What Saving Lions Can Teach Us About Green Business
In the corporate jungle, when trying to sell a new program and make changes in culture, meetings are often tense or inconclusive. Finesse is required to facilitate such situations to make progress while satisfying stakeholders.
The other night I witnessed a skilled leader -- Flip Stander -- who negotiated a settlement with stakeholders who were justifiably concerned that the program he was advocating could cause severe financial hardship. In the end, the stakeholders themselves saved the program.
Dr. Stander is founder of the Desert Lion Conservation Project. His program supports the restoration of lions in the desert region of Namibia who were on the brink of extinction. The restoration program started with a few surviving lions in an isolated and small refuge. To fully recover, it would be necessary for the lions to extend their range, often in conflict with farming communities.
Why Green Programs Are Delayed
The Desert Lion Conservation Project faced the same challenges as many corporate green programs, where sponsors and stakeholders are sympathetic and support green goals but often delay in expanding the program since the program is deemed too risky, too ambitious or too low of a priority.
Stander's stakeholders -- the villagers near the refuge -- appreciated nature, but when asked to support the reintroduction of the lions, believed it was:
• Too ambitious: Lions already had a refuge and that should be sufficient.
• Too low of a priority: As subsistence farmers, they had bigger issues to worry about than the fate of a few lions.
Conflict & Resolution
When the lions started to recover, a juvenile lioness migrated to a nearby valley which was home to a few villages. She killed several cows and the villagers insisted that the lioness be returned to the refuge. Confined to the refuge, the lions would have no chance to rebound and would remain at best a few specimens -- as if they were in a zoo.
Instead of moving the lioness back to the refuge, Stander sedated the lioness and brought her into the village. As the villagers gathered to discuss the lioness' fate, some thought relocating the lioness was unsatisfactory; they argued that she should be killed.
Stander acted quickly to this threat and placed a knife by the lion's supine body and then told the villagers that the lioness's fate was in their hands. Stander backed away and let the villagers decide.
After intense debate, the villagers recommended a third way. The lioness could live and remain in the valley, if she was monitored and the villagers informed of her whereabouts.
A radio collar was placed on her and Dr. Stander's became her parole officer. With abundant game, the lioness went on to produce many offspring. The lions never resorted to killing the villagers' property.