Capacity Building


A guiding philosophy of our program is that local Ecuadorians must take the lead on protecting their patrimony; the principal function of FCAT is to build the local capacity and facilitate this process. We developed an innovative model for capacity building that revolves around local residents taking intellectual and personal ownership of the research and conservation process.

The Environmental Ambassadors program provides full time employment and intensive training to local residents as research biologists and advocates for the environment. Prior to involvement, participants typically have limited formal education or training, and rely on hunting and slash-and-burn agriculture to survive. As Environmental Ambassadors, these same individuals conduct high quality research on endangered species and make regular presentations on their work to local communities and the broader scientific community. The research products these individuals generate are also the foundation for our outreach and education programs at local and regional levels. Participants typically work for many years, and gain proficiencies in experimental design, computer literacy, data collection, and public speaking. They work as full collaborators with students and Ph.D. level biologists and, as they gain experience, their role in determining research questions and approaches grows accordingly. When they leave the project, they often go on to desirable jobs in the environmental sphere or to university study.


One Environmental Ambassador (Jorge Olivo) received the ‘Local Conservation Hero Award’ from the Disney WorldWide Conservation Fund, a prize awarded for outstanding contribution to conservation locally. Fernando Castillo used his experience with FCAT as a springboard for study at Calceta University (Ecuador) and has recently returned to work full time in the project with a degree in Environmental Engineering. Jacqueline Cabrera went on to work with the Ministry of the Environment. Current participants are re-enrolled in high school, with plans to continue at the university level. Environmental Ambassadors have published and presented at scientific congresses, including IX Neotropical Ornithological Congress, in Cusco, Peru. These are truly exceptional achievements for people raised and living in remote communities without electricity. However, the impact of this program transcends the personal development of these individuals: the knowledge they generate is actually used by reserve managers, local residents, and the Ministry of the Environment for conservation planning.

In addition to the Environmental Ambassadors program, we also provide training at a number of levels including:

  • Ecuadorian university students (14 honors thesis students trained to date)
  • International university students including undergraduates and graduate students from 12 countries
  • Professional training including workshops and modules on for ecotourism, sustainable agricultural practices,
    naturalist guides and park guards
  • Institutional support including agreements with the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment and
    Ministry of Education