IUCN Partners With Yale to Train Tropical Leaders Through Online Learning

A partnership between the F&ES-based Environmental Leadership and Training Initiative and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) delivered online training in forest restoration to 125 professionals from 32 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Note: Yale School of the Environment (YSE) was formerly known as the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). News articles and events posted prior to July 1, 2020 refer to the School's name at that time.

For the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), forest landscape restoration (FLR) is a critical focus area. As they see it, restoring degraded landscapes allows countries to alleviate poverty, enhance food and water security, and mitigate climate change.

The international organization has identified forest landscape restoration as a critical piece in the global response to the Bonn Challenge, a global effort that aims to restore 150 million hectares of degraded land by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030. As national and sub-national leaders identify vast amounts of land needing restoration worldwide, demand for developing capacity and skills on forest landscape restoration as a nature-based solution to their needs is increasing dramatically, as well.

To fill this need for tailored educational opportunities, in 2016 IUCN entered a partnership with the Yale F&ES-based Environmental Leadership and Training Initiative (ELTI), to provide online training for professionals across Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

ELTI, established in 2006, offers field and online training to environmental professionals, policymakers, and landholders working to conserve and restore forested landscapes in tropical countries.
What we really liked about ELTI’s online course was that it could be tailor-made for the particular audience we wanted to reach, and no other platform out there was able to do that.
— Mirjam Kuzee, IUCN Forest Landscape Restoration Assessment Coordinator
The IUCN courses were adapted from ELTI’s existing online education platform, which has offered courses on tropical forest restoration since 2013.

“What we really liked about ELTI’s online course was that it could be tailor-made for the particular audience we wanted to reach, and no other platform out there was able to do that,” said Mirjam Kuzee, the Forest Landscape Restoration Assessment Coordinator at IUCN, who coordinated the partnership.

“The course really brings together practitioners who are working on forest landscape restoration at this very moment on planning for FLR policies, implementation and ROAM processes [a methodology developed by IUCN with the World Resources Institute to identify and prioritize forest landscape reforestation opportunities]. And I think they learn as much from each other’s experiences as they do from the course materials.”

The online courses geared toward senior and technical staff from IUCN member organizations, such as governments, technical partners, and institutions, were delivered as six separate offerings in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French for participants in tropical Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Each group had access to online resources, Yale faculty expertise, international experts from ELTI, IUCN and other organizations, and a range of case studies from across the planet.

But beyond simply reviewing principles of forest landscape restoration and relevant success stories, participants have also developed their own forest landscape restoration (FLR) projects or plans, which many have then implemented in their professional roles.

“One of the many unique attributes of ELTI’s online courses is that participants work on their own restoration projects and initiatives so that they have a tangible output when they complete the course that is relevant to their work,” said Eva Garen ’97 M.E.S. and ’05 Ph.D., ELTI’s Director based at F&ES. “They develop their projects during each course module and receive extensive input from instructors, guest experts and their peers.”

“This valuable partnership with IUCN has provided participants throughout the tropics with an unprecedented opportunity to develop or expand on their FLR initiatives in multiple contexts and languages using ELTI’s highly interactive approach to online training.”

Two years ago F&ES alum, Aaron Reuben ’12 M.E.M., who was then working for IUCN, suggested that ELTI’s online program might be an effective platform for training on IUCN’s “Restoration Opportunities Assessment Methodology,” or ROAM. Developed by IUCN in collaboration with the World Resources Institute, ROAM offers a flexible and affordable framework for countries to assess their landscape restoration opportunities and identify priority areas for restoration.

After both sides met to discuss a partnership, members of the ELTI team and leadership from IUCN’s Global Forest and Climate Change Programme agreed that it was a good match.

“We thought it was a great opportunity to integrate their successful ROAM processes and FLR experiences with our online training materials on restoration, and together work to build the capacity of IUCN Members and partners to implement FLR,” Gillian Bloomfield ’10 M.F.S., coordinator of ELTI’s online training program, and facilitator of the courses delivered in Spanish and Portuguese.

The Yale team worked with IUCN experts to create two new online training modules on the ROAM methodology and on Scaling-Up FLR, building on existing ELTI and IUCN resources. IUCN was further able to provide case studies and experiences on forest landscape restoration and ROAM to complement the existing online training modules.
elti iucn online small Using the ELTI online platform, Yale instructors communicate with forestry and land management professionals in eastern and southern Africa.
“We were able to add ROAM as a specific methodological framework within the broader courses that ELTI had already developed,” said Karin Bucht ’15 M.F., program associate for the online training program, who facilitated the English and French courses.

“It’s not a roadmap for how to plant trees, but rather a combination of mapping, engaging with different stakeholders, cost-benefit analyses, and conducting all the necessary analysis to decide where to restore, with whom, and make sure that it is in line with local values and feasible areas.”

A guiding principle of the course is that there is no single approach to restoring forest landscapes and the critical ecosystem services they provide. Instead, the courses share a process for analyzing the ecological conditions, disturbance history, sociopolitical and cultural aspects, potential landscape restoration interventions, and monitoring strategies that are appropriate for different locations.

Each week, participants were asked to review online resources — including video packages and several case studies. “For example, in the course for eastern and southern Africa, we were able to share with, say, participants from Malawi what has been achieved in Rwanda and Uganda, while also providing intercontinental examples of FLR experiences in Mexico, Colombia, Indonesia, and the Philippines,” said Bloomfield.

Then, participants convened weekly for a live online group discussion. In addition to hearing live lectures, the format also enabled participants to share their own experiences and discuss challenges with classmates working on similar projects.

Their weekly homework assignments included final planning projects relevant to their own professional responsibilities. “So when we talk about forest ecology and landscape restoration, the participants have to address the specific ecosystems within their region or country,” said Bloomfield. “They also have to discuss how they’re going to engage in this ROAM methodology and which landscape restoration strategies are most appropriate for their situations — both ecologically and from a socio-political perspective.”

In the six courses, from May 2016 to March 2017, instructors trained 125 participants from 32 countries, representing 70 different organizations, including government ministry-level and other senior-level professionals around the world, including from the World Bank.

For many of these participants, the outcomes can include very real and tangible benefits.

Many, for instance, are working to come up with practical strategies to meet very real environmental targets — including within countries that have made commitments to the Bonn Challenge, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Paris Agreement, Aichi Biodiversity Targets, and Land Degradation Neutrality Goal.

In many cases, the personal projects materialized as plans that could be implemented almost immediately. For instance, one participant, a program manager for a consulting firm in Rwanda, produced a 17-page district-wide planning document complete with historical and social context, descriptive goals and next steps, proposed actions by a range of collaborators, and suggested follow-up strategies.

Speaking about the course in a post-course interview, another participant from the Philippines’ Forest Management Bureau said “Through the interaction with participants from different countries, I got to learn from their experiences on how to engage with stakeholders across social, geographic, and cultural borders. Now, I reference lessons and case studies from other countries in our program’s planning.” 

“We know nations are struggling with a lot of questions,” said Kuzee. “And we know we can’t be everywhere. So having the multiplier effect that this platform provides, and where all those peers can meet, it’s really great.”

Since the completion of the online course series, ELTI and IUCN have been connecting with the participants about their work implementing ROAM and FLR in their respective countries. In August 2017, they published the book entitled “Leaders in Action: Online Learning for Forest Landscape Restoration,” which includes a collection of stories that illustrate the diverse ways in which participants, using the lessons from these courses, have made profound and positive impacts.

Additionally, the training course series inspired an April 2017 course offered to World Bank employees. Since January, ELTI and IUCN have been co-developing and delivering a series of “blended” online and field training courses for decision-makers in Kenya, Malawi, Niger, Côte d’Ivoire, and Uganda. Each of these five trainings incorporate a two week online “primer” to offer participants key concepts and international case studies, followed by a four-day interactive workshop with field visits in-country. This series is being offered in collaboration with the secretariat for TerrAfrica at the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the technical body of the African Union.