Approved by the GEF Council in December 2022 initially as the "Gustavo Fonseca Youth Conservation Leadership Program," the new innovative program supports the professional development of promising young conservationists from developing countries.

The program, in honor of tropical scientist Gustavo Fonseca, the GEF’s long-serving Director of Programs who passed away in August 2022, will include conservation fellowships, grants for biodiversity field work, awards for participation in international conservation events, and a recurrent global conservation symposium bringing together young environmental leaders.

“This program will focus on youth and their role in the future of environmental governance and stewardship. Young people from developing countries play a critical role in effecting future change and the GEF is strongly committed to supporting their research, studies, professional development, and leadership,” said Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, the GEF’s CEO and Chairperson.


The program has four main components:

1. Youth Conservation Fellowships: The fellowships provide promising young conservationists with support to obtain master's degrees and PhDs in conservation.

2. Youth Grants for Biodiversity Field Action: The grants fund innovative field projects that promote conservation and engage early career professionals.

3. Awards for Youth Leadership Participation in International Conservation Events: The awards fund travel and attendance at international events to gain exposure and experience.

4. Youth Global Conservation Symposium: The program also hosts the Youth Global Conservation Symposium, which brings together young leaders, seasoned professionals, and potential mentors to discuss current topics.

The program is coordinating its activities with several partners in the field of conservation and education. While the full details of the partnerships are being finalized, five organizations have already signed the grant agreement with the GEF: 

  • The Brazilian Biodiversity Fund (FUNBIO) for supporting field work on biodiversity conservation by master's and PhD students in Brazil.
  • The Mohamed Bin Zayed Foundation for supporting the conservation of specific species groups of the IUCN Red List, and to provide funding for young conservationists in a significant number of GEF eligible countries.
  • Re:Wild for providing financial support to young conservation scientists, by means of granting resources for the acquisition of equipment, material, and any necessary investment for the development of field research. 
  • Wildlife Conservation Network to implement the Wildlife Conservation Networks Amazon Rising Conservation Leaders initiative to equip emerging leaders working in Amazonia with the skills, networks, and confidence to step into effective conservation leadership roles through their participation in a two-year leadership development program.
  • WWF-US to scale local and regional conservation leadership in Latin America by providing funding support to the current and next generation of researchers and practitioners to pursue graduate-level studies. The selection of grant recipients will be based on an open call for application through the WWF’s Russell E. Train Education for Nature program.

Several other organizations will be added as the process evolves over the next coming months with a full set being expected by mid-2024. Support the next generation of conservation leaders and protect the natural world by joining the program. 

Check this page for regular postings of calls for applications.

About Gustavo Fonseca

Gustavo Fonseca portrait

Gustavo Fonseca (1956-2022) was a giant in the conservation world. A Brazilian, Gustavo combined formal training with a talent for translating complex environmental problems into practical solutions. In so doing, he elevated the environment to the center of discussions around sustainable development and social equity. As a mentor, professor, and supervisor, he was also known for inspiring, encouraging, and supporting the next generation of conservationists.

For many years, Gustavo was the Director of Programs at the GEF, overseeing investments of combined over $10 billion in environmental projects and programs in developing countries. He shaped international environmental policy through his work at the GEF, with implementing agencies, and in UN negotiations on a range of topics and priorities.

The GEF honors this legacy through the Gustavo Fonseca Youth Conservation Leadership Program, a multifaceted program to develop the capacity of young conservationists in developing countries.