Community-owned Conservation: A Story of Sustainability

From the beginning, the Lion Guardians’ founders harbored a vision: that the organization would be fully-owned and entirely run by the community. At the core of this vision lies the unwavering belief that the long-term conservation of lions and other carnivores can only be achieved when the people who live alongside the wildlife and on the land are involved in the process. Therefore, we understood that in order for our conservation efforts to be long-lasting, community ownership was an absolute must. 


“If it is to be long-lasting and genuinely successful, the conservation of wildlife must be a choice and a decision made by the people who live on the land and share space with nature. From the beginning, this project and the lions were always thought of and spoken of as belonging to the communities. We are proud to see the team take full ownership.” ~ Dr. Stephanie Dolrenry, co-founder of Lion Guardians


Lion Guardians co-founders Dr. Stephanie Dolrenry and Dr. Leela Hazzah with Guardian Sankuyan.

For this reason, over the past decade local Maasai communities have participated as full and active partners in all of our work. Our operations have been run by the organization’s Senior Management Team (SMT) since 2013, a team composed of nine people, seven of which come from the Maasai community. 


“There has been huge excitement and appreciation from the local community after noting that the organization is now fully run by their own people.”  ~ Jeremiah Purka, SMT Conflict and Vehicle Management

To ensure that the SMT feel fully supported in their leadership roles, we created an organizational structure to enhance equitable decision making with an embedded performance management system that the team christened, “We Empower Each Other – Lion Guardians” (WEE-LG).  Through WEE-LG, members of the SMT provide constructive feedback on operational issues, improve communication about strategic objectives, and support each other in achieving organizational and personal goals. 


It gives me a chance to be a good leader who shows a good example to those who are still growing.” ~ Maria Saruni, SMT Camp Management


The SMT work closely together to build team unity by meeting regularly to check in on progress and by working together to develop plans to help hit targets, strategize, and problem-solve. The team also strives to back each other up, support projects when needed, and prioritize each other’s personal progress and wellbeing. Furthermore, work within the team is divided across three committees; organizational, operational, and conservation. In 2022, we introduced the “one big thing” initiative for each committee. The aim of this initiative is to encourage each committee to work towards one primary goal during each quarter of the year. The team also introduced and defined individual goals to work on to enhance both team and individual development. 


“The organization gives locals the opportunity for growth in leadership and to improve gender equality.” ~ Maria Saruni, SMT Camp Management


“There is equity at the workplace and everyone is valued.” ~ James Silankei, SMT Field Operation and Vehicle Management


WEE-LG became fully operational in 2022 and in March 2023, we held a hybrid team meeting (physical in Nairobi with some team members joining from camp), to review progress and discuss the end of year results of 2022. We were delighted that all of the team hit their targets, achieved their goals, and received their annual bonuses.  Furthermore, an integral part of the WEE-LG model is to ensure that everyone on the SMT is equitably paid. At the end of 2022, we conducted an equity and annual raise analysis to provide a basis for an annual salary raise for each member of the SMT.  

Members of the SMT at a recent meeting at camp.


“WEE-LG offers an opportunity to take the lead and make a difference in the conservation spectrum and, being fully run by the community, it enables the local community to take full ownership for long-term sustainability.” ~ John Merishi, SMT People and Culture



We look forward to keeping you updated with the SMT’s activities and progress in running Lion Guardians!

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