In Zimbabwe's Midlands Province, amidst the sweeping fields of Mberengwa, a young boy named Collins Shava dreamt of becoming an agronomist. Little did he know that his childhood experiences would set the stage for his remarkable journey as a conservationist, leaving an indelible mark on Zimbabwe's youth-led conservation initiatives.
Shava's story is a testament to the profound influence one's environment has on shaping a career path. Growing up in Mberengwa, his days were woven with the rhythm of cultivating fields before school—a routine that instilled in him a deep connection to the land. It was in Kwekwe, amidst the wonders of Echo Park, that he first glimpsed the beauty of zebras, impalas, and snakes endemic to the region.
Tragically, Echo Park fell victim to vandalism in 2008, leaving a young 11-year-old boy disheartened but not entirely defeated. This deepened his resolve even further to be a part of the solution. Fueled by the environmental degradation caused by mining activities in his home province, he knew a fresh approach was long overdue. Thus, he built his portfolio, fortifying his passion with academic expertise. Armed with a Bachelor of Science in Agronomy from Midlands State University, a Masters in Public Policy and Governance from Africa University, and a postgraduate Bachelor of Social Science with Special Honors in Monitoring and Evaluation from Lupane State University, he firmly believed that it was only a matter of time till conservation found him.
He was not far off. In 2022, barely a few months after attaining his postgraduate, he joined AWF as the first-ever Youth Programs Officer in Zimbabwe. His first assignment? He led a team of young Zimbabwean leaders to draft the AWF Zimbabwe Youth Engagement Strategy (YES).
"The strategy is premised on amplifying conservation voices by the youth and for the youth with a goal to build an active, empowered, and engaged youth movement in Zimbabwe that advocates and leads local action for the conservation of biodiversity," an ecstatic Shava said, adding that, "We will achieve this by working with youth as innovators, change makers and leaders and ensuring that there is a balance between rural and urban youth voices."
One of the numerous milestones that encourage him that the youth are indeed heading in the right direction include establishing Angwa Youth Initiative, an establishment specializing in entrepreneurial income-generating projects such as poultry production and gardening, creating job opportunities that uplift their communities in the long-term.
Recently, in the AWF corridors, his name is now synonymous with Climate Change as he is part of the core team working tirelessly to ensure Africa's voice is not lost in climate discussions across all levels: local, regional, and global. As a fervent advocate for African leadership in combating climate change, he continues to articulate the urgent need for a collaborative response to the climate crisis. Shava will be part of the AWF delegation to this year's Global Climate Conference, commonly called COP28.
"My expectation at the upcoming COP28 is to see the world leaders acknowledging and giving the real value for nature as a solution for climate change. I want to see more investment in people living in harmony with nature. There is a lot of talk on climate deals; my desire is to see those deals cascading down to the areas of critical need, which in most cases is within wildlife-rich regions like where I grew up," Mr. Shava emphasized.
One of Shava's key insights stems from the recognition that young conservationists often need more support and funding for their initiatives. He passionately advocates for capacitating young researchers and activists, ensuring their voices resonate at international forums. With a steadfast commitment to representing grassroots communities, he amplifies their passionate pleas on the global stage.
Looking ahead, he envisions a future where his leadership in conservation and climate change advocacy influences high-level engagements for African countries. His advice to fellow young enthusiasts rings true: "If you do what you love, you never feel burdened by work." Through his unwavering dedication and passion, Collins Shava continues to inspire a new generation of conservationists, fostering a sustainable future for Zimbabwe and the planet at large.