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Masters in Conservation Leadership


Project completed August 2022

Project Summary

This project prototyped the first Conservation ActionLAB, a ‘war room’ type of space where four UCCLAN alumni came together to respond to a conservation emergency, the Andean Chocó Biosphere Reserve threatened by mining in Ecuador. The team rapidly designed an advocacy campaign for civic involvement in key decision-making.

The team went into this project with the belief that the UCCLAN is a powerful platform with a strong professional knowledge and broad geographical presence. They proved this was the case through this experience, and that the ActionLAB can be a useful and replicable tool for UCCLAN members to work together in a very concrete case, with the necessary resources to empower organisations and individuals to participate and influence in local environmental decision-making processes. This opportunity became the perfect scenario to exchange knowledge among alumni and to create a very strong team of experts for responding to a conservation challenge. For example, Bruno Monteferri’s experience in social mobilisation for decision making in Peru and Mariano Castro's experience in shark conservation policy in Costa Rica, along with Lucia Norris´ experience in facilitation were key for the success of the ActionLAB. 

Finally, the project demonstrated that the team’s collective action had a positive impact in conservation. The team produced a non-branded webpage with high quality content to raise awareness and involve local organisations in the Andean Choco Biosphere Reserve's protection. The aim was to for individuals and organisations to get involved in the public debate around illegitimate mining and they managed to involve organisations such as Patagonia Ecuador who organised a trail running race in the area along with a community event which showcased the videos in Quito. 



The ConserAction Lab:

This space was conceived as a laboratory that responds to emergencies or conservation challenges with the best expertise available within the UCCLAN. It is a flexible and dynamic methodology that enhances the inter and transdisciplinary work of people with specific expertise needed at each emergency, understanding that each emergency has different characteristics but many need strategic social mobilisation, litigation, community awareness and articulated work among stakeholders.

During the workshop they experienced three stages:

1) Contextualised the challenge and identified key assets of each participant;

2) Explored the conservation area so each participant could feel inspired and have their own perspective of the challenge and the opportunities for action. This immersive phase was key to strengthen relationships as alumni and themselves in the challenge;

3) After the field trip they designed the campaign and designed an implementation plan. 

After the ActionLAB, Carolina and her team in Quito implemented the campaign and ensured the connection with key local stakeholders.


Conclusions and recommendations

Concerning the UCCLAN:

The team believes that the alumni network needs concrete opportunities for interaction and collaboration. Alumni have limited time to really collaborate in project outside their day-to-day job. They see the ConservAction Lab as a great tool to achieve collaboration. They envision a yearly budget for this collaboration space to respond to other emergencies around the globe.

Concerning the ConserAction Lab:

From this experience, they recommend replicating the ConservAction Lab with another team making sure there is an alumni member linked to the specific emergency that can follow up and make sure the effort is weaved to a broader strategy in the ground.

Concerning the Conservation Emergency:

They produced high quality content and are still working to make the content viral and distributed to key stakeholders. Their conclusion is that it is important to be realistic with timing of the SCLA Fund project and on the ground realities.



They produced a non-branded webpage with high quality content to raise awareness and involve local organisations in the he Andean Choco Biosphere Reserves protection. They wanted individuals and organisations to get involved in the public debate around illegitimate mining. The team managed to involve an organisation such us Patagonia Ecuador with whom they organised a trail running race in the area, along with a community event where they showcased of videos in Quito. Another example of the impact is that many local tourism initiatives are using the content created for their own marketing purposes and important fashion influencers are as well communicating about the issue.


Outcomes and legacy

  1. The Conservation ActionLabs methodology for advocacy campaigns co-creation is embedded in the UCCLAN strategy and Masters Programme
  2. Conservation ActionLab methodology will be implemented by other UCCLAN members, to design a civic involvement strategy that addresses a conservation emergency anywhere in the world
  3. The implementation of the portion of the civic involvement campaign raises awareness and creates a critical mass in the MDQ that understands and cares about the Andean Choco. They are still implementing the campaign but have already impacted the process for collecting the 200,000 signatures we needed


Follow up

Carolina from Fundación Futuro is leading the implementation of the campaign. Fundacion Futuro is very invested in the conservation of the area and this project is part of a broader strategy.



From the Project Lead Carolina Proaño-Castro's perspective, there were three key things made the project fun and relatively easy to implement.

1) Each member understood since the beginning their responsibility and amount of time they would devote to the project

2) They hired Lucia Norris as a part time Project Manager for four months and she played a key role in organising the workshop we put in place in Ecuador and hiring suppliers.

3) After Lucia's participation Carolina lead the implementation of the campaign with her organisations team.  

“It is increasingly difficult to take a break and this project allowed us to do so to put ourselves at the service of a more than special cause: the conservation of the Andean Chocó. Putting into practice the vocation of service for the planet and local communities that are trying to live in a way that is more respectful of the environment, in a place as biodiverse as the Andean Choco, is and I believe will always be a great formula to lay a cable to nature, recharge energy and remind us why we decided to walk the path of conservation as a life mission.” Bruno Monteferri
“For me, the conservation ActionLab was an opportunity to interact with the UCCLAN and find solutions to common problems. I believe that many of our countries face similar challenges, and this is an excellent opportunity to bring expertise and solutions to specific problems. Moreover, it is also a way to put into practice what was learned during the program, not only at the level of solutions for conservation, but also of teamwork and leadership.” Mariano Castro
Implementing the first ConservACTION Lab with other wonderful UCCLAN members and people who were part of the Lab was an efficient and creative way to propose grounded solutions to contribute to solving a conservation emergency in Ecuador. It also was an experience that recharged my "batteries" and get some inspiration for my work on other projects in which I am involved.” Lucía Norris



Project website


Resource library

ConservAction Lab Methodological Framework