PhD research in several ways. Firstly, it gave me time to become even more familiar with the academic literature around some of the issues I have been researching. Although I have mostly been researching livestock marketing schemes during the colonial period in Kenya, this fellowship taught me that many of the same ideas and challenges faced then are still current today (for better or for worse). I would not have learned this without the insights gained during the fellowship , and may explore some of those issues in my thesis.

As for my future career, the fellowship highlighted some of the differences between working in academia and working for an NGO. I know now that changing sector would mean getting to grips with the different emphases found in different sectors, as well as the kinds of specialist vocabularies used. However, while this required a bit of adjustment during my fellowship, it certainly wasn’t impossible, and in many ways I found it refreshing. I therefore now feel that working outside of academia is an option available to me in the future.”

Sipke Shaughnessy’s fellowship with Fauna and Flora International took place between July and October 2017

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