9 Jun 2020

Awatef Abiadh named 'Hotspot Hero' for inspirational conservation work

The Tunisian conservationist, based at LPO (BirdLife in France), has been recognised by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund for her contribution to conservation in the Mediterranean.

Awatef fording a river during fieldwork © Louis Marie Préau
Awatef fording a river during fieldwork © Louis Marie Préau
By BirdLife International

This article was first published on the CEPF website

The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) has annouced that Awatef Abiadh and nine other conservationists from around the world have been named “Hotspot Heroes” for their efforts to protect the world’s biodiversity hotspots. The honorees were chosen from the hundreds of civil society organizations that have received grants from CEPF in the ten global biodiversity hotspots where the fund is currently active. CEPF is recognizing these heroes as part of the celebration of its 20th anniversary.

Awatef Abiadh serves as the North Africa Program Officer for CEPF’s Mediterranean Basin Regional Implementation Team (RIT). She is based at Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux (BirdLife in France). In this role, she has worked with more than 50 CEPF grantees in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya and Cabo Verde. She also serves as the CEPF gender focal point for the region, helping grantees consider gender when developing their projects, and is a pioneering role model for female conservationists in Mediterranean developing countries.

In Libya in particular, where conservation is nascent and challenging, Dr. Abiadh has been instrumental, helping CEPF grantees physically receive funds and adapt their projects when security risks are involved. She has also hosted masterclasses and providing training sessions on CEPF processes. 

"Awatef has helped foster a group of incredibly enthusiastic grantees, closely working with each other. She is a real figurehead in her countries," says Liz Smith,  Regional Implementation Team leader.

Awatef working with local women in Souss-Massa, Morocco © O. Langrand

Dr. Abiadh was raised in the Tunisian countryside and formed a close bond with nature at an early age. She began her career as a teacher, first at schools and then with the University of Tunis where she established an environmental club.

Through a volunteer experience helping to manage invasive species on Zembretta, Dr. Abiadh became fascinated by the process of rehabilitating ecosystems through concrete actions. She changed her career focus to conservation and, in 2012, earned a Ph.D. in biology from the University of Tunis with the highest honours. She has since published myriad scientific papers related to ecology and evolution.

"Awatef has put enormous energy into the hotspot and has been instrumental to CEPF’s success in this part of the world over the last seven years. Nobody from the region would object to her being called a hero,” said Pierre Carret, CEPF Grant Director.


In her words


Could you briefly describe your CEPF-funded project?

Awatef: I’m part of the Regional Implementation Team (RIT) for the Mediterranean Basin. Our role is to oversee the CEPF investment, to make sure the funding goes to projects which work on the right sites and species as guided by the ecosystem profile. We also build the technical capacities of the civil society organizations we fund, so they can manage their grants and projects well and become stronger for future conservation work.


What have been the most important results the RIT has been able to accomplish thus far? 

Awatef: The region has been gradually getting stronger, and the grantees we support have achieved many great conservation triumphs, such as new protected areas in Algeria, co-management of a marine protected area in Tunisia and reinforcing cooperatives in Morocco.

Through the RIT, we’ve facilitated new partnerships between organizations, we’ve strengthened networks through introducing new partners and building on existing data, we’ve created synergies with other donors in the region, and we've given opportunities to civil society in countries where other donors couldn’t go, for example in Libya.


What is the most significant lesson learned from your work with CEPF?

Awatef: Over the 7 years, we learned a lot from project implementation in the Mediterranean Basin in general and in North Africa in particular. One of the important lessons is that with a small amount of funding, small, local organizations can acheive big impacts if they involve local people.


Conservation work is difficult and often comes with setbacks. What keeps you motivated?

Awatef: Nothing is difficult with persistence. There are challenges, of course, especially when we work with different levels of stakeholders dealing with different fields of interest—from coastal management to cultural landscapes—with the one main objective of empowering people for biodiversity conservation.

The conservation achievements in the region keep me and my colleagues motivated. We are involved with our grantees when we approve their activities, and we share their challenges, victories and also their failures.


What advice would you give to budding conservationists?

Awatef: If I have any advice to give to conservationists, it would be to believe that change is possible and that it's not too late. We still have a chance to conserve natural resources from extinction if we use the appropriate tools and work together.


Read more about the other Hotspot Heroes.


The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) is a joint initiative of l’Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the European Union, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, and the World Bank. Additional small grant funding to the Balkans sub-region has been provided by the MAVA Foundation. A fundamental goal is to ensure civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation.
CEPF is more than just a funding provider
A dedicated Regional Implementation Team (RIT) (expert officers on the ground) guide funding to the most important areas and to even the smallest of organisations; building civil society capacities, improving conservation outcomes, strengthening networks and sharing best practices. In the Mediterranean Basin Biodiversity Hotspot, the RIT is entrusted to BirdLife International and its Partners: LPO (BirdLife France), DOPPS (BirdLife Slovenia) and BPSSS (BirdLife Serbia).
Find out more at www.birdlife.org/cepf-med