Perhaps, the most unusual director came this year to the ‘Volcanoes of Kamchatka’ Natural Park: following the results of the first open all-Russian competition in the region, from September 1, this position was taken by Lyubov Timofeyeva who previously successfully held the a prestigious post of a managing director for strategy and investor relations at the RUSNANO (Russian Corporation of Nanotechnologies - ed.) in an upscale Moscow office. She told the readers of EcoTourism Expert about what prompted her to compete with a hundred of applicants for directorship in the ‘remote area’, what difficulties she had already encountered and what tasks should be solved.
- Environmental activity is a 180-degree turn in your successful career as a leader, why did you make a sharp turnaround? And why did you decide to connect your life with the outland Kamchatka Peninsula and its fiery volcanoes and be a crisis manager of this challenging project - the Natural Park?
- I have already worked on the crisis projects, and in general, I am a professional strategist who knows how to define long-term goals and put the business processes right, and is focused on looking for investors. I was responsible for these lines of activities at the RUSNANO, and now they are very relevant for the ‘Volcanoes of Kamchatka’ Natural Park. Why did I suddenly leave the world of law, the investment and nanotechnology sphere and get into a completely new field of the nature protection? The fact is that it was always important for me to look for new challenging tasks, as well as the chance to change the world for the better, to do good. There is also a personal aspect - I was born in Chuvashia, in the city of Cheboksary. I spent much time in nature while living there in the city near the forest, and I also spent 5 months a year in the village running about the fields and gardens. But the ambitious girl wanted to go to Moscow ...
After graduating from the Faculty of Law of the Moscow State University (with honours - ed.) I worked at an American law firm for a year and in 2009, I moved to RUSNANO where I was promoted from an analyst position to the post of the chief of one of the key departments. But gradually, I began to understand that in this position and this role, I am not in real harmony with myself and the world despite the fact that I still sincerely love my former team. I had a self-reflection moment at the age of 30 plus, “do I really want to be a manager, even a top manager?” I didn’t want to spend my whole life working in the office. At the same time, I went in for sports, went hiking in the mountains a lot, was the leader of a corporate runners’ club. And I kept on looking for my place in the world and realized that the investment environment is not my line. I visited many good companies in Moscow, they were interesting, but in fact, working at these companies did not hold promise for major changes in the future. Then, I was on extended leave, travelled all over the world, went hiking all over the world and finally realized that I feel good in nature, in the forests and mountains. A very clear idea occurred to me, a logical one, - why not to combine what I can do with what I like to do. I saw that everything is not very well organized in our country in the nature protection, so I took an interest in the existing international practices. In 2019, I entered the Executive MBA programme at the University of Cambridge - the environmental protection - and when I achieved my MSc I applied for the participation in the competition to fill the vacancy – that’s how I happened to be here!
- What are the main problems of the ‘Volcanoes of Kamchatka’ today? What challenges do you see in the near future?
- Over the past 10-15 years, the Natural Park created in the mid-1990s has not developed but existed by inertia. The Park flourished in the first years after the past millennium thanks to good sponsors - WWF, the United Nations Development Programme, and local enthusiasts. Unfortunately, during this period, no competence of a strong team appeared at the Natural Park because of several changes of the management teams and a large turnover of personnel at the Park, and in general, the Park suffered a shortage of manpower. Under the conditions of inadequate funding, everything that was built by wealthy sponsors began to fall apart and collapse, so, 80 percent of the infrastructure was in disrepair, the motor vehicle fleet was purchased back in the last century. A team got accustomed to a state of decline and it is very difficult to ‘fire up’ these people - many of them simply do not believe that anything can be changed. Although, there are enough people in Kamchatka who are not indifferent to the future development of the Park, and the support is provided at various levels. These are just local people such as the nature enthusiasts and the tourist community including very active companies ready to invest not only in the infrastructure, but also in the ecosystem protection and preservation. The position of the local authorities is also encouraging as Governor Vladimir Solodov places stakes on the ecological tourism and, in general, on the sustainable development of the region. It is noteworthy that when I studied these techniques in England I did not believe that they could be in demand in our country but there is really a demand for them in Russia!
- How are you going to address staffing issues? In some cases, we observe a scheme as follows: a new head of the reserved areas comes, liquidates the enterprise and engages on some specialists from the previous staff.
- In Kamchatka, this method will not work: in this region, unlike the central or warmer regions in the south of Russia, it is difficult to find skilled personnel. We value the employees who know our parks that are very difficult to access and located in harsh mountainous areas. To resolve the team issues and use the full potential of the existing employees, I plan to carry out the staff qualification and rating by independent experts. The main goal is not just to get rid of the inefficient employees and carry out personnel purges, but to understand what skills are available and what competencies the people lack, as well as to understand who wants to develop and in what areas, to work on the personal development of every employee. I want to shake up the personnel, understand the current situation and determine how the team should develop.
My strong opinion is that there are no bad people, there are people with different stories, and the task of a leader is to help them develop. A while ago, people helped me a lot, and I am eager to do this in my new position. A quick scheme with rich sponsors - ‘fund and leave’ - doesn't work, a long-term, efficient work is required, and this requires a team-work. It is a global trend now, everyone is talking about local competences, even the UN programmes are changing to fit this trend - ‘do not INSTEAD of anyone, but TOGETHER with someone’.
In the near future, in parallel to the personnel qualification, we will arrange brainstorming - we will think together what the parks of Kamchatka should become. We will foresee a wonderful dream, which will become true thanks to the common efforts made by the people living here. We will invite our team members to take part in the planned series of strategic sessions as well as the environmental activists, historians, scientists, tourism industry leaders - all those who know the Kamchatka Krai (Region - ed.) very well, its protected areas and understand what is required for the development and prosperity of these areas.
- Is it possible, in your opinion, to ‘join the unjoinable’ - to attract as many visitors as possible to the protected areas and at the same time, preserve both the species diversity and the unique ecosystem as a whole?
- I prefer not to divide into the ’black and white’ - everything in life is multipart. In some places, the ecotourism is an eco-friendly alternative to what we already have - heavy industry, and in our region, for example, it is gold mining. The ecotourism, by the way, is no less important for the environmental consciousness development, it gives an opportunity to be alone with nature, to understand and feel it. How can we make people living in large cities think and care about nature if they see cucumbers only on the shelves in the stores? At the same time, the ecotourism needs a smart development policy that must be implemented by competent people on the basis of the methods helping to regulate the anthropogenic and recreational loads and remove all the heavy infrastructure projects outside the specially protected natural areas.
- How many visitors do you currently have in the Park and what are your plans to increase the tourist flow in the future? What should be done for this?
- Last year, at least 40,000 people visited the ‘Volcanoes of Kamchatka’ but you need to understand that at present, there is no reliable system for counting our visitors, so, you can add about twenty percent to this figure. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number will be slightly lower, and in the near future, we expect increasingly more tourists thanks to the development of the areas and attracting new target groups. In the foreseeable future, we expect a longer season of the guests’ arrivals; for example, the interest in winter tourism is growing, it is already developing despite the fact that there is practically no sufficient infrastructure to provide services to the tourists. New accounting methods will be used in the statistics, the illegal visits will be curbed because many people go to the natural parks now bypassing the normal paths and roads, they travel rough and camp wild damaging the ecosystem. We also want to develop new types of contacts with the visitors such as scientific tourism and volunteering, including the international one, making the parks more inclusive for disabled people.
- Do you plan to attract for-profit businesses and the representatives of the national and foreign business to participate in the development of this region?
- We expect to develop partnerships with local businesses next year. The discussions with the Kamchatka companies in general became a pleasant surprise: they told us directly that they are ready to help us to preserve nature - not in word, but in deed - and help to build forest-guard stations and roads and develop the infrastructure. They are not indifferent to what is happening here, this is their land, they earn their living thanks to nature, and their income depends on its condition. In the near future, we will hold a public project selection for the Park infrastructure development, and next year, we expect to launch the first pilot projects. And we, of course, are interested in the long-term co-operation with large corporations. Many large-scale programmes aimed to support the nature conservation organizations are being implemented abroad, there are many developments in the field of green economy. To implement them in Russia, it is necessary to change the mindset of the Russian business and develop an understanding that investing in nature is profitable. By the way, I sincerely hope that I will be able to use the contacts established in my previous positions, to attract resources - both financial resources and also innovations and scientific ones.
- What is the contribution of the volunteer movement now and what would you like to bring to the work in the future to come?
- We have volunteers, some of them come here every year, but there is no systematic work with them yet. For example, we want to develop the media volunteers’ activities (and these are, first of all, the IT experts, bloggers) who are interested in doing something useful for our nature ‘in the remote mode’. They can help very much in popularizing the nature conservation, eco-education programmes, in developing sites, providing their content and creating groups of nature lovers and the enthusiasts of nature reserves on the social media. We will also implement some international volunteer projects because the exchange of practices and the communication between people from different countries gives an impetus to the development and helps to get a wider understanding of the world, have a lot of useful ideas and establish new connections and contacts.
- You make huge plans. What kind of assistance would you like to receive from the federal and regional authorities?
- I really want the Russian authorities to start investing in quality education. There are practically no necessary educational programmes in the field of environmental protection and we urgently need good training programmes for inspectors, high-quality management and up-to-date technologies, for example, drones for monitoring, alternative energy sources or new solutions to the garbage problems. Also, I really want the top Russian officials to be environmentalists, ‘advocates for nature’ and give the most important message to the business community and the civil society to protect nature.