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Independent Review Praises CEPF's First Five Years

In Focus, February 2006

A recently completed external evaluation of the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) concluded that the program has made strong overall progress toward achieving its main strategic objectives.

Citing capacity building in civil society as well as gains in biodiversity conservation, the evaluation found “overall performance from a global perspective has been excellent.”

The CEPF Donor Council, comprising high-level representatives from each of the program’s donor institutions, called for the review to help guide planning for the future. A team of consultants selected by and reporting to the Council began work in August 2005. They examined progress from the 2000 launch through June 30, 2005, focusing on the initiative as a whole rather than on the effectiveness of individual field programs.

Specifically, the evaluators assessed CEPF’s role in enabling civil society to engage in conserving the biodiversity hotspots, the strategic underpinnings of CEPF grant portfolios, and overall fulfillment of the program’s niche defined in its region-specific investment strategies.

Attention also focused on whether CEPF maximizes the reach of its donor partners in a unique way and on the program’s institutional and governing infrastructure, among other issues identified by the Council.

The evaluators submitted a draft report to the CEPF Working Group and CEPF management team on Jan. 2. The Working Group discussed the draft report, as well as a draft of the CEPF management response, at its fourteenth meeting on Jan. 20. Both documents have since been finalized and will be discussed soon by the Donor Council.

Strategic Approach Pays Dividends

Overall, the evaluators found that CEPF fills a unique niche in international biodiversity conservation and is being implemented by a very professional global team plus partners who have made excellent early progress towards their long-term goals.

The evaluation report emphasized CEPF hotspot investment strategies, the methodologies used to develop and implement them, and the global and regional management structure.

The CEPF investment strategy for each hotspot is developed by first determining species, site and landscape-level priorities for conservation, reviewing the threats and challenges facing biodiversity in each region, and assessing existing donor investments. These assessments, known as ecosystem profiles, are created together with diverse partners and stakeholders in each region.

The evaluators were impressed by improvements in the profiles’ depth, participatory methodology, and execution over the five years that CEPF has been in existence.

“Numerous respondents explained that this was the first time so many diverse stakeholders had been brought together in their region to share information and experiences and to jointly develop conservation priorities and strategies,” the report states. “Many civil society organizations reported having had few if any previous opportunities to discuss and plan such issues in a common forum with government officials as well as researchers.

“CEPF and the local (Coordination Units’) convening power to bring together government and civil society for the first time had clearly provided several opportunities for the emergence of new as well as more constructive relationships both among NGOs and with diverse governmental agencies.”

Effective Implementation

The evaluators, who visited 10 of the program’s 15 active funding regions, found that grant portfolios aligned well with the strategic priorities outlined in each of the ecosystem profiles.

The program’s Coordination Units (CUs), which lead implementation in each of the hotspots, were characterized by the report as “one of the key strengths.” They were singled out for being particularly effective, with the support of the CEPF grant directors, in linking the key elements of comprehensive, vertically integrated conservation portfolios such as large anchor projects, smaller grassroots activities, policy initiatives, governmental collaboration, and sustainable financing.

The report details how the field visits provided ample evidence that the CEPF model is sufficiently flexible to effectively identify and support a range of civil society organizations of different types in varying contexts. It notes how few CEPF grantees, particularly among the less experienced emerging organizations, have access to alternative sources of funding.

The evaluators concluded that the most significant direct program impacts include capacity building among local and national conservation groups; contributions to extending and strengthening protected area networks; broadening environmental awareness through effective communications; enabling local, national, and international partnerships to support biodiversity conservation; effective advocacy by grantee organizations in connection with infrastructure and other development projects; and contributions to sustainable financing for conservation.

The report also provides specific success examples, including the creation of protected areas and positive influence on infrastructure plans in the hotspots.

Integration with Donor Partners

One finding of the report is that CEPF provides its donors with a relatively agile, flexible, and fast-moving funding mechanism that supports civil society organizations by disbursing grants in smaller amounts than these organizations generally make.

“CEPF’s emphasis on employing good science, engaging stakeholders, building local capacities, mainstreaming biodiversity and harmonizing donor investments in biodiversity is also of considerable strategic value to these organizations, while the capacity to support regional environmental collaboration involving multiple countries provides an important contrast to the more prevalent single country donor model,” the report states.

The evaluation found that CEPF-supported activities are consistent with and supportive of the poverty mitigation focus of the World Bank and the Government of Japan, as well as the sustainable development focus of the Global Environment Facility. It confirmed that CEPF is supporting long-term poverty mitigation efforts on several fronts.

The report noted in particular that conservation programs such as CEPF are considerably more cost-effective than the massive investments that would be needed to restore ecosystems if they were to become degraded and lose the ability to provide essential services to the poor (e.g., water, fuel wood, fodder, and flood protection).

Looking to the Future

The report includes a series of recommendations to strengthen the program. These range from points to consider in determining the future allocation of CEPF resources to ways to monitor interim progress at the hotspot level.

The CEPF management team found the report to be balanced and constructive, with in-depth analyses of a number of key issues and the inclusion of specific recommendations that will be helpful for both the team and the donor partners in strengthening the program for the future.

The evaluators also concluded the report with a clear endorsement of the program: “We have no hesitation in recommending that the donor partners continue funding the program and seeking further expansion opportunities.”

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© CI, photo by Luis Murillo
In Southern Mesoamerica, evaluation team member Seemin Qayum (right) speaks with representatives of the Osa Campaign, Fundacion Corcovado.

You can download the evaluation documents in a combined PDF file: Report of the Independent Evaluation of the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, and CEPF Management Response to the Independent Evaluation (PDF)


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