Someone I know said, “Travelling is writing poetry with your feet”. If that is true, over the past 6 months, I think I could have written a work as long as Homer’s Odyssey.
Since I began as Executive Director at the Caucasus Nature Fund in January, I have practically been living out of a suitcase—travelling across Europe, attending meetings in the United States, as well as visiting all three countries in the South Caucasus. During this whirlwind, I have met the three original founders of CNF and I have spent time getting to know some of our generous funders. I have also started to meet the staff and partners that have made our work possible, and successful.
I would like to share just a few of the highlights from my first six months on the job:
Where it all began
Starting in Paris for a handover with David Morrison, CNF’s previous Executive Director, my first trip was to Frankfurt to meet with our Investment Committee, who have the responsibility to guide decisions on where CNF invests its precious capital—in order to generate interest which then funds our work in the Caucasus. While I had been familiarizing myself with the new language of investment, I was out of my league, but with plenty of sound advice from David and other members of the CNF team, I am beginning to understand the investment committee’s important work, and advice.
The story continues
On my first trip to the Caucasus, I was able to visit Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, where I met with our longtime partners World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), our partners in the governments, as well as conservationists, environmentalists and civil society activists.
One of the projects that really impressed me was the WWF-funded project to reintroduce the goitered gazelle—or Jeyran—to its historical habitat in South-East Georgia, on the territory of Vashlovani National Park. The project involved cross-border cooperation, with the re-settled gazelles being brought from Azerbaijan’s Shirvan National Park to Georgia, and I was really inspired by this intense partnership and cooperation across borders in the name of wildlife protection.
Another highlight was CNF’s participation in the 8th Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference in Batumi, on Georgia’s Black Sea Coast. Although we were faced with heavy rains in Batumi (as well as thousands of teenage fans of Maroon 5, whose concert in Batumi coincided with the ministerial conference), I relished the opportunity to see how environmental policy is forged by actors on a regional level, and I had the chance to attend some fascinating side-events too. Not least of these was the side-event at which I presented CNF’s work along with colleagues from other BMZ-funded organizations under the umbrella of German Cooperation in the South Caucasus.
Where I am now
Having relocated to Tbilisi in June, I am busy finding my feet in a new country—one which will be home for me for the foreseeable future. I have also already managed to fit in a trip to Yerevan to pick up the threads from the introductory meetings I had with David there in March. Armenia held many surprises for me—not least the breath-taking beauty of the ‘Symphony of Stones’ natural monument in Garni, near Khosrov Forest State Reserve. The long columns of basalt rock that have been exposed along the cliff-face above the Goght River look like the pipes of a grand organ, and are fully deserving of the description ‘Symphony’. To our delight, the Deputy Minister of Nature Protection, Khachik Hakobyan joined us in Khosrov Forest, and we had a very informative meeting with the staff there—discussing ideas to improve tourist services and increase revenue to the park.
Now that CNF’s executive director is based in the region, I expect that we will be able to coordinate activities with partners more efficiently and become more a part of the movement for nature conservation in the South Caucasus. I also hope the next phase of CNF will move beyond ‘communicating’ and ‘cooperating’ to become ‘collaborating’ with our partners in the literal sense —co-laboring with them to bring about the results in biodiversity conservation while ensuring benefits to local populations that we all want to see so much. CNF is well positioned for future success due to the team and David’s efforts, though of course there remains much to be done. However, having travelled so much recently—I am very much looking forward to a summer spent largely….in the office!