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Midway through a discussion on risk analysis, someone jumps to their feet and shouts “ELEPHANTS!!” and within a matter of seconds the classroom is deserted. For the next few minutes, the participants in Earthwatch’s Business Skills for World Heritage programme can be found lined up along Mpala Research Centre’s electric fence watching the herd pass on the far side of the river.

The elephants, wild dogs, hippos and antelope that pass by are a captivating reminder of why the Business Skills for World Heritage Programme came about. The initiative, a collaboration between environmental charity Earthwatch, UNESCO, Shell, and the Shell Foundation seeks to help preserve some of the most beautiful and threatened places on Earth: natural World Heritage sites. It is the third such training programme to unite World Heritage site managers with experts from Shell to improve site management.

The participants are a mix of business planning experts from global energy company Shell, and senior managers of UNESCO World Heritage sites from across Africa including Simien National Park (Ethiopia), Lake Turkana National Parks (Kenya), W National Park of Niger, Rainforests of the Atsinanana (Madagascar) and Lake Malawi National Park (Malawi). They have come together at the Mpala Research Centre in Laikipia, central Kenya to participate in a training and mentoring programme focusing on business planning, which covers subjects from budgeting to marketing strategy to risk management.

The World Heritage site managers are partnered with Shell business leaders for the next 12 months, working together to improve the management of these spectacular protected areas – and ensure that wildlife will continue to be a welcome distraction for generations to come.