How Likhulu was “born” – the story of how we came into existence

All proper stories (or so I’m told) have a beginning, a middle, and an end. The problem with this one is that I’m not exactly sure where it truly begins…
If I had to give this careful consideration, I would say the idea of Likhulu was initially formed in 2015, but at the time, I was unaware of this being the start of something significant. So for the purpose of telling Likhulu’s story- let’s say the beginning was when I first came to feel overwhelming pride in my friend and colleague- Tomas Manasse Chibale, at his graduation from Southern African Wildlife College. For the occasion, Tomas was turned-out in a suit and tie, and I wore a dress- something that happens almost as regularly as snow falling in Maputo. The sense of his joy on this momentous day heightened mine, and beyond any doubt, gave me the most rewarding experience of my entire professional career (in exchange for funding his tuition). This was not the last time Tomas would make me proud.

7 years later, contemplating the low tide at Sagres in Maputo over a quick lunch, and reminiscing how incredible it felt to be able to contribute towards Tomas’ growth and development, the idea struck me. Why not try bring about more conservation leadership capacity in Mozambique, aimed specifically at Marine Protected Areas? The country surely needed it with a looming commitment to increase MPA coverage from 2 up to 12%. Where would the future leaders for these MPAs come from? Would any of the Wardens hired to manage new or expanded MPAs have the necessary qualifications and experience needed to bring about their effective conservation? Surely Community Conservation Areas would also need a skilled management force? How could I help create more Tomas’? I reached for my pen, and the only available writing surface on hand- an obliging napkin.

The ideas flowed, and the napkin was soon scribbled on both sides and in every direction. I transferred my “notes” to a journal when returning to my hotel, and continued dreaming and scheming late into the night.

Now here comes what I think could be the middle of this story… The juicy bit. Enter Marcos Pereira, the following morning, for a cup of coffee before our meeting with BIOFUND. I had been bouncing ideas off Marcos and working with him during the past few months in the Primeiras e Segundas Environmental Protection Area, and we had become highly compatible colleagues. Besides being a guru of just about everything Marine in Mozambique, he was a workaholic, full of steadfast integrity, and I knew I could depend on his honesty. Sipping on what was probably my fourth espresso of the day, I shared my napkin epiphany with Marcos. His eyes lit up, and he shifted to perch on the very edge of his chair. His reaction was full of excitement and I could see the many cogs of his mind engaging … I was relieved to learn that he loved the concept, and his enthusiasm fuelled mine, so it only made sense to join forces and start our own Foundation to grow the country’s future conservation leaders- right? The match had been lit!

Marcos and I dived right in, and furiously began the process of establishing a Foundation- like only a pair of passionate and possessed conservationists can. Needless to say, our focus began growing rather organically so as to meet the needs of Mozambique’s broader marine conservation agenda. Marcos, in a matter of minutes, had set his sights on addressing another two objectives through our Management Solutions Lab and the Climate and Innovation Lab. And now there was a fire!

And as for the ending- I’m afraid it might disappoint, mostly because this story hasn’t quite finished yet. Although from our initial decision to create Likhulu until the time it was legally registered took roughly 4 months. We were shocked, but something about this felt like the stars had aligned. Come to think of it, I would certainly describe having a Certidão and a bank account in less than 6 months as an unusually happy ending. But that small victory was only another beginning, and far from the end of where we’re going with Likhulu.

With the legal process behind us, our current focus is on launching the Marine Conservation Leadership Programme (MCLP)- hopefully in partnership with a few reputable training institutions and supported by a network of renowned international practitioners and the National Government.

I would however describe the perfect end to this story as something along these lines: At least 20 professionals graduate from the fully subsidized MCLP every year- each earning NQF Credits corresponding to the modules completed; that these graduates follow in the footsteps of Tomas; and that empowered with the right set of skills – the elite of Mozambique’s marine conservation professionals will emerge. Watch this space for the upcoming, uplifting, and happiest of endings, and plenty more flames.