By Tapiwa Prosper Chimbadzwa
Judith Natsai Theodora Kushata, is the Programme Design Officer at African Wildlife Foundation, Zimbabwe. She is responsible for all donor, stakeholder and government relations, analyze, review and pursue funding opportunities and calls for proposals, effective donor servicing through solicitation for donor visits to AWF landscapes, grant management support and financial tracking for donor compliance.
Question: Who is your inspiration and what motivates you to do this job?
Answer: I'm inspired by women in science in particular conservation. I'm motivated by the young women and men, family, friends and even foes who see me as a force to be reckoned with. Those who look up to me as an inspiration and those who view me as competition. Mostly, I'm motivated by my past and upbringing!
Question: How do you balance work and social life?
Answer: This balance is hard to strike, although necessary. I try to put my feet up on Saturday and go fellowship with others at church on Sundays. I love praise and worship sessions, a great way to start my week!
Question: What are the most exciting and most challenging experiences of your work ?
Answer: Most exciting experiences of my work are when you visibly see the impact generated from the fundraising efforts, government and stakeholder relations on the beneficiaries' faces, households, and communities .
Challenges include that beyond my efforts, some factors especially to do with funding are beyond my control and usually external factors come into play. Even though you would have justified a need for resources for beneficiaries, there is never a guarantee of getting those resources. The fruits of my work usually take time but when they pay off, they make the waiting worthwhile.
Question : What are the challenges being faced by women in conservation and what can be done to address them ?
Answer: This is a loaded question. Women in conservation much like women in general face issues to do with, for example, "it's a man's world" mantras. This has been de-mystified time and time again but that doesn't mean women's work has been cut out. Conservation has since time in millennia been a male dominated industry particularly so because of its nature: it is considered dangerous as in involves dealing with/encountering illicit often armed poachers and traffickers, traversing rugged terrain often without enough water or food, harsh environmental elements and wildlife and not forgetting how its deemed to take time away from the traditional view of a "functional household" where it's considered ok for a man to be away from the household for days or weeks on end looking for income/food to sustain the family while the woman stays at home to take care of the children and wait on the man and is considered morally wrong for a woman to do the same. The status quo that women are not bold, strong, biologically capable to do what the man can do set women back.
However, these challenges have propelled women in conservation to excel. I can name names of women who have shifted this narrative not only as global figures, but our local heroes who have managed to prove that women can be whoever and whatever they want to be, they can be just as good as men in conservation, be able to seat at tables where decisions are made, often times even bringing the table. Women in Science are Conservation Champions.
Photo credit: Natsai ; Location Mkambati, Eastern Cape, South Africa
Advice to aspiring conservationists.
Do not listen to the voices that are nowadays not even whispering but shouting at how conservation is a hobby and not a career path. Silence those voices through pursuing conservation which more often than not is driven by passion than income to be made from it. Remind yourself of how everything, literally everything is dependent on biodiversity conservation. The ecosystem needs you!
Photo credit: Natsai ; Location Nqadu, Eastern Cape, SA
Question : Do you think a mentorship program can be a good tool to motivate more young woman to take up conservation as a career ?
Answer: Definitely, when we started off, we hardly had any mentors to walk us through, there were no lessons to learn from or adoption of best practices. That platform or network of mentors did not exist, and it drove a lot of passionate young conservationists away from the sector.
Question: Would you take up some time to mentor a young person given an opportunity ?
Answer: It would be an honor to mentor aspiring conservationists
My aspiration to see a world, in particular Zimbabwe embrace local communities to such an extent that their voices are audible enough to be heard, considered, adopted in decision making processes and documents. Particularly so around issues to do with human wildlife conflict and its mitigation, early warning systems to avert disasters, climate change mitigation, and quota setting
What is your favorite animal ?
I don't think I have one particular one but if I'm to name, I love BBJs as ornithologists and affluent birders call them, in particular a Martial Eagle and I love spotted hyaenas for their role in the ecosystem, for being avid hunters despite them being associated as scavengers more.
Photo credit: Natsai ; Location Big Makalolo Wilderness concession in Hwange, Zimbabwe (2014).