Staff Spotlight: Jassiel M'soka

USAID Zambia

Jassiel M’soka, a native Zambian, has been integral in the development of HEARTH activities in Zambia’s Kafue and Luangwa ecosystems.

Today, Zambia faces a variety of interconnected environmental challenges including agricultural land clearing, deforestation and degradation, overfishing, poaching and uncontrolled fires. Zambia has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, officially reported between 180,000 to 200,000 hectares per year. Cross-sectoral, market-based approaches are needed to protect biodiversity, increase rural incomes, and improve integrated land, water, and natural resource governance.

To support such approaches, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) designed the Health, Ecosystems, and Agriculture for Resilient, Thriving Societies (HEARTH) activity. HEARTH aims to provide USAID missions and the private sector opportunities to partner to co-create and deliver activities that conserve biodiverse ecosystems and improve the well-being and prosperity of the communities that depend on them.

Jassiel M’soka, a native Zambian, has been integral in the development of HEARTH activities in Zambia’s Kafue and Luangwa ecosystems. As a USAID project management specialist, Jassiel designs activities and provides knowledge management support to the Mission. He regularly meets with partners and stakeholders to program HEARTH activities, which, in Zambia, focus on the intersection of biodiversity conservation; agriculture; water, sanitation, and hygiene; and maternal and child health.

“We are forced not only to focus on biodiversity conservation, but also to provide services that support conservation,” notes Jassiel. “That’s where we see the linkages between biodiversity conservation and natural resources management and other sectors. You realize we have to address other challenges first, because communities don't have access to other resources.”

Jassiel credits his established career in conservation with preparing him to address the complex challenges that HEARTH tackles; however, Jassiel did not initially plan to work in biodiversity. Jassiel’s father instilled in him a passion for nature and conservation that led him to pursue a career path in conservation.

“My father came from one of Zambia's richest wildlife areas, the South Luangwa, but I grew up in Ndola, which at the time was Zambia’s industrial hub. When I went to university, I wanted to study medicine,” says Jassiel. He had the opportunity “to focus on natural resources management, geography, and environmental studies, [and] I realized that's where my strengths were. And my Dad, he could talk a lot about wildlife conservation. I think his stories of how he grew up piqued my interest in terms of biodiversity conservation. He was an avid reader. There are all those books that we read together, the talks that he gave, and his love of nature and gardening that drove me naturally into biodiversity conservation and being involved with nature.”

After earning his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Zambia, Jassiel worked with Zambia’s Ministry of Energy and Water Development as an Energy Officer. He then joined the Zambia Wildlife Authority, where he worked first as a Management Trainee, then a Wildlife Ecologist and as a Carnivore Researcher. Jassiel then earned his Master’s in Wildlife Management at Montana State University. In 2017, Jassiel joined USAID/Zambia and says his previous personal, professional, and academic experiences prepared him for the opportunities USAID would present him.

“There is an aspect of using the evidence and knowledge I have from the field [that helps] to make decisions and direct government. I like [USAID’s] emphasis on collaborating, learning and adapting (CLA) because often, when we design activities or projects, we think of them in a linear fashion, but there are things that happen that do not work,” Jassiel said. “So what are we learning? How do we take into consideration all of a community’s needs so that we make a big change for people in the world? At the field level, [the work] is all about us interacting with the people that we teach and support.”

Jassiel uses CLA, the Program Cycle, and the skills he learned by participating in the Biodiversity Advisor experiential learning program to help identify needs and build capacity in the communities HEARTH supports. He says he hopes the HEARTH activity’s direct work with communities will help them to recognize the natural linkages between conservation and economic development.

“Having worked both from the government side with a wildlife department, and in research as well, we are able to see how much biodiversity conservation can drive economic development in these areas,” Jassiel said. “There's a lot of discussion about wildlife, landscapes, and open spaces, but at the end of it all, when we look at biodiversity, it's about the people. When people appreciate biodiversity, then they'll conserve it.”

Jassiel also views improved communications, knowledge management, youth involvement, and social media as integral tools to bolster HEARTH’s goals. “For biodiversity practitioners, it's important that we are able to communicate effectively. If we can get people to be more aware of the role that biodiversity plays in reducing poverty and supporting livelihoods, we may be able to make quite a big difference,” Jassiel said. “We have that opportunity to reach out right now. The world is much more integrated, much more reachable, and the youth are the ones that are driving the action and singing the song about biodiversity conservation.”