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8 tips on setting up your own wildlife project

Want to help the world’s wildlife? Here’s what to think about if you're planning your own charity project or NGO
By Anna Tolan, Co-founder and Executive Director of Chipembele

1: Research, research, research before you start

There’s a lot you can do from afar to make sure your project idea is needed, appropriate and feasible before you start to pack your bags. Research what other NGOs are established in the area and whether there is a niche for your planned activities. If there aren’t, then research NGOs at a national level and contact any that have a similar mission and goals to yours. Their advice could be invaluable.

Talk to local people and look deep into cultural norms, languages, political situations, immigration requirements, health facilities and transportation. Choose the country that best fits you personally if you plan to stay long-term, and make as many visits to the area as possible before you take the plunge.

2: Network widely in the local community

Photo from Chipembele

Wherever you are setting up your NGO, be it in the city or a remote rural area, you will need local support. Spend as much time as possible networking with your target group, as well as with key individuals, community groups, and other NGOs. The most successful conservation NGOs in Zambia devote a great deal of their time networking and strengthening relationships in the local community, and would probably cite it as one of the key pillars of their success.

3: Be resilient

Photo from Chipembele

You don’t need advanced qualifications to set up an NGO in Africa, Asia or elsewhere in the world, but you do need a suite of life skills. One of the most important is resilience. Operating in a new country with different ways of thinking and working will randomly throw curveballs at you that will test your mettle in ways you’ve never been tested before. However, if you stick at it and don’t easily give up, you can achieve your dream.

4: Be prepared for the project to become your life

Photo from Chipembele

Running an NGO in Zambia is not for the faint-hearted or for anyone wanting a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday type of job. Fully setting up an NGO can take years and there are few shortcuts. Expect to work long hours and most, if not all, days of the week.

5: Learn extreme patience

Photo from Chipembele

Things can sometimes take up to 10 times longer to achieve in Zambia than in the developed world. There may be regular power cuts, ridiculous levels of red tape, shortages of supplies that you need and logistical nightmares that will frustrate you to the max. In Zambia, we’ve found the authorities can take long periods of time to make decisions on things, rarely engage in email exchanges, and prefer to sit and discuss issues, but pinning them down for an appointment can be a mighty challenge in itself.

Never compare how things run in your country of origin – nobody is interested.  Go with the slowly turning wheels, while maintaining a patient persistence.   

6: Don’t expect to earn lots of money

The world of conservation is not paved with gold. Even as the founding director of an NGO, you won’t earn that much compared with similar positions in the developed world. Commit to establishing and running a conservation NGO for the other rewards it brings, notably making a difference to the lives of people and wildlife, which you can do surprisingly easily once you apply yourself.

7: Devote lots of time to fundraising

Many great dreams of helping wildlife, the environment or communities in Africa have been dashed by a lack of funding. It will take several years for you to establish the organisation and build up a good reputation. In the meantime, money will quickly trickle away and can easily run out without a continual stream of funding coming in to top it up.

A serious fundraising strategy should be developed at the outset. This is the one thing, above all else, that I wish someone had advised me when we established our NGO 22 years ago.

Photo from Chipembele

8: Continually fuel the passion

Whatever is at the core of your project should be your heart-work. Read about it, watch documentaries about it, keep up with the latest developments in that field through the Internet, and, above all, network widely, both locally, nationally and up to global level with others who share your passion.

The best conservation NGOs have passionate leaders at the helm. Make sure you are one of them by keeping that passion burning.


Chipembele is a conservation education organisation working in communities close to South Luangwa National Park, Zambia to encourage young people to be conservationists and lead sustainable livelihoods, conserve wildlife and protect the natural environment, see: www.chipembele.org.

Instagram: @chipembelewildlife.

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NOTE: The best way to solve the crises facing the planet and its wildlife is by having open, honest, respectful conversations and hearing diverse voices from around the world. The New Big 5 project does not necessarily support or agree with every opinion or idea expressed by photographers, conservationists or organisations featured on the New Big 5 website. The many different wildlife charities, photographers, film-makers and conservationists we’ve collaborated with also do not necessarily support or agree with every idea or opinion expressed by other people or organisations on the website. It’s ok to disagree and debate. But we hope the opinions and ideas can inspire people, make people think, and be part of the conversation to help our planet and the animals that live on it.

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