Snow Leopard Enterprises, community based conservation program

Snow Leopard Enterprises, community based conservation program

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$50,000 - $100,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Snow Leopard Enterprises (SLE) offers income generation opportunity for rural herders who share mountains with endangered snow leopards. To participate in the program, herders agree to halt the poaching of snow leopards and their key prey. Overall, SLE has raised the quality of life for participating families, improved peoples’ attitudes towards predators, and provided protection for snow leopards

About You
Snow Leopard Conservation Fund
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Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name


Section 2: About Your Organization
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?


Organization Name

Snow Leopard Conservation Fund

Organization Phone

+ 976 11 329632

Organization Address

# 9, building 53, Peace Avenue, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Organization Country
How long has this organization been operating?

1‐5 years

Your idea
Country your work focuses on
What makes your innovation unique?

SLE is a grassroots community-based conservation program. At a time when many programs aimed at protecting endangered species are top-down or managed by outside entities, SLE empowers local communities in Mongolia to run their own conservation programs from within. SLE is the only program of its kind in Mongolia focused on snow leopard conservation.

Do you have a patent for this idea?

Tell us about the social impact of your innovation. Please include both numbers and stories as evidence of this impact

By offering sustainable income, SLE significant alleviates poverty. Over 35% of Mongolian families live below the national poverty level (GoM/UNDP 2003). The same source indicates that a family needs 200-300 head of livestock to make a surplus and have ‘a good living’, but 85% own fewer than 200. Today the program involves about 400 families and each participating household earns about $100 from their handicraft production. The fact that SLE income is in cash is a significant advantage. Access to cash is traditionally limited in herding economies where trade is mainly by barter. The increased cash income gained through the program enables a general improvement in standard of living, widens choices, and increases control over members’ own and their families’ lives. All pastoral societies where livestock or wild animals provide an important source of raw materials for survival needs and everyday use possess a range of skills for making tents, clothing, ropes and other items. The skill training provided by SLE develops and refines these basic skills to enable people to make new products and to meet higher specifications suitable for the international market. The skills learned have also been exploited by enterprising members domestically and to manufacture items for sale outside the SLE program. This improvement in skill levels (‘upskilling’) has a beneficial effect on individuals and communities and reinforces personal self esteem. The program contributes to female empowerment in three main ways that are frequently interlinked. These are: 1. raising individual self esteem; 2. enhancing the profile of women within the family and the community; and 3. engaging women in decision-making on the environment. Many SLE participants identified ‘having a job’ or ‘learning a skill’ as important reasons for belonging to the SLE program and the SLE training has enabled them to meet higher standards and reach the international market. Cash earned through the program widens women’s spending choices, giving them more control over their own and their families’ lives. The most significant aspect of empowerment lies in the engagement of women in environmental decision-making. Women in Mongolia are generally well-educated and are unaffected by many forms of gender discrimination. However their main decision-making role is confined to the domestic environment: Making decisions on environmental matters is an area traditionally dominated by men, and one from which women have previously been largely excluded.

Problem: Describe the primary problem(s) that your innovation is addressing

The snow leopard (Panthera uncia) is a flagship species for the mountains of Asia, occupying nearly 2 million km2 across twelve countries. Current estimates suggest that as few as 3,500 snow leopards may exist in the wild and their continued existence is precarious. Mongolia likely holds the second largest population of snow leopards with as many as 1,200 remaining. Yet, the species faces threats that are pushing it to extinction including poaching, habitat loss, and retribution killing by herders. The cat is listed as Endangered on the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Additionally, it is listed in Appendix 1 of CITES. Conserving the snow leopard is further complicated by the fact that sizeable and important populations of the species occur outside Protected Areas, and survive in a habitat that is also used by pastoral and agro-pastoral communities.
Based on the above mentioned threats to snow leopard it is important to involve local people in conservation where people and wildlife both benefit. As a predator, snow leopards have been seen as a threat to the livelihood of local people. SLE helps to change that paradigm by linking snow leopard conservation to income generation. Through SLE, families can offset their livestock losses by making handicrafts. This solution to the human-wildlife conflict makes the program a model families can sustain over the long-term.

Actions: Describe the steps that you are taking to make your innovation a success. Include a description of the business model. What might prevent that success?

SLCF has put considerable energy into setting up the SLE program in each snow leopard area and raising conservation awareness among the local herders who live in wildlife habitat. The business model is based on three complimentary aspects: 1) training and feedback to help herders improve their handicraft making skills; 2) ‘Conservation Contracts’—agreements between SLCF and each community outlining how the program will help herders and the responsibility herders have for protecting snow leopards; and 3) selling the handicrafts so that the revenue can sustain the program’s operations and growth.
In order to help families increase their cash income and strengthen their skill, SLE has focused on building the capacity of local herder men and women in developing handicrafts made with their own livestock products (wools) to meet international market standards and demand. Today this program is well know not only in Mongolia but also in other snow leopard range countries. Financially the program became self sustainable and much demanded locally.
To make this initiative successful we assess the needs of the program through scientific data, regular meetings with local communities, wildlife monitoring, and evaluating each step we take as we plan for expansion. We have also developed business strategies for each 3 years and in 2009 we brought 16 SLE local coordinators and local collaborators together from across Mongolia’s 7 western provinces. This type of meeting enabled us to coordinate and standardize the delivery of program services for the 27 communities we have to manage.
Finally, to make SLE successful, the Conservation Contracts stipulate that no snow leopard poaching should occur in any SLE community—even among families that are not actively making handicrafts. These contracts as well as local wildlife protection also involve national park rangers and environmental inspectors. We also regularly communicate with regional governors regarding the program. In this way, by involving all stakeholders, SLE is truly a community-wide effort with wide social support.

Results: Describe the expected results of these actions over the next three years. Please address each year separately, if possible

In the next three years SLE is expected to expand its participant numbers by 50% from what it has now, which means that many more communities can be involved in snow leopard conservation as well as increase their living standards.

How many people will your project serve annually?


What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

$50 - 100

Does your innovation seek to have an impact on public policy?


If your innovation seeks to impact public policy, how?

Not directly. However indirectly local government officials have appreciated SLE’s ability to improve herders’ quality of living and have therefore supported the programs and efforts to further protect snow leopards.

What stage is your Social Enterprise in?

Operating for more than 5 years

Does your organization have a board of directors or an advisory board?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how partnerships could be critical to the success of your Social Enterprise

SLE began its activities based on the needs of poor herders’, offering them income generating opportunities and building their capacity to improve their living standards. A close relationship with herder communities was created, and started to build mutual understanding and trust through a long slow process. In the beginning, there were almost no products to buy for the first two years because the herders did not trust that we would come back and continue working with them. To help build this initial trust we bought whatever they made, disregarding the quality, even though items were not good enough for market. Gradually, and with continued training for the herders, we instigated more and more quality controls for better and marketable wool products. This has helped raise the standards and marketability of the products we have today.

In order to maintain our conservation program efficiently, a good partnership was also developed with local government agencies, protected area administrations and related conservation organizations. Developing true partnerships with stakeholders requires continuous identification of their needs over time regarding different issues such as product development, community issues and conservation activities. Our long-term partnership commitment helps creates sustainability of the program.

In order to market SLE products worldwide, we have partnered with the Snow Leopard Trust, a US-based NGO. The Snow Leopard Trust has a larger capacity for marketing; they buy most of our products wholesale and then sell them to over 60 zoos and specialty stores in Europe and the United States.

We would like to learn more about how your initiative is financially supported. Please explain your business plan/revenue model

Our revenue model is simple: herders access their own raw materials; we train them to add value to these raw materials by making them into finished handicrafts (like rugs, slippers, etc); they sell the handicrafts for cash at a wholesale price they agree on; working with the Snow Leopard Trust we sell the products at market value worldwide with revenue returning to the program. Grant funds are often used for special projects, like brining all our coordinators together for a meeting.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

My career as a snow leopard conservationist began in 1996 when I was hired to conduct and translate interviews to explore the relationship between local herders and snow leopards. During these interviews I heard the same problems repeated: families earned less than $1 (US) per day and snow leopards took their livestock. Because of this conflict, they set traps for and killed snow leopards. Livestock loss by snow leopard caused these poor herders so much damage for their living since there was very limited alternative for income. Since they live so remote from the markets they depend on passing traders and they could not get fair price for their livestock products such as camel wool, cashmere and livestock hide. This situation of herder families’ immediately inspired me to create a program that could benefit local people and snow leopards.

In 1998 with seed money from WWF-Mongolia, WCS, and David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, I started a program called Irbis Enterprises (Irbis is Mongolian for snow leopard), later renamed Snow Leopard Enterprises (SLE). SLE gives herders a means to increase their income through handicraft production and it immediately links with snow leopard conservation through Conservation Contracts that are signed each year between SLE and local community.

Tell us about the person—the social innovator—behind this idea.

Before working for environmental conservation Bayara was an English and Russian language teacher and tour guide in Mongolia. Bayara received her bachelors degree in 1991 from the Foreign Language Institute of the Mongolian National University in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, later teaching both English and Russian language in schools throughout Mongolia. She received training from the Conservation Strategy Fund in 2002, traveling to San Francisco for a program entitled “Economical Tools for Conservation Ecology”. That same year, Bayara enrolled in a program entitled Small Business Enterprise Development presenting ORAM Small business and market economy management training in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Finally in 2004, Bayara found funding and traveled to Dublin, Ireland for one year to participate and eventually complete her masters in Development Studies from the Kimmage Development Studies Center. In 2007, Bayara received the First Annual Freeman Award for Snow Leopard Conservation. This award was recently established by the family of Helen Freeman, Founder of the Snow Leopard Trust, and is presented annually to an individual, preferably from a snow leopard range country, who has made an outstanding contribution to projects or programs that enhance snow leopard conservation. The award carries a $1,000 prize for the individual recipient.

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