Protecting Biodiversity by Empowering People
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Editor's note: This article was adapted from a post originally published by CEPF's Tropical Andes Regional Implementation Team
Emotion, satisfaction and responsibility—those were the first sensations that Fanny Cornejo had when she found out that she was one of the 10 finalists for the Emerging Conservationist Award, a new honor being presented by the Indianapolis Prize organization in recognition of researchers under the age of 40 around the world who make a significant impact in the conservation of endangered species.
Cornejo, who is a primatologist and anthropologist, has worked for over 15 years for the protection of the yellow-tailed woolly monkey (Lagothrix flavicauda), which lives in the cloud forests of the Tropical Andes. In 2007, she and colleague Fanny Fernández Melo founded Yunkawasi, an organization that works with Amazonian and Andean communities to learn about their natural resources and provide technical support on how to use and conserve them. Cornejo is also executive director of the Rainforest Partnership in Peru, Yunkawasi’s strategic partner for conservation and sustainable development activities.
It has not been easy being a female researcher and biologist in a society where there is still a lot of progress to be made towards gender equity. But the recognition that Cornejo has received motivates her to ensure that she and Yunkawasi provide a space for young professionals to have the opportunity to grow as conservationists.
“Representation is very important," said Cornejo. "For a person who is in training, seeing someone who looks like you is a source of great inspiration. That is why it is imperative that more and more institutions include these [gender equity] approaches in their daily work.”
Cornejo, who also received the Medal of the Order of Merit for Women in 2014, adds that it is important to provide spaces for women to participate in their communities so that girls can see themselves as equals not just these spaces, but in other aspects of their lives.
Finally, Cornejo explains that it is not necessary to work in organizations dedicated to conservation to contribute to protecting the environment. “As consumers, we can make better decisions," she said. "For example, we can be more mindful about the origin of the products we consume and choose products that are not made from crops that cause deforestation. We can do a lot at this moment, which is decisive for us, since it is our present."
Cornejo highlights the value of the support provided by CEPF for her and Yunkawasi.
“CEPF’s support was instrumental to our growth and allowed us to take on new projects,” she said.
As a result, Yunkawasi has managed to add more institutions to its portfolio of donors, enabling them to launch projects in seven regions of Peru and grow into a team of more than 40 professionals. Fanny believes her nomination for the Emerging Conservationist Award is a result of her team’s hard work.
“The CEPF investment model is really important. Ecosystem profiling, which generates a regularly updated baseline to identify priorities, investment themes, and institutions as potential beneficiaries of those investments, is fantastic,” she said.
But the best thing, in Fanny’s opinion, is CEPF's commitment to local organizations and communities, who, through alliances, can strengthen conservation actions in the territories they inhabit and thus achieve their main goal: sustainability.
The inaugural Emerging Conservationist Award Winner will be announced in April 2023 and will be recognized at the 2023 Indianapolis Prize Gala presented by Cummins Inc. in downtown Indianapolis on 30 September 2023.