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Masters in Conservation Leadership


The 2023-2024 cohort comprises 21 students from 18 countries.



Leona Bhuyan, India

I am an interdisciplinary conservationist working at the intersection of ecology and sociology to understand human-wildlife interactions and develop interventions to promote their coexistence. With an MSc in Environmental Sustainability from the University of Edinburgh, UK and a deep interest in nature conservation, I found myself working as a project manager and field researcher for an Elephant Welfare Foundation in Assam, India. This provided me an opportunity to work for conservation through community engagement - facilitating an intimate understanding of how humans and elephants share spaces and the negative interactions which threaten them. Through this role, I spearheaded capacity building workshops, habitat restoration programs, conservation outreach initiatives, and built meaningful partnerships with local communities for human-elephant conflict management. Moreover, my partnerships and interactions with diverse local stakeholders in the field propelled my interests in participatory models of nature conservation and the social dimensions of environmental change. I believe that conservation challenges are best tackled through collaborations and inclusive participation – much of which is still lagging across relevant disciplines and sectors. Through this unique Mphil program, I aim to acquire the necessary skillsets to tackle complex biodiversity challenges, promote participatory and interdisciplinary conservation approaches, and most importantly – create spaces where both nature and communities can thrive in my country.


Boris Božić, Croatia

As a freshly graduated student, I started working on Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). Back in 2013, the SEA was a newly adopted tool in Croatia. Working on it was a challenging and exciting opportunity for my professional development. With my colleagues we developed several nationally important strategies, we learned how to use SEA to tackle problematic socio-economic issues and I came to understand how socio-economic development impacts biodiversity. Maybe, more importantly, I learnt how biodiversity-conscious sectoral programming can support nature conservation. In hindsight the knowledge gathered working on SEAs defined my approach to conservation. After five years of working with SEAs, I shifted my focus to renewable energy and started researching birds. In parallel, I finished the prestigious Klaus Toepfer Fellowship programme. Nowadays, I combine strategic thinking with renewable energy development. I am an expert in adaptive management and a specialist in solving conflicts between wind farms and wildlife. I also was a leading author on national guidelines for assessing the impacts of wind farms on birds. More recently, I started consulting the renewable industry on biodiversity risks, supporting them in implementing the mitigation hierarchy and advocating for better conservation practices in the sector.


Mei Mei Chow, Malaysia

Growing up in the island city of Penang, Malaysia, with a BSc in Animal Biology, I always yearned for the larger forests out there, thinking they held more excitement. My conservation journey as a wildlife researcher at the Wildlife Conservation Society revealed a different picture. The perils that various species in Malaysia face cannot be unravelled by population study alone. I delved further into training law enforcement officers on recording patrolling data. I then worked with Penang Green Council - a state-linked organisation, to learn more about bridging public opinions with policymakers. I believe that you can’t save species alone; you must convince others. My diverse path led me to become a creative agency copywriter and participate in an environmental journalism program, enhancing my communication skills. Over the past four years, I have been a programme officer at TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, focusing on the illegal wildlife trade. Mainly training law enforcement officers and the transport sector, the materials I designed and sessions I led have increased the learners’ skills to detect smuggling, leading to increased seizures. This Masters in Conservation Leadership will enable me to communicate conservation issues better to improve policies, innovate conservation solutions and manage projects effectively.


Harshini De Silva, Sri Lanka

Born and raised in a Biodiversity Hotspot, I discovered my love for nature at a very young age while on birdwatching trips with my father. Determined to make conservation my life’s purpose, my career spanned the fields of environmental management, climate change response and sustainable development, in diverse sectors such as tourism, agribusiness, renewable energy, construction and solid waste. I also traversed the diverse worlds of the inter-government, non-government, academic and private sectors in Sri Lanka and overseas, and worked with over 30 nationalities across five continents. I qualified myself with a 1st Class Triple Major Bachelor of Science Degree from the Bangalore University, Karnataka, India, with two Honours programmes on Entomology and Environmental Biotechnology in 2006. When I earned the LEED® Accredited Professional (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) title in 2009, I also became the 1st female professional from Sri Lanka to do so. In 2011, I received a scholarship to pursue the Asia Pacific Leadership Programme at the East-West Center in Hawaii, USA. On my return, I was inspired to complete a Diploma in Diplomacy and World Affairs at the Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute, Sri Lanka. By 2017, I completed a broad scope Master of Science Degree at the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. I have accumulated almost 20 years of professional experience to date. My three-year-old daughter motivates me to pursue my career further and explore my passion in experimenting with different cuisines.


Shelby Dye, USA

Born and raised in Arkansas -The Natural State, I developed a close relationship with the natural world, and the interconnectedness of our planet was clear to me as a child growing up in the mountains. After earning my B.A. in Biological Anthropology, and B.A. in Journalism from the University of Arkansas, I relocated to Washington, D.C. -the seat of power and policy - to assume my role as Community Engagement Specialist for the Jane Goodall Institute. Here, I led our Roots & Shoots Program team in operationalizing ways the organization and program could address environmental justice issues and connected young change-makers with the resources to support youth-led projects that addressed socio-environmental challenges impacting their communities. I later served as the Advancement Operations Associate for the Smithsonian National Zoological Park and Conservation Biology Institute, where I worked to further the zoo’s mission to save species and their habitats. I supported key conservation science projects like the American Prairie Reserve and served as a member of the Learning Opportunities Group on the SI Diversity, Equity, Access, and Inclusion (DEAI) Committee. My mission is to make life better for people, other animals, and the environment through community-centred conservation efforts.


Mariana Gnecco Polania, Colombia

As an islander and ocean child, I was fortunate to grow up near the sea and witness the vibrant marine life that thrived in its warm tropical waters. However, I also witnessed the degradation of these ecosystems, which inspired me to pursue a career in marine conservation. I have worked as an environmental education coordinator and teacher, as well as a researcher in queen conch and lobster fisheries studies. My main focus has been on coral reef restoration, and as a co-founder of Blue Indigo Foundation, I am proud to say that we are currently restoring over 1 hectare of reef. With the MPhil in Conservation Leadership, I hope to gain the tools necessary to continue working for my region, pursue my passion for marine conservation, and contribute to a world where nature and people can thrive in harmony.


Asma Hirsi, Ethiopia/Somalia

Being born into a family with a root of nomads who kept livestock for survival for centuries is what shaped my love for animals. In my early teens, I found myself connecting to livestock and growing an interest in its study. I studied Veterinary Medicine, and upon finishing my degree, I started to organise and call upon the community, more specifically Agro-Pastoral women, on ways to be involved and improve their livelihoods by maximising their livestock production. I have co-founded a local NGO that supports the pastoral community in my country and has helped hundreds of pastoral households. In October 2018, I came across cases of cheetah cubs being captured from the wild and exported to the Middle East, which touched me deeply. I started working for the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) and being on call as a doctor by going on cheetah rescue missions with the Ministry of Environment and Rural Development. I have given medical support to confiscated cubs from poachers and transported them to rehabilitation centres. Since 2018 to date, my career has been mostly involved in wildlife and cheetah conservation. During my career, I have worked on projects on illegal wildlife trade, the Future Farmers of Africa programme, and trained rangers and wildlife observers under the project. As a professional conservationist, I now have a strong desire to learn more about conservation leadership and the skills that are required to enable me to make a substantial contribution to the conservation sector by fusing conventional livestock management with ecology and wildlife conservation.


Kai Hu, China

I am an industrial designer, cultural strategist, and conservation advocate from Shanghai. I hope to use interdisciplinary tools and knowledge to better bridge conservation with large enterprises, creating effective and long-lasting solutions to protect and preserve the beautiful relationship between humans and nature. During my time at Tongji University, my design focus was Life on Land. I tried to utilize the power of design intervention to make a difference. My projects included increasing biodiversity at local riverbanks, repurposing wasted firewood in wildfire-damaged areas, and raising awareness about rhino poaching crisis in both China and South Africa. Since then, I have remained committed to bringing academia and business together and ensuring conservation projects become more of a reality in China. In 2018, I co-founded XiLab: Design Voice for Wildlife. This visionary NGO harnesses the magic of design products and public art to champion rhino conservation efforts across the globe. I carried my passion into my professional experience, where I consistently advocate conservation and lead the creation of purposeful brands. Through cultural and semiotics study, I have successfully assisted many local and international brands to conceptualize their promise of conservation. Many launched initiatives such as regenerative tourism and nature-friendly new materials have made great impacts in their respective sectors. When I am not at work, you will most likely find me by the sea, cleaning up ocean trash, or at Disneyland, riding the rollercoaster.


Tambudzai Matenga, Zambia

While I always held a love for the outdoors and nature from a young age, I diverted into a more conventional path in my formal education. With a background in Economics and Demography (BA) and Political Science and International Relations (MA), I established my career in the development sector, designing and implementing solutions to development challenges in health, nutrition, sustainable food systems and climate change. Working with various international and local organizations across Zambia exposed me to the vast beauty and biodiversity of my country and reignited my passion for nature. Since 2021, my work in a consortium of Hivos, WWF, SSN, SDI, AMwA and several local organizations, involves working with vulnerable communities who are highly affected by climate change. Our work has supported communities in conservation efforts such as afforestation and reforestation, adopting sustainable livelihoods as they adapt to climate change and building their capacity to self-advocate. I also participate in the WHO People-Planet-Health Action Board to contribute voices and ideas from the global south on issues pertaining to wellbeing and planetary health with policymakers at the World Health Organization. With the MPhil in Conservation Leadership, I will strengthen my skills, knowledge and leadership in conservation advocacy.


Maria Alejandra Moreno Vasquez, Colombia

I am a dedicated conservationist with a Forestry Engineering degree from Universidad Nacional de Colombia. My career began in the Amazon Basin, where I researched tree adaptations to climate change and collaborated with indigenous communities. This experience deeply influenced my views on the vital role of community engagement in any successful conservation initiative. Currently, I'm the Project Manager at Fundación Guanacas, a Colombian NGO tasked with conserving a unique Andean Cloud Forest habitat, home to critically endangered and endemic species. My job is multifaceted, involving everything from long-term strategic planning to daily operations, as well as project funding. I've spearheaded partnerships with international NGOs to expand the reserve, secured funding for ecotourism projects, and overseeing the training of forest rangers. Under my leadership, we've also launched restoration and plant propagation projects aimed at nurturing the ecosystem we protect. My core belief is that responsible use of our intelligence is critical for ensuring that humans and wildlife can coexist and thrive. As I look to the future, I'm eager to engage in programs and courses that focus on innovative, sustainable conservation methods.


Nobert Nyandire, Kenya

I have lived most of my life in Nairobi City which is widely known as the only capital city in the world with a national park. I developed the love of nature at a very tender age. My dad used to work with Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in Nairobi and often, we used to do game park visit and drives. It used to be very fascinating since we could interact with plants and animal species. Unfortunately, this beautiful life was cut short after I sat for my primary exams, and we had to move from the capital city to the village after my dad lost his job. Life was so unbearable having lived a comfortable life and here we were in the village barely affording two meals a day. I later did my secondary school exams but my entire 4 years in secondary school was a struggle, mostly being sent home for school fees and I used to walk for more than 25kms from school to home and vice-versa since my parents could not afford my bus fare which was only $1 dollar then. But in this difficulty, I still saw an opportunity to interact with nature, I could pluck a few wildflowers here and there, eat some stray fruits along the way etc. I later joined Kenyatta University to study a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Planning and Management. Thereafter, I have established myself a more than 16 years distinguished professional career in the field of Environmental Planning & Climate Change advocating for policy formulation at the international, national and sub-national levels and advancing transparency in systems. The policy work I have been engaged in, has led me to notice the siloed approach between climate change and biodiversity where in most cases they are treated differently. This disconnect is why I am here at the University of Cambridge to learn more on how to bridge this gap.


Simon Odawa, Kenya

I possess broad hands-on experience in the environment sector with research interests on applied biodiversity conservation, climate change, environmental policy, nature-based solutions, and ecosystem conservation planning. I hold a Bachelor of Environmental Planning and Management, and a Master of Public Policy in Environmental Management and Policy. I am also a certified Project Management Professional. At Kenya Water Towers Agency –where I have spent the better part of my career, I have been able to apply my developed portfolio of skills and specialist knowledge acquired over time towards supporting biodiversity conservation and sustainable management programmes in the Kenya’s water towers. I have worked for and participated in myriad conservation projects bringing together the government, private sector and local communities, while giving prominence to the youth, women and other marginalized groups. I have also been fortunate to have had a short stint at Korea Adaptation Centre for Climate Change under Korea Environment Institute, where I pitched in with the Technical Assistance Team tasked with the development of Climate Smart City - Kurunegala, Sri Lanka. I endeavour to support conservation efforts by continuous exploration of strategies and initiatives that will enrich biodiversity, ecosystem functioning and –stability.


Ivanny Olva, Belize

I joined the conservation world as an administrative assistant in 2009, having just earned an undergraduate degree in Accounting, Business Management, and Administration from the University of the Ozarks. I then became a part of one of the most renowned conservation organizations in Belize, Ya’axche Conservation Trust. Fast forward to 14 years later, now Finance Director, my passion for conservation has strengthened. My involvement in this arena has allowed me to become a strong leader, decision maker, and key contributor to the management and conservation of Toledo's jewel called the Maya Golden Landscape, a pristine forest in southern Belize covering an area of 770,000 acres. One important lesson I’ve learned through my experiences at Ya’axche is that successful management of protected areas is more than enforcement and compliance efforts, biodiversity monitoring, and data collection. To maintain the pristine conditions of the fauna and flora in protected areas, community outreach and livelihood is imperative, as this promotes the importance of raising awareness and educating the people within the communities so that they can become better stewards of the resources within and around the PAs. This ensures continuity and sustainability in the future as our vision at Ya’axche says, we must ensure the “harmony between nature and human development for the benefit of both”. The knowledge I have acquired along with my expertise in sustainable conservation financing, financial management, budgeting, fundraising for organizational sustainability, and efficient operationality has prepared me to undertake the Masters in Conservation Leadership. I hope to continue significantly contributing to conservation in Belize.


Czarina Constantino-Panopio, Philippines

 I have embraced the role of a conservation leader in the Philippines for nearly a decade. Driven by my passion for influencing stakeholders toward sustainable environmental actions, my career has led me to collaborate with diverse stakeholders, including local communities, officials, and influencers. A significant portion of my journey has been dedicated to the No Plastics in Nature (NPiN) initiative, a global effort of the World Wide Fund for Nature to combat plastic pollution by 2030, where I served as the Program Manager who oversees all projects in the Philippines. This role has brought me to influence key business and policy leaders, conduct community-based research, and co-design and co-implement solutions with local stakeholders. I have also worked as an environmental educator for all ages teaching topics on biodiversity conservation, watersheds, environmental laws, solid waste management, and climate change. As a result of my environmental education work, I was awarded the North American Association for Environmental Educators 30 Under 30 award. I am excited about the Conservation Leadership course to improve myself as an emerging conservation leader in the Philippines. I believe this course will provide me with the necessary management framework that is essential in integrative and interdisciplinary in nature.


Sofia Pastor-Parajeles, Costa Rica

I'm a small woman with big dreams, and my heart beats for nature! Following my heart, I studied Biology at Universidad de Costa Rica. For three remarkable years, I served as a Teaching Assistant for ecology and zoology and engaged in thrilling marine research at CIMAR. Driven by a desire for broader impact, I specialized in natural resource management at Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica. My thesis focused on identifying and describing people's acceptability toward tapirs within a biological corridor and how this might impact tapir population connectivity. This innovative approach secured my first grant from the Society for Conservation Biology, marking just the beginning of my career. I joined the Costa Rica Wildlife Foundation, progressing from research associate to a formal coordination position. Building on my thesis findings, I coordinated initiatives centered on human-wildlife coexistence and community-driven conservation on different parts of the country. This included raising funds and developing genuine community engagement, citizen science, and ecological restoration. Simultaneously, I initiated a fascinating manatee-focused conservation project in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution. Currently, I'm pleased to delegate these initiatives to emerging local experts and leaders. With enthusiasm for the future, I'm pursuing the Conservation Leadership Master's at Cambridge. I am confident that this experience will equip me with exceptional leadership skills to further amplify conservation and coexistence impact, with a hopeful aspiration to inspire more women and integrate their participation into full action.


Shahriar (Caesar) Rahman, Bangladesh

My passion for conservation stems from a deep connection I have had with nature and animals ever since childhood; an attachment that has always guided my decisions – both personally and professionally.  In 2011, I began work in Bangladesh through village-led conservation efforts to protect threatened species in remote areas of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. I trained and recruited traditional tribal hunters as parabiologists. With their cooperation, my team and I conducted the most comprehensive biodiversity survey ever undertaken in the region documenting over a dozen new species for the country. Realizing the need for an official platform, I founded ‘Creative Conservation Alliance’ (CCA), a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of globally imperilled species, and their habitat in Bangladesh. Under my leadership, and with support from national and international colleagues, CCA has achieved some major milestones towards protection and restoration of a number of globally threatened species, including turtles, tortoises, gibbons and pangolins. My team and I initiated the first-ever reintroduction of Critically Endangered Asian Giant Tortoises, resulting in 70% survival rate and achieving zero poaching of released tortoises in the area. The work has been recognized by three international awards-Whitley Award, Future for Nature, and The Explorers Club New Explorer Award.  I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from Independent University, Bangladesh. Through the Masters in Conservation Leadership, I hope to enhance and revise CCA’s strategy for growth and sustainability, and develop sustainable mechanisms for conservation financing.


Borwen Sayon, Liberia

Growing up, I was fascinated by the lush evergreen forests, the rich biodiversity tied to the sustenance and heritage of our people. Life was beautiful. But fourteen years of civil unrest, fuelled by the unsustainable exploitation of timber resources resulted in corruption, exacerbating poverty and undermining biodiversity conservation outcomes. As a result, economic sanctions on the forest sector were imposed. The 2006 Forestry Sector reform process coincided with the beginning of my career through the Conservation Leadership Programme. I aspire to be one of the most respected conservation leaders in Liberia. Since then, I have served in numerous capacities in government, international conservation development organisations to build stakeholders’ capacity, worked on the establishment of protected areas, setting up Liberia’s REDD+ program and climate finance initiatives, strengthening local communities’ participation in forest governance, setting up sustainable livelihood programmes, benefit sharing mechanisms, and improving laws and policies on forest governance and timber trade. Through the Masters in Conservation Leadership, I aim to develop additional skills that will empower me to offer more solutions to address the critical conservation, forest management, stakeholders’ participation, livelihood issues and climate resilience in Liberia to create a balance between conservation, people, and development. I hold postgraduate diplomas from Freiburg University and University of California-Berkeley, Master of Public Health focusing on One Health and a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Cuttington University in Liberia.


Iyanuoluwa Shittu, Nigeria

I initially wanted to study Architecture, reason being that I wanted to help people design homes that will not interfere with biodiversity. I studied Ecotourism and Wildlife Management at the Federal University of Technology Akure and became a SDGs advocate and a passionate conservationist. I joined the Environmental Conservation Club in the University and became the first female President leading over 50 students, awakening their passion for conservation and engaging in hands-on activities like tree planting, plastic clean up and advocacy. In 2018 my final year, I served as the secretary of the LOC being the only student member planning the maiden edition of the World Environmental Conservation Conference (WECC). The conference gathered over 150 papers from Students and Lecturers in the field of conservation, forestry and wildlife. I interned with Wildlife Conservation Society Nigeria Program and co-organized conservation focused meetings with the Village Council, youths, and women including children in our conservation clubs in the communities adjoining the Cross River National Park. Coming to Cambridge, I look forward to meeting like minds and conservationists who understand the people as well as wildlife.


Ormon Sultangaziev, Kyrgyzstan

I was born in Kyrgyzstan, a small and mountainous nation nestled within the Tien-Shan Mountain range. From an early stage in my life, I displayed a strong affinity for plants. This prompted my parents to enrol me in forestry studies at Kyrgyz National Agrarian University in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Upon completing my university education with honours, I was granted a prestigious two-year fellowship by Bioversity International. This fellowship enabled me to conduct my research at BFW in Vienna, Austria. Following the successful conclusion of this fellowship, I pursued further studies, culminating in a Master's degree in Mountain Forestry from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna, Austria. Upon my return to Kyrgyzstan in 2019, I embarked on a journey with Fauna and Flora’s Kyrgyzstan team. Initially joining as a project assistant, I gradually assumed the role of a Central Asia ecologist. Over the span of the past four years with F&F, I have been deeply involved in diverse projects. These projects encompass an array of activities including research and conservation efforts focused on wild tulips, assessing the status of steppe tortoise populations in Central Asia, safeguarding the IUCN red-listed Menzbier’s marmot and other significant fauna within the Besh-Aral reserve, as well as the mapping, protection, and cultivation of IUCN red-listed species such as Niedzwetzky apple (Malus niedzwetzkyana) and Bukhara pear (Pyrus korshinskyi). Driven by a passionate commitment to conservation, I aspire to fortify my abilities through the Masters in Conservation Leadership program. My goal is to acquire the expertise required to effectively address the pressing conservation challenges faced by my homeland.


Yasemin Ulusoy, Turkey

Two volunteering experiences between 2017-2018 sparked my passion for conservation. In Gili Trawangan, Indonesia, I observed local dynamics around changing resource and waste management processes in a community with minimal access to material resources, economically reliant on seasonal tourism, and defined by climate vulnerability. In Aras, Eastern Türkiye, I witnessed the importance of the location for migratory birds and the ensuing danger to the wetlands from a halted dam project. These experiences prompted my profound curiosity for conservation design and national conservation capacity development that is cognizant of local social dynamics and needs. My academic background studying Anthropology and Development at the London School of Economics has kept me critical towards complex conservation and project management dynamics. While studying for my postgraduate degree in Sustainable Resource Economics at the University of London, I focused on decoding barriers and opportunities for implementing ecosystem-based fisheries management in Gökova Bay, Türkiye. Since 2021, I’ve worked in project development and management with Akdeniz Koruma Derneği (Mediterranean Conservation Society), a Turkish NGO undertaking Marine Protected Area co-management activities, species research and ecosystem restoration. I’ve focused on project development and implementation, engagement with different national and international stakeholders, campaigns and processes relating to marine biodiversity conservation. Since December 2022, I have also been a Board Member and have taken a more active role in strategic decision-making. Before my role with Akdeniz Koruma Derneği, I worked in Communications at the United Nations Population Fund and in investment consulting in the private sector. With the teachings of the masters and my peers in the Conservation Leadership programme, I hope to further engage in conservation finance and maintain curiosity and respect for the humbling knowledge of the people and communities of the seas and ocean and the biggest teacher of all, nature itself.


Asif Ibne Yousuf, Bangladesh

In the early stages of my career, I took a big step that changed my life's direction. I shifted from being a banker to becoming an environmentalist—a choice that wasn't supported by my friends and family, as banking appeared to be a secure career path within my country's context. The decision wasn't simple, but my motive and determination was strong. I could not just sit and watch the environmental degradation that was taking place. Since then, I've designed programmes and secured funding from various donors such as the World Bank, UNDP, USAID, European Union, and large private sector entities. Some standout moments in my journey include designing, securing funding, and coordinating a project that saved a dying stream in a remote wildlife sanctuary, co-founding an organization that empowers local communities to save endangered species through citizen science, and launching a market driven social enterprise, to help reduce communities' reliance on forests and biodiversity. I have also worked at one of the nation's largest international NGOs, spearheading their environment and climate portfolio. My journey has taken me to far-off corners of Bangladesh, where ancient forests and unique indigenous communities still thrive. This confirms that changing my career was the right move. What I've seen is truly worth the effort, and I'm on the right path. But I have to go further to ensure that our nation's natural environment is safeguarded for generations to come.