About Us

CREE is locally powered conservation. We are a conservation model that is built on belief in the ability of local people and communities. We see long-term investment in local leadership and capacity as the best long-term strategy for achieving natural resource conservation. Since our founding in 2007, we have achieved positive outcomes for both environment and livelihoods due to the dedication and creativity of the leaders CREE invests in. Our projects take inspiration from the founder of ecology, Aldo Leopold, and his Land Ethic. Therefore, we cultivate individual and community pride in natural resource stewardship and our goal is local responsibility for the conservation and resilience of an ecosystem that supports both wildlife and economy.

How we work

CREE invests first in the environmental leader and not a project, wildlife species, or landscape. Through championing local environmental heroes, we prioritize people and relationship first in order to achieve on the ground project objectives later. Therefore, a country’s work focus is what the leader sees as the answer to the most pressing natural resource management issue in his or her community. Idea conception comes from the community itself, as does leadership. In this sense CREE is able to work with minimal financial resources and achieve much on the ground success because the dedication of our staff goes beyond a paycheck and the work addresses core community needs for a sustainable and bright future.

Where we work

CREE works where we have a history and trusted relationship with a community leader. Cultivating community relationships takes time and resources, therefore, we only work where we know a local environmental leader and we let this relationship dictate the global span of our projects as opposed to a bio-geographical prioritization scheme. This is why we work in Cameroon but not the Congo for instance. CREE projects do not work in protected areas, rather we focus on buffer zones near national parks or other protected areas, as well as human-occupied lands rich in biodiversity that serve human health and well-being.

What holds projects together?

A triple bottom line of livelihoods, respect for human rights, and the environment. CREE is a unique environmental organization because of its human rights and poverty alleviation focus, making it a leader in the environmental field in addressing problems traditionally tackled only by humanitarian organizations. Since its inception, CREE has worked in Guyana, Cameroon, Kenya, Tanzania, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. Our solutions are diverse in scope and depend on our leaders’ vision. As such, livelihoods generation, eco-tourism, improved agricultural techniques, climate change adaptation, ecosystem resiliency and human-wildlife conflict minimization are priorities. Being a grassroots organization, we look to change peoples’ lives for the better at the village level long-term.

Rights-Based Approaches to Conservation

CREE practices ‘rights-based conservation’, which is conservation that doesn’t violate human rights and takes human needs into account as a priority in natural resource management.

Founder and Board of Directors

  • Mike Skuja (Founder)

    mike_skuja Mike Skuja is a wildlife biologist and human geographer with broad experience in conservation, climate change analyses, and rural livelihoods diversification strategies. He has analyzed social and environmental problems from both grassroots and policy angles, having worked at institutions such as the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation and Monitoring Centre, the Nature Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Peace Corps. Mike has consulted on State Department and USAID funded projects for both large and small non-profits, speaks fluent Spanish and is proficient in both Swahili and Portuguese. He is currently faculty at George Washington University’s Elliott School, where he teaches a self-designed graduate course entitled ‘Rural Development, Human Rights, and Biodiversity’. Mike is also a member of the IUCN’s Commission on Environmental, Economic, and Social Policy (Work Theme on Governance, Equity, and Rights).

    Mike grew up in Wisconsin where he fell in love with the wildlife and natural resources in his own backyard through navigating the rivers and lakes the state is blessed with. This passion led him to study ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It was during this time that he first traveled abroad to Tanzania in 2000. Here his passion for reconciling human welfare with environmental protection developed after extensive fieldwork working in villages studying lion attacks on people and wildlife outside of Tarangire National Park. This experience gave him a deep respect and empathy for the people living in areas rich in natural resources but facing extreme poverty, challenged with direct conflict with predators like lions. Mike decided from this point onward to focus his attention to local ingenuity to overcome such environmental conflicts. This focus in conflict resolution was useful in future employment, whether training veterinarians in skills to help wildlife confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade or in citing solar technology in the desert to avoid sensitive natural and cultural resources. Inspired by the local scientists he met over the years, Mike formed CREE to invest in leaders first, because he feels the people and the local institutions they create out of their own dreams and vision are the most important element in the conservation equation. 

  • Kristian Teleki

    Kristian Teleki currently serves as the Director of Global Engagement for the Global Ocean Commission. Previously he was Vice President of Science Initiatives for SeaWeb, a communications-based organization that focuses on ocean conservation by raising public awareness, advancing science-based solutions and mobilizing decision-makers around ocean conservation. For the last decade Kristian has been the Director of the International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN), which is a unique global partnership dedicated to addressing the serious decline in the health of the world’s coral reefs. During his tenure Kristian had oversight for more than 40 coral reef projects in 35 countries, which covered seven coral reef regions. Project activities ranged from livelihood diversification and resource management to the prevention and mitigation of ecological degradation of coral reefs through management, monitoring and public awareness actions.

    In addition to his ICRAN duties Kristian established and led the One Ocean Programme at the United Nations Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). Kristian has degrees from the University of California, Santa Barbara (summa cum laude) and Cambridge University (with distinction), and he has published reports and articles on the impact of climate change on the tropical marine environment, and regularly participates and contributes to global and regional conservation and environment policy meetings and fora. Kristian is on the Editorial Board of Aquatic Conservation, is a member of the Resource Users Group for the European Ocean Acidification Project (EOPOCA), and is a steering committee member of the Global Islands Partnership and the Global Forum on Oceans, Coasts, and Islands. Kristian now also serves as a Board member of ICRAN.

  • Sian Owen

    Canadian by birth, Sian Owen’s vision for a world of equal opportunity and wise resource use is rooted in eight formative years spent growing up in Indonesia. With an undergraduate degree in Economics from Queen’s University in Ontario and a Master’s degree in Development Studies from the University of London, Sian headed back to Southeast Asia in the early ’90’s looking to make a difference. Sian’s career started with several years experience in national and regional media and marketing research, first in Vietnam and then in the Netherlands.

    Following a period of consulting in the environmental sector, Sian took on a full-time position with the World Wildlife Fund leading a new three year Coral Reefs Advocacy Initiative for the Global Marine Program. This was the first in a series of program development roles, which included the conception and realization of the People and Nature Initiative, focused on the integration of marine conservation initiatives into national development planning. From 2007 Sian took the lead on policy and partnerships for WWF’s Coral Triangle Initiative. With the launch of her own consulting firm, Sustainability Options consulting, Sian has continued to work for the triple bottom line of People, Profit, and Planet. Sian joined CREE because of its entrepreneurial spirit of innovation for the natural world.

  • Matthew Griffith (Secretary)

    Matthew Griffith is an international development professional with technical expertise in enterprise development, financing, social enterprise development, and impact evaluation. Based in West Africa, Mr. Griffith has specific technical experience in the health, education, and agriculture sectors, and has developed and implemented programming focused on conservation enterprise promotion, environmental sustainability, gender equality, and youth development. He has also managed a variety of impact evaluation projects. Mr. Griffith is a published author and editor of books, articles and technical reports. He holds a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School at Tufts University, and a Bachelors of Arts in English from Washington University in St. Louis.

  • Dr. Robert Lindsley (Treasurer)

    Robert B. Lindsley, Ed.D. is current the Managing Director of the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) at the University of Washington. In this role he manages the HR, legal, operations, finance, and business development teams for the organization across its more than twenty country offices and programs. Prior to joining I-TECH, Rob spent eight years with World Education, Inc. (WEI), a US-based INGO that supports social and economic development programs worldwide. Through a variety of roles with WEI, Rob provided technical and managerial leadership to donor funded projects across the basic education, civil society, micro-finance, and agricultural sectors in eight countries across Asia and Africa. Rob holds a doctorate in Human Development and Education and a Masters in Mind, Brain, and Education from Harvard University, and a Bachelor’s degree in Biopsychology from Tufts University.

  • Dr. Simeon Stairs (Chairman)

    Simeon grew up on a farm in Québec during the rise of the modern environmental movement and has found himself somewhere near the intersection of rural livelihood and nature conservation ever since. He has worked on environment-development matters in a range of contexts, including a government agency, non-governmental organization, academia and private consultancy. An interdisciplinarian by training as well as inclination, Simeon holds degrees in Geography and Environmental Studies from McGill University and the University of Toronto, as well as a doctorate in Land Resources from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He currently lives in Chicago. Simeon’s doctoral work consisted of a cross-scale, historical analysis of the encounter between conservation practice and ‘development’ thinking. A major outcome of this work was the identification of an important silence in contemporary conservation-development practice: the empowerment of the rural people who live in landscapes targeted by conservation schemes. Simeon is keen to support initiatives that address this silence directly, and this is what has led him to CREE.

The Scientific Advisory Committee

At CREE, all of our work rests upon solid scientific analyses. Recognizing the geographic and topical diversity inherent in our global work, we seek the counsel of the best scientific minds in the natural and social science realms to guide the direction and validity of our approaches.

  • Dr. Tom Lovejoy

    Thomas E. Lovejoy is a Senior Fellow at the United Nations Foundation and University Professor in the Environmental Science and Policy department at George Mason University. He also was the first Biodiversity Chair of the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment. Lovejoy introduced the term biological diversity to the scientific community in 1980. He currently is Chair of the Scientific Technical Advisory Panel (STAP) for the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the multi-billion-dollar funding mechanism for developing countries in support of their obligations under international environmental conventions. Tom decided to get involved with the CREE due because of its unusual on the ground approach to sustainable development.

  • Dr. Wade Davis

    Wade Davis is an Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society. Named by NGS as one of the explorers for the Milennium, Wade’s work has taken him to Borneo, Nepal, Peru, East Africa, Haiti, Tibet, Mali, Benin, Togo, New Guinea, Australia, and the high Arctic, among other places. An ethnographer, writer, photographer, and filmmaker, Davis holds degrees in Anthropology and Biology and received his PhD in ethnobotany from Harvard University. Davis has spent over three years in the Amazon and Andes as a plant explorer, living among 15 indigenous groups from 8 nations in Latin America.

    Davis is the recipient of numerous awards including the Gold Medal of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (2009) and the 2002 Lannon Foundation prize for literary non-fiction. A native of British Columbia, Davis is a licensed river guide and has also worked as a park ranger and forestry engineer. He has published 165 scientific and popular articles on topics ranging from ethnobotany to the global biodiversity crisis. His photographs have appeared in some 20 books and 80 magazines from National Geographic to Time. A professional speaker for almost 20 years, Davis has lectured at the American Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Institution, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Royal Geographic Society to name a few. Wade joined CREE due to his interest in cultural survival and indigenous management of natural resources. CREE is fortunate to have his anthropological expertise to draw upon in its work towards village-led sustainability solutions.

  • Dr. Dan Brockington

    Dan Brockington is a social scientist who studies the work of conservation organizations, the social impacts of protected areas, interactions of capitalism and conservation, the role of the celebrity in environmental affairs, and the interaction of conservation and poverty. Dan’s research has centered around decentralized natural resource management, local government and environmental change in dryland ecosystems, predominately in East Africa. Dan has been one of the most influential critics of environmental conservation and its effects on human communities and their livelihoods to date. As such, Dan has helped shape the practice of conservation through analyses of the enviromental movement’s successes and failures working in communities.

    Dan studied Geography at the University of Oxford and Anthropology at University College London, where he took his PhD. He also held a British Academy funded post-doctoral fellowship research fellowship at Cambridge and had lectureships at the University of Oxford before joining the University of Manchester’s Institute for Development, Policy, and Management as a Senior Lecturer. Dr. Brockington has worked in Tanzania, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, South Africa, India, and Australia. Dan helps CREE analyze how culturally appropriate its community work is and also the effects of our initiatives on communities’ livelihoods.