Jump menu

Main content |  back to top

Ha Long Bay in Vietnam is made up of hundreds of islands, caves and grottoes, coral reef, and unique plant species in mangrove and tropical forests. Do Thi Xuan Huong has worked in the bay’s planning department for the last 10 years. “The site is spectacular,” she says. “But we also face challenges in maintaining the site as mangrove forests are cleared to build houses, tourism grows rapidly, and fishing and local industry can cause pollution.”

World Heritage sites around the world face the same dilemma – how to manage resources and keep the natural balance as populations grow and economies develop.

A fresh approach to nature management

David Southall (front), Catherine Hetherington and Felix Liu (back) share their business skills in t

David Southall (front), Catherine Hetherington and Felix Liu (back) share their business skills in the Danum Valley, Malaysia

UNESCO, environmental non-governmental organisation Earthwatch, and Shell launched the Business Skills for World Heritage programme in 2009 to boost the business skills of site managers.

“People working at World Heritage sites are often environmental experts,” explains David Southall, a business opportunity manager for Shell in Houston, USA. “But they can benefit from learning new business skills. This can help them to better manage costs and staff, tackle potential risks such as pollution, develop new opportunities such as in tourism, and find ways to best share the site with local communities.”

David had already worked directly on several conservation projects in his own time – from supporting bird protection in South America to marine turtle research in Venezuela – when he heard about the Shell programme. “I wanted to put my business skills to good use,” he says. “I was thrilled to be one of the six ‘mentors’ selected to provide business coaching.”

Intensive training

David travelled to Earthwatch’s training centre in Malaysia, in August, where he joined colleagues from around the world. First Earthwatch trainers developed the mentors’ training skills, before participants arrived from national parks and other protected areas in India, Vietnam and Malaysia. 

The course covered 11 modules in 10 days, with topics such as risk management and financial planning designed to help participants build a solid business plan.

A course participant helps a local student to gather data on plant growth

A course participant helps a local student to gather data on plant growth

“We encouraged participants to think about the challenges and opportunities at their sites,” explains David. “For example, if there is an issue with pollution from tour boats or the chance to improve the visitor experience, what resources do they need to address this?”

Each site was matched to one mentor who also gave participants individual coaching on, for example, presentation and time management skills. Outside the classroom the participants helped local doctorate students to gather data on plant growth and soil erosion and took part in cultural activities. “We built strong personal and professional relationships,” says David. “It was extremely rewarding – if also exhausting!”

Lasting change

For the next 12 months staff from participating sites will remain in contact with their mentors as they develop and implement their business plans: “We are like books they can open when they need support,” says David. His fellow mentor Felix Liu, a senior business development manager for Shell China, visited Ha Long Bay shortly after the course.

“I wanted to go and see what it was like on the ground,” says Felix. “And the participants from Ha Long Bay showed they have the passion and energy to turn theory into practice.”                                                                                                                                                                          

* Shell works in partnership with global environmental organisations to improve its access to scientific expertise and support biodiversity conservation.