By Caroline Paczkowski/USA Today
The U.S. Agency for International Development has awarded the University of Georgia approximately $5 million for the implementation of a program entitled Higher Education Conservation Activity (HECA) in the Republic of Liberia. The timing of the project comes at a tipping point for Liberia’s forests, which account for roughly half of the remaining rainforest in West Africa. Over many years, forests have been degraded by unsustainable forestry practices, land conversion, and other pressures.
HECA aims to strengthen forest management and conservation in Liberia through education, training and technical assistance. In collaboration with Alabama A&M University, Tuskegee University, the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, the University Consortium for Liberia in the United States, the University of Liberia and the Forestry Training Institute in Liberia, the team will establish a Center of Excellence in Forestry, Biodiversity, Conservation, and Green Enterprise Development (the FBC Center). UGA units participating in HECA include the School of Public and International Affairs, the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, the Odum School of Ecology, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, Center for Integrative Conservation Research and the Office of Global Engagement.
“USAID is among a comparatively small group of bilateral donors that recognize how vital forest resources are for Liberia’s present and future,” said Matthew Auer, Arch Professor and dean of the UGA School of Public and International Affairs and principal investigator of the HECA project. “This project’s contribution will be in areas we know well: curriculum development, capacity-building and social inclusion.”
The FBC center will oversee the development of a national forestry, biodiversity and conservation curriculum that aligns with global standards for sustainable forest management. In addition, it will develop and deliver a multidimensional soft-skills co-curriculum to promote professional development of forest sector employees, including in areas like organizational leadership and team management.
As a vital part of the program’s mission, the team will design a social inclusion strategy to empower women and young people in the Liberian forestry sector. This strategy will also benefit people with disabilities, crisis- and conflict-affected individuals, first-generation post-secondary students, people from minority religious communities, and rural, forest-dwelling and forest-dependent people.
“HECA is built on the premise that sustainable development must be inclusive development,” said Layli Maparyan, the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and professor of Africana studies at Wellesley College. “We are thrilled to have this opportunity to advance environmental and social equality goals at the same time, in creative and synergistic ways.”
These activities collectively strive to create a thriving forestry workforce with the knowledge to conserve Liberia natural resources while making significant advances in social inclusion. The higher education partnerships enabled by the new HECA program will create lasting linkages between Liberian higher education institutions and HBCU, liberal arts and land-grant universities in the United States.
“I am so excited that our team has played a significant role in securing this grant in support of Liberia’s forestry, conservation, biodiversity and green enterprise initiatives,” said Cynthia L. Blandford, president and board chair of the University Consortium of Liberia and honorary consul general for the Republic of Liberia to the state of Georgia. “I am confident the Center of Excellence will be a model for the region. Many thanks to USAID in Liberia, for their faith and trust in the UCL partners in awarding this significant grant to help train and develop the workforce of tomorrow in Liberia.”