Educating the next generation Wilderness Entrepreneurs in Western Iberia

March 27, 2013

Traditionally, nature conservationists are not trained in business development and entrepreneurship. It is often assumed that nature conservation related professions are guided by ecological and sustainable principles which, therefore, define the educational design of nature conservation curricula. However, the uncertain financial contexts for nature conservation and persistent competing claims by diverse stakeholders concerned, require alternative professional competences to address current conservation challenges.

Educating the next generation of nature conservationists requires developing curricula that incorporate innovative learning approaches and are consistent with new and upcoming contexts and requirements.

Together with European partners I am currently developing curricula in the context of our European rural landscapes which are undergoing drastic socio-economic changes. Rural populations are decreasing and the current economic carriers cannot sustain rural livelihoods any longer. At the same time, new opportunities for nature conservation arise where nature can regain its wild character in Europe’s abandoned landscapes. To benefit from this opportunity, Europe should have new types of environmentally educated professionals. There is a need for entrepreneurs who are able to come up with innovative solutions. Entrepreneurs should stimulate rural economic developments which promotes the restoration of ecological processes. We envisage having nature entrepreneurship ranking highly on the agenda in learning environments where students of different educational levels collaborate with each other and with professionals in Rewilding Europe’s pilot areas.

Erasmus Intensive Programme

The coming days, 31 students and several lecturers from universities in Bulgaria, Croatia, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and The Netherlands will gather in Western Iberia. I am very excited to join this group to participate in the Erasmus Intensive Programme (IP) ‘European Wilderness Entrepreneurship’.  It is organized with the help of Rewilding Europe, Associaçâo Transumância e Natureeza (ATN) and Fundación Naturaleza Y Hombre (FNYH).

The students of the IP European Wilderness Entrepreneurship will form interdisciplinary teams to share knowledge and exchange experiences and ideas. We will travel throughout the Western Iberian landscape to meet stakeholders such as an Iberian pig breeder and the owners of tourist accommodations. We will visit the rock carvings in the Côa Valley, taste local wine and olive oil, and look for the magnificent birds of prey. During our travels, we will discuss business models for nature conservation that takes natural, economic as well as social contexts of landscape into account. At the end of this IP, all teams will present an innovative business model for nature conservation in the Western Iberian landscape.

 Fruitful collaboration

This Intensive Programme is a product of a fruitful collaboration between  Wouter Helmer  (Director Rewilding at Rewilding Europe) and Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences, where he was installed as a Honorary Lector in the Forestry and Nature Management Programme in 2009. Wouter Helmer inspired me in his first lecture at VHL to educate nature conservationists and managers with a clear vision and strong entrepreneurial skills to promote ecological restoration of our European landscapes. Therefore,  my colleagues at VHL and I developed in collaboration with WU the new Bachelor minor International Nature Entrepreneur, launched last month. Students participating in this minor will join me in the adventure of this intensive programme.

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