We are delighted to announce the plenary speakers for the Conservation Optimism Summit 2019!

Brisetha Hendricks

Brisetha Hendricks 

Brisetha Hendricks hails from the north-west of Namibia, where she currently lives and works. She is the vice-chairperson of the Uibasen Twyfelfontein Conservancy and also serves as the chair of the sub-regional conservancy association known as the Southern Kunene Conservancies Association.
Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) has always played a profound role in conservation and it is a model that has impacted many lives. As a young person promoting the values of this model, it is her belief that its sustainability lies in more people understanding it. She made her debut international appearance as a panellist on the subject at the London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade in October of 2018.
Brisetha has been an activist for the better part of her adult life and has taken on numerous leadership roles in varying areas specifically in her local community in Khorixas. With her work in communal conservancies, she seeks indulgence and recognition of the life stories she represents. Ultimately her mission is to empower these communities and to amplify their voices.

Exploring how communities define CBNRM success in Namibia

Community-Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM) has no ‘’fix all’ strategy, the most important pillar in its success is the people. Communities are intricately connected to the wildlife with which they coexist, today and always. In remaining optimistic, it is imperative that we acknowledge that there was a time where conservation efforts trampled the interests of these local communities.

During my plenary session, I hope to create a pattern from selected stories, to help us in understanding what communities define as CBNRM success and how they have experienced the value of the wildlife since receiving legal recognition of their rights there over in 1996.

In sharing some necessary and perhaps missing insight from community voices in Namibia through these selected stories; I hope this talk will bring context and further help to demystify the high expectations placed by an international audience on what needs to happen at a local level.

Laurie Parma – Sustainable well-being: The challenge of aligning people, planet and purpose

A neuropsychologist by training, Laurie strives to bring the science of well-being to the workplace. Her ultimate aim is to align people, purpose and planet, to create a fulfilment-centred future of work. In particular, she addresses the challenge to thrive in a world of perpetual transformation, change and urgency, which is particularly acute in conservation. She asks the hard question of reaching organisational performance and delivering on the bottom line with agility but without coming at the expense of people and planet.
After three years of academic research, she founded LifeCloud to facilitate workplace well-being initiatives and strategies. LifeCloud also supports organisations through culture change and design to achieve and sustain long-term impact. She focuses on the cognitive skills, emotional intelligence and leadership approaches required to enable people to find freedom and to perform at their best.
Laurie’s approach is rooted in the science of well-being and human behaviour which she researched for three years at the University of Cambridge. Leading projects ranging from policy to environmental psychology, Laurie develops a systemic vision for global and sustainable well-being. 

Alex Dehgan 

Alex Dehgan is the CEO of Conservation X Labs, an innovation and technology startup focused on conservation.  Alex is also the Chanler Innovator at Duke University and is a Professor of the Practice at Arizona State University.  Alex most recently served as the Chief Scientist at the U.S. Agency for International Development, with rank of Assistant Administrator.

Alex founded and headed the Office of Science and Technology, and created the vision for and helped launch the Global Development Lab, the Agency’s DARPA for Development, and was part of the founding team of USAID’s Policy Bureau  Prior to USAID, Alex worked in multiple positions at the Dept. of State, including overseas service under the Coalition Provisional Authority, using science to support bilateral diplomacy.

Alex was the founding country director of the Wildlife Conservation Society Afghanistan Program and helped create Afghanistan’s first national park.  Alex is the author of the book, The Snow Leopard Project, which describes the effort.  Alex holds a Ph.D in Evolutionary Biology from The University of Chicago.

Democratizing innovation for the end of extinction

Current  conservation approaches have failed to address the extinction crisis, which will only worsen as billions of new consumers emerge into middle class seeking protein, dairy, refrigeration and air conditioning, and aspirational consumer goods, driving environmental degradation, species extinction, and climate change.  Protected areas and environmental regulations are insufficient without addressing the underlying drivers of extinction. While conservation has spent considerable effort into ranking what and where we protect, it has spent scant effort into ranking the efficacy of its interventions. However, much as humans have created these problems, they have the ability to solve them.

Conservation may harness the vast democratization of science & technology, open innovation, and new hybrid business models, to create new solutions that have the possibility of ending the extinction and climate crises.  Gene editing, microbiology, and cellular engineering of new foods and biomaterials, can provide novel solutions that can replace less sustainable products and create new pathways for industrialization, including for the developing world. New tools such as machine vision and learning, powerful low cost sensors, and robotics can increase the leverage and power of conservation to better monitor and protect rare species.  The power of collective intelligence and open innovation which includes the use of prizes, challenges, mass collaboration, and citizen science, can accelerate invention of new solutions.  And new hybrid social enterprises and business models allow us to bring solutions to scale.

This requires a fundamental rethinking of conservation itself. Conservation needs reframe itself, and draw in new solvers, new disciplines, and new solutions to create a new class of conservation innovators, engineers, and entrepreneurs

Robin Moore 

Robin Moore is Senior Director of Digital Content with Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) and a Senior Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers. Robin got his PhD in biodiversity conservation from the University of Kent before swapping calipers for camera and using photography and visual storytelling for conservation.

In 2010 Robin spearheaded the innovative ‘Search for Lost Frogs’ which dispatched teams to find some of the world’s missing amphibians. The campaign resulted in 15 rediscoveries, culminated in the critically acclaimed ‘In Search of Lost Frogs’, and formed the inspiration for GWC’s successful ‘Search for Lost Species’.

Robin uses visual storytelling to challenge prevailing narratives and offer new and hopeful ones. In Jamaica he helped local partners overturn the government’s decision to develop the country’s largest protected area and in Bolivia his team partnered with Match.com to help save the world’s loneliest frog.

The Art of Surprise: Engineering the Unexpected to Engage and Inspire

How do we tell hopeful stories that spread? Changing the frames through which we tell our stories can generate surprise to win the attention of a distracted audience and engage action-oriented emotions. 

In 2017 we launched the Search for Lost Species, a quest to find and protect the world’s forgotten species, bringing people on our global journey of adventure and discovery. Finding Wallace’s Giant Bee, the world’s largest living bee and one of our 25 Most Wanted, generated 2.2 billion media impressions – more than the UN Report highlighting the risk of losing a million species. Why? 

On Valentine’s Day 2018 we partnered with Match.com in a bid to find a mate for Romeo, the world’s loneliest frog. Romeo was plucked from the obscurity of a tank in Bolivia, where he spent the past decade alone, to the spotlight of international celebrity. More than 400 people in 30 countries funded the search for his Juliet. 

Why does Romeo’s quest for love continue to capture hearts and minds, and what can we learn from Romeo and the Search for Lost Species about telling hopeful stories that catch fire? Robin will explore in his talk the ingredients that helped make these stories spread far and wide.

Robin Moore

Alice Bell 

Alice Bell is a co-director at 10:10 Climate Action, working on a range of campaigns from community solar to transport and decarbonised heat. As an academic, Alice specialised in public engagement with science and technology, working at the Science Communication Unit, Imperial College, the Department of Journalism at City, and the Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex.

Alice has also written for a range of publications including the Guardian, Times Higher, Research Fortnight and Al Jazeera. She was a regular correspondent for the International Council for Science’s climate policy blog on the run up to the Paris talks, and launched innovation website, How We Get to Next, as its first editor. She is also a trustee of Medact, and sits on the the advisory committee for the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity, University of Surrey.

Are we approaching a tipping point for public engagement with climate change?

Public concern in climate change is at an all-time high. New protest groups are forming. Television specials are being commissioned. New people are pouring into the movement from a host of directions. Old orthodoxies about how we talk about global warming (or is it heating now) are being smashed. Climate emergencies are being declared across the globe.

To some extent, we’ve been here before; in the run-up to the Copenhagen talks in 2009. That crashed and burnt quite quickly. How can we weather the inevitable fluctuations in public concern over climate change, and ensure this wave is one that sticks?

The plenaries will be chaired by: 

Stephanie Brittain

Stephanie Brittain is a post-doctoral researcher with ICCS at the University of Oxford. She has been carrying out social and ecological research in Cameroon since 2013. Her current research on the Darwin Initiative funded “Why eat wild meat” project looks to better understand why people eat wild meat and discover what local people really want from initiatives, in order for us to better develop suitable alternatives. The findings will support improvements to the design and implementation of wild meat alternative initiatives around the Dja Faunal Reserve and across sub-Saharan Africa.

Her PhD research looked at how to better incorporate local ecological knowledge into wildlife population monitoring, and the potential application of this approach for monitoring species commonly hunted for wild meat adjacent to the Dja Faunal Reserve in Cameroon. Steph is currently involved in work to improve the ethics in conservation research that involves people. She is also interested in the impact of protected areas on local livelihoods, monitoring and evaluating of conservation projects and how to build capacity and collaboration for more sustainable and locally-owned conservation initiatives.

Jessica Sweidan

Jessica Sweidan has been an active philanthropist for the last 20 years. Her journey began almost straight out of university, when she formed a partnership with Adam Sweidan, to create The Synchronicity Foundation. The Synchronicity Foundation has worked with over 70 projects in nearly 40 countries. In 2007, the environment became a priority: it underscored most themes that they were addressing, and upon close examination, found it to be a severely under-funded, and under-supported sector.

Exploring how to have a greater impact within the conservation realm – and recognising that biodiversity loss was the least well appreciated and most poorly addressed of all – they launched Synchronicity Earth in November 2009. Jessica plays an active role at Synchronicity Earth, developing its profile, networks and events. Jessica is also an IUCN Patron of Nature, helping to raise the visibility of global conservation needs worldwide.


Jon Paul Rodríguez

Jon Paul Rodríguez co-founded his NGO, Provita, 30 years ago to conserve threatened wildlife in Venezuela, including the nationally Endangered yellow-shouldered parrot (YSP). After the local extinction of the YSP on neighbouring islands, he set out to safeguard these aptly named parrots on Margarita. After receiving his Whitley Award in 2003, today the YSP is on the road to recovery in Margarita, but elsewhere in Venezuela populations continue to decline, making scale up of his successful approach to the species’ entire range crucial.

In 2016 Jon Paul became the elected Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission – the first person from outside of Europe or North America to hold this title. This influential position has allowed him to convene leading experts, test new approaches locally and contribute to international species conservation and environmental policy.


Caleb Ofori-Boateng

The first formally trained herpetologist in Ghana, Caleb was part of an expedition in 2005 which discovered a population of the Togo slippery frog after it had been considered extinct by scientists for 40 years.

Founder of the NGO, Herp Conservation Ghana, Caleb has worked tirelessly in the remote forests of the Togo-Volta Highlands to ensure this Critically Endangered amphibian’s protection ever since.


Maxwell Gomera

Maxwell Gomera is Director of the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Branch at UN Environment and a 2018 Fellow of Aspen New Voices. He is an expert on public investments in agriculture and nature.

He has extensive experience with natural resource management institutions in Africa, having worked in various capacities within the SADC region and in Zimbabwe.