Small Grants - Big Community Ripples

In Focus, October 2004

by Elizabeth A. Foley

What can you do with $100?

For civil society groups receiving support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund’s diverse small grants programs, this small sum could be the lever for saving one of the world’s most threatened primates, preserving threatened forest or enabling hundreds of people to invigorate their local economies or train for new occupations.

“You’d be amazed what you can achieve with $100,” said Frank Hawkins of the Madagascar Small Grants Project. “You can change people’s lives tremendously with that amount of money.”

In developing areas where incomes are low and where many local groups may not otherwise qualify for support from traditional donors, smaller sums are providing needed springboards to effective conservation outcomes and securing better futures for individuals and entire communities.

Now, exactly two years since CEPF launched its first small grants program to create conservation managers among previously disadvantaged persons in the Cape Floristic Region biodiversity hotspot, six small grants programs are helping to meet the partnership’s strategic objectives.

Directly managed by local partners, the six programs support more than 200 local organizations, communities and individuals in the Atlantic Forest, Cape Floristic Region, Madagascar and Philippines hotspots.

Like a pebble dropped in pond, the initial impact is small, but the ripple effect can be huge.

“It helps with networking—people are sharing their lessons so local groups get to know each other and learn from each other—ultimately it’s bringing more people into conservation,” said Tanya Conlu of the Emergency Action for Threatened Species and Their Habitats in the Philippines program.

Investing in People

In essence, small grants and the way in which they are implemented can build better futures.

One of the best examples of this can be seen in the support provided by Instituto de Estudos Sócio-Ambientais do Sul da Bahia (IESB). The organization manages CEPF’s small grants program for institutional strengthening in the Central Conservation Corridor in the Atlantic Forest hotspot, while Associação Mico-Leão Dourado manages the program in the Serra do Mar Corridor.

The Institutional Strengthening Program is one of three CEPF small grants programs in this region, which together support approximately 150 civil society groups and manage 25 percent of the $8 million CEPF investment portfolio for the Brazilian part of the hotspot.

IESB is supporting some 31 local partners with grants ranging from $6,000 to $10,000. Its grants have helped provide everything from boots and hats to forest firefighters and beach vehicles for monitoring sea turtle eggs to technical assistance for farmers to set up sustainable cultivation cooperatives.

“These are small organizations and many are so institutionally weak that they don’t even know how to distribute the money we give them,” said Luis de Lima of IESB. To help, IESB has provided financial management courses for its grantees in both Bahia and Serra do Mar for the last two years.

For the group of volunteer firefighters of the Sociedade Civil dos Bombeiros Voluntários de Santa Teresa and their communities, IESB support has made a profound difference. “It was the first grant they’d ever applied for,” Paulo Vila Nova, an IESB grant manager, said of the group’s first application for funding. “They didn’t even have a phone. Now at least they have the minimum structure in place to function.”

Since receiving their first grant from IESB, the forest firefighters are equipped with proper equipment and have since applied for two more grants and received them. And they have expanded their education and conservation program to include reforesting 40 hillsides in their nearby communities, lecturing in local schools and working with surrounding communities on conservation issues.

Challenges: A Case Study in the Philippines

Enabling small groups and even individuals to make a difference is far from easy.

In the Philippines, where the Haribon Foundation manages the small grants program on emergency action for threatened species and their habitats, even attracting grant applications is no small task.

“We thought we’d simply announce grants, and the proposals would just pour in,” Conlu said. “But the local NGOs need a lot of help in project development—in developing proposals, writing grant applications and in focusing their projects on species and habitat conservation and not just through reforestation.”

In fact, it has been more a case of the program seeking out potential grant recipients rather than those potential partners taking advantage of the funding opportunity.

The program provides small grants for research, field training, site implementation and institutional strengthening. While CEPF investments focus on Eastern Mindanao, Palawan and Sierra Madre, this program supports activities primarily in Cebu, Negros, Mindoro, Panay, Sibuyan and Tawi-tawi to help conserve the 30 percent of the Philippines' unique species found outside the focal areas.

Since its start in 2002, the program’s grants have helped fill gaps in knowledge of the hotspot’s threatened species and their conservation needs, and further the professional development of Filipino conservation biologists.

To date, the program has made seven grants ranging from $7,000 to $18,000 for site-based action and six grants of about $5,000 for research. Applicants are required to provide some sort of sustainability mechanism and asked to seek out counterpart funding.

“The biggest realization is that there are just too few researchers in this country, and not enough people involved in conservation,” Conlu said.

“Most of the people we’re working with now come from social development organizations or projects like community programs involving poverty and health. So now we’re working to help them shift or widen their scope."

One beneficiary is Ely Alcala, a 42-year-old veterinarian by training who is now spearheading an initiative with communities of the Calatong Watershed in the southwest of Negros to boost voluntary forest patrols and train local farmers to propagate threatened indigenous tree species in a move away from harvesting.

“We got a forest protection grant, and since then have been working to involve local communities to patrol on a wider scale and local governments to set up a watershed and wildlife presence,” Alcala said.

The level of response from the local people was unexpectedly good. “You just don’t see this in the Philippines—groups of people protecting the forest voluntarily,” Alcala said.

His work is part of a Silliman University Angelo King Center for Research and Environmental Management project to secure protection for the entire 6,000-hectare watershed as a reserve. Today, only 1,000 hectares of the watershed are protected since this area covers only the municipality of Cauayan.

Alcala is helping the region’s marginal farmers adapt to reforestation cultivation. They’ve built a nursery and are growing seedlings of endemic species like the dipterocarp, half of which they intend to plant in the forest and the other half to sell.

“They’re seeing that the dipterocarp can sell for double the price of the exotics—so they are understanding the value of not cutting trees and of putting a halt to illegal logging,” he said.

“Essentially saving these forests is saving their water source. If the watershed dries up because the forest disappears, a lot of the surrounding towns and farmers dependent on it for their water, are in a lot of trouble.”

Reinvigorating Communities and Conservationists

Often funding is re-invigorating groups to ensure their own financial sustainability and bringing a better standard of living for people living in communities close to conservation areas.

“The funding provided to the organizations of the Atlantic Forest Central Corridor is like a breath of fresh air to most of the organizations,” the IESB’s Vila Nova said.

“Without sufficient funding and technical support they were losing their motivation to continue. The grants have helped build the self-esteem of people in these groups, and restored their confidence for building and seeking funding from other institutions.”

The Projecto ONÇA (Núcleo de Comunidades Agrícolas Associação de Moradores do Maribum, Santo Antônio e Rio Negro) in the city of Taperoa is one of the programs receiving funding. Vila Nova thinks it illustrates the power small grants can have.

Founded in 1988, it’s bringing local farmers together in an organic cooperative and working with them to market their goods. “It’s not just the local environment at stake, it’s bringing a higher income to these families,” Vila Nova said.

Madagascar Nodes – Levers for Social Change

The Madagascar Small Grants Program is the youngest of the CEPF-supported small grants program and is tailored specifically for Madagascar, where local civil society organizations are few.

It’s comprised of “nodes”—regional partner organizations that will build the technical and financial management of locally based groups and manage and award micro-grants for them to undertake conservation actions in high-priority sites.

“There’s a certain amount of risk so we’re fairly detailed in the kinds of grants we’ll provide, and these include funding for mapping distribution of species, population surveys and delimiting community reserves,” said Hawkins of Conservation International’s Center for Biodiversity Conservation in Madagascar, which manages the program.

“The overall idea is to generate a market for small-scale, low-budget biodiversity action, and thereby increase the revenue that local people get from biodiversity, as well as increasing our knowledge and capacity to manage biodiversity.”

The Madagascar project has two nodes under development, three in the process of negotiation and a couple of others possible. Its first node, Association Fanamby, will be functional within the month.

Working in Daraina in northeast Madagascar, Fanamby will develop agreements with local groups to monitor pressures on the forest, monitoring certain species populations, delimiting community protected areas and directing forest management transfer, all with an eye toward establishing the area as a legally protected zone.

“The aim for all priority conservation sites is to learn from what we’ve started in Daraina, and then work with potentially hundreds of people in each region,” Hawkins said.

The node agreements will be for around $20,000, of which about one-third will go to the node itself for training, equipment and general capacity building and the remainder of which will be distributed in sub-grants ranging from $100 to $5,000.

Small sums perhaps, but Hawkins believes even $100 will more than change people’s lives and help potentially reverse a seemingly fast train to extinction for the golden crowned sifaka, one of the most threatened primates in the world. It lives only in Daraina, between the rivers of Loky and Manambato, in a region that despite its incredible biological diversity, continues to be without official protection.

Daraina continues to undergo the negative effects of human pressure, the consequences of bush fires, illicit exploitation of wood, poaching and extraction of gold. This has motivated the minister of environment, water and forests to seek out official protected area status together with Association Fanamby under a new concept of a “conservation site” to manage the natural resources of the region and assure the integration of local communities in the process.

While still in its youth, this small grants initiative seems to be ushering in a new societal shift. “This is one of the very important benefits of biodiversity conservation,” Hawkins said. “You can use it as a lever to foster social cohesion, for change.”