Sharing, Cooperation and Scaling Up in China

In Focus, September 2004

Building the fledgling civil society in the Mountains of Southwest China biodiversity hotspot is no small task.

Many of the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), community groups and other civil society bodies that do exist operate on annual budgets of less than $1,200-$6,000 and have little, if any, contact with other groups.

Conservation International’s China program recently held the first meeting drawing together the region’s civil society groups supported by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF). The program facilitates a coalition of civil society and governmental representatives in coordinating CEPF strategy implementation in the hotspot.

The event was a core part of the CEPF strategy to build civil society’s capacity to implement small, localized conservation projects and to nurture leaders who will be capable of interjecting biodiversity aspects into the many development efforts underway in China.

“Seeing such a high level of interest from the grantees who attended the sessions gave us a lot of confidence,” said CI-China Director Lu Zhi, whose team and CEPF staff members have spent much of the last two years helping community groups and grassroots NGOs to design and implement successful conservation project with CEPF support.

Since CEPF began investing in the hotspot two years ago, it has received more than 200 applications for grants from in excess of 150 groups—a volume of applications that itself indicates the important growth of civil society taking place in the hotspot.

However, as enthusiastic as many local groups may be, most have no relative experience in managing a conservation effort. For more than 50 percent, the application was also their first to a donor.

The need for training was clear. Various training provided to groups in the hotspot to date as part of the coordination effort has included the fundamentals of effective project design, fund raising, financial management, transparent decision-making processe and communications.

The grantee meeting served as an important forum for these groups to receive additional training on project design, understanding the basics of financial management and working with domestic and international media.

Importantly, the forum also provided a new platform for the groups to share experiences and lessons learned with each other and to find ways to expand collaboration.

Mu Suo from the Kawagebo Culture Society in DeQin County applauded the opportunity to meet with NGOs that “usually don’t have access to this kind of event, because we are geographically far apart.”

He said he was delighted to find he was not alone in working to conserve the hotspot.

“I am excited to find so many people have been working for the conservation of Southwest China,” he said. “We had a chance to come together to see what we can do together.”

Held in a critical time, the meeting, entitled “Sharing, Cooperation and Scaling Up” included two days of workshops in which the CEPF coordination team made presentations on the grant-making mechanism and the design and refinement of the CEPF strategy for the hotspot and grantees presented their ongoing projects.

A competitive poster session proved an effective method for the grantees to learn how to introduce their projects. Through open voting by the participants, the poster presented by the Snowland Great River Environmental Protection Association won the top prize.

With CEPF support, the association is implementing a project to create a mobile unit with environmental education, health care and cultural preservation materials in the Tibetan communities of Qinghai, Tibet and Ganzi.

Interactive sessions and discussions among participants were another high point of the meeting. In order to create strategic partnerships among diverse groups, discussions were designed to focus on geographic regions and thematic topics.

By joining these discussions, the participants were exposed to the benefits of sharing experiences and lessons learned, challenges and creative solutions. More importantly, the sessions were organized in a way to cultivate a habit of sharing experiences and knowledge with others and to learn to look for potential partners to maximize both capacity and results.

“Sharing, Cooperation and Scaling up” illustrated how CEPF is playing an instrumental role in building partnerships and civil society’s capacity in this hotspot, fundamental approaches for lasting conservation.

The experience, shared by all the participants, will also help guide implementation of the CEPF portfolio in the future.