Tom Lalampaa becomes first African to accept prestigious environmental prize

Today - Wednesday 28th September, NRT's Chief Programmes Officer Tom Lalampaa will be awarded the Stanford University's Bright Award in California, USA. Tom will become the first African to accept the prestigious international prize that recognises environmental pioneers.

Like most rural Samburu, Tom was born to a semi-nomadic pastoralist family, and was one of 17 children. He grew up herding cows and goats, until the community joined together to pay for his education at Wamba Boys Boarding School. He recalls every school holiday, walking for days through the bush to his family's last known location, only to find they had moved with the pasture. 

Today, Stanford Law School honours Tom with the $100,000 Bright Award, given annually to an individual whose often unheralded work contributes significantly to local ecosystem protection. He will be applauded for his work with NRT, where he focuses on ending conflict between rival communities by illustrating the prosperity that comes with peace. 

"I must give the credit to the people I work with in northern Kenya," said Tom. "That this award came to Kenya above all the other contenders for this prize, and specifically that it recognises the success of the work we are doing with the communities of northern Kenya, that is really special to me.

"Kenya is on a really good path in conservation, I have to say. I hope that hearing about what we are doing here can be an inspiration to new conservation leaders across Africa."  

After school, Tom went on to earn a BA in social work, a MA in project planning and management, and an MBA in strategic management, all from the University of Nairobi. He has risen to become the Chief Programmes Officer for NRT, and has previously been recognised with the Tusk Award for Conservation in Africa. 

NRT's community conservancy model lets people who traditionally rely on livestock for their survival also benefit from wildlife conservation, environmentally-sustainable businesses, and responsible tourism. At the same time, increasing pastoralists' income, and demonstrating the dividends of avoiding conflict, both remove many of the traditional drivers of violence between tribes in northern Kenya, and allow wildlife populations to thrive.

"I would say one of the highlights of what I have achieved has been to improve peace and security, which has helped bring commerce and tourism here," Lalampaa said. "Who would have dared to invest in northern Kenya just a short while ago?"

NRT Trading is also helping conservancies grow sustainable businesses. Tourism is expanding, businesses like BeadWORKS and GrazingWORKS are earning community members a wage and encouraging sustainable land management. 

"Wildlife is stabilising or increasing," Lalampaa said. "We have seen a 53 percent reduction in elephant poaching since 2012, and the black rhino, which was wiped out for 25 years, is back on communal lands in northern Kenya again. There are challenges, but we are on the right path."

Tom sits on the board of Kenya Wildlife Service, and on the Africa Board of Directors of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a global not-for-profit organisation that in Africa focuses on helping local communities, governments, and organisations conserve nature and natural resources while improving lives. TNC is one of NRT's biggest supporters. 

"If we get conservation right with people, the rest falls into place,” said Charles Oluchina, Director of Field Programmes in Africa for The Nature Conservancy. “Tom depicts in true shades what that philosophy of conservation through people means for us at The Nature Conservancy, and the body of thought and approach that he has grown is unparalleled in Kenya.” 

"He has a unique perspective because he's not just an academic or an activist. He's also lived that life on the line where animals and people interact. He brings that experience as well as having an easy personality, sharp critical thinking, patience, humility, and even a sort of soft approach. It is that soft power he brings to the table that really has been tremendously empowering and transformative for nature and for people."