ICOA initiates interdisciplinary research program in Maasai Mara

Can organization design contribute to finding solutions to grand challenges with many stakeholders involved? ICOA will do a case study on the Maasai Mara ecosystem together with Kenyan partners and researchers across the four faculties at Aarhus University.

2015.02.17 | Pernille Kallehave

In 2013, the board of the Organizational Design Community (ODC) decided to look for a global challenge in need of an organization design makeover. At the ODC annual meeting 2013, INSEAD Professor Phanish Puranam introduced the idea of a competition for organization design professionals and academics to come up with organization design solutions to a specific global challenge. ICOA Visiting Professor Charles Snow (Penn State University), contributed with a baseline description of such a competition and a project was born.

ICOA seized the opportunity and started the search for a suitable global challenge, combining this task with thex center’s focus on organization design perspectives of sustainability.

The Maasai Mara case

The many challenges of the Maasai Mara in Kenya turned out to be a perfect case, and in 2014 The Maasai Mara Science and Development Action was developed. The purpose of this Action is to develop a large scale and interdisciplinary research and development program with the aim of finding solutions to the many challenges of the Maasai Mara, a world-known and unique ecosystem in the southwest of Kenya.

Organization Design Perspectives

So what is the link between African wildlife and organization design? In the context of the modern and developed society it is obvious that the right organizational design is vital for a successful conservation of the Maasai Mara as a whole. Due to the complex relations between the various stakeholders, conservation management experience shows that incentive structures can be critical in achieving the goals of conservation efforts. Conservation work in the Maasai Mara is no different in this respect as the sustainable preservation of wildlife takes place in a literal biological ecosystem as well as in a cultural, political,and commercial ecosystem of stakeholders (NGOs, travelling businesses, national governments in Kenya and Tanzania, local governments, local pastural groupings and other ethnic groups etc.). Hence, the alignment of goals and incentives of the complex network of actors and interests is crucial for achieving the goal of preservation of the Maasai Mara in a sustainable manner.

Therefore, researchers from ICOA together with Professor Charles Snow (Penn State University) will do an organization audit and design of the collaborative community of the Maasai Mara. This will form the basis for a future global competition for organization design professionals and academics.

A strong and interdisciplinary research group at Aarhus University

Initiated by ICOA, an interdisciplinary group of 16 researchers from all four faculties at Aarhus University has created an AU-consortia (see list of members below). ICOA is strongly represented by six members of staff. Two visiting professors are also connected to the project: Professor Charles Snow (Penn State University), and Associate Professor Luca Giustiniano (LUISS Guido Carli University).

An international founding group

A founding group of partners from international universities, business and other Kenyan stakeholders has been established, consisting of:

Nobel Laureates

Two esteemed Nobel Laureates are among the initiators; Professor Richard Samson Odingo (University of Nairobi) and Professor Jørgen. E. Olesen(Aarhus University).

Summit in Maasai Mara in April

Between April 22-25, 2015, the first summit will take place in the Maasai Mara. ICOA will contribute with a presentation of the organization audit and design of the collaborative community of Maasai Mara. From ICOA the following researchers and staff will participate in the summit:

  • Professor Børge Obel
  • Professor Jacob Kjær Eskildsen
  • Visiting Professor Charles Snow
  • Associate Professor Dorthe Døjbak Håkonsson
  • Assistant Professor Lars Bach
  • Head of Development Pernille Kallehave.

White Paper and Donor seminar

The Summit will provide inputs to a White Paper: Maasai Mara – a research and development challenge for the next 20 years. This White Paper will be written by ICOA and will line up the challenges of the Maasai Mara, and be the first step of an organizational audit. A large-scale research program will be developed at the summit and this will be included in the White Paper as part of the recommendations.

In June 2015 a Donor seminar will be arranged in Nairobi with large private donors, like The Rockefeller Foundation. The EU Commission will also be approached since there are other EU-Africa programs in the pipeline.

AU Kenya Consortia


  • Professor Børge Obel, Interdisciplinary Center for Organizational Architecture (ICOA)
  • Director of Development Pernille Kallehave, Interdisciplinary Center for Organizational Architecture (ICOA)
  • Associate Professor Dorthe Døjbak Håkonsson, Department of Technology and Business/ICOA
  • Professor Jacob Eskildsen, Head of Department, Department of Technology and Business/ICOA

Science & Technology

  • Professor Jens-Christian Svenning, Ecoinformatics & Biodiversity, Department of Bioscience
  • Professor Henrik Balslev, Ecoinformatics & Biodiversity, Department of Bioscience
  • GIS Coordinator Peder Klith Bøcher, Ecoinformatics & Biodiversity, Department of Bioscience
  • Professor Jørgen E. Olesen, Department of Agroecology


  • Associate Professor Jan Ifversen,Vice Dean for Knowledge Exchange, Internationalisation and Strategy, Arts
  • Professor Andreas Roepstorff, Interacting Minds Centre
  • Professor Peter Kjærgaard, Center for Bioculture
  • Assistant Professor Casper Andersen, Center for Bioculture
  • Postdoc Jessica Hartel, Center for Bioculture
  • Assistant Professor Lars Bach, Interacting Minds Centre, Department of Culture & Society, ARTS and ICOA
  • Assistant Professor Panos Mitkidis, Behavioural Economics and Experimental Anthropology, Interacting Minds Centre, Department of Culture & Society, ARTS and ICOA


  • Professor Dorte Haubek, Department of Dentistry

Maasai Mara in the southwest part of Kenya is world famous for The Big Migration, where millions of wildebeests migrate from the Serengeti plains in Tanzania to eat the juicy grass of the Maasai Mara. There is nowhere else in the world where animals have so much space to wander, making the Serengeti-Maasai Mara ecosystem very unique. Some even refer to the Maasai Mara as the 7th Wonder of the World.

This unique place on Earth is now at risk of disappearing. The biological and cultural heritage of the Maasai Mara is under multifaceted and increasing pressure, driven by human demographics, economic development, national and global trade, and conflicts. How can we preserve this magnificent piece of nature, as well as its people and culture, and at the same time contribute to local and regional development? Can we develop generic strategies to reduce the pressure or impact?

For more information:

Professor Børge Obel

Head of Development (and Project Manager) Pernille Kallehave

Knowledge exchange