Donors’ experiences and initiatives under the COVID-19 crisis

On the backend of supporting civil society to preserve our unique resources and biodiversity, Donor organisations felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and adaptively managed these challenges so to keep up the support for the work in the field. For this issue, other organisations supporting biodiversity conservation in West and Central Africa Regions contributed with a brief overview of the strategic approaches adopted.

“The most visible impact on our work was the impossibility of conducting supervision missions, to meet with our partners for training workshops or with the local populations to carry out sensitisation sessions and patrols for the surveillance of natural spaces. Across the 19 countries where the Programme de Petites Initiatives (PPI) is implemented, we noticed a trend of the inhabitants of large cities returning to their villages (due to the slowdown in the economy causing a drop in their income) which have had the effect of increasing pressure on natural resources and already endangered species, such as great apes and sea turtles. Furthermore, the decreased in funding sources from foreign tourists affected severely our partners activities and in particular the management of protected areas.

To support our partners in face to these challenges, we launched a Rapid Action Grants (RAG) for the first time in PPI history. In less than 3 months, we were able to be reactive and selected 6 grants of 3 500 € for a maximum period of 6 months. The RAG permits to currently finance concrete and rapid actions such as increasing the surveillance or the purchase of essential equipment.”

ꟷ Paul Estève, Responsible for the ‘Small Initiatives Program / FFEM’, UICN Comité français

The BIOPAMA Programme has continued to operate within the 78 countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, despite the pandemic. However, many activities were delayed, especially those that involve travels. In the different regions of the world where we work, we have seen a significant reduction in livelihoods and income for local communities, as consequence of the tourism decline. Tourism has been the most important source of income for most communities in and around protected areas. Without this income, local communities are obliged to find alternative sources for their livelihoods. Managing their protected areas and protecting the threatened species against anticipated increases in poaching, for example, become a secondary priority.

In response to the pandemic, the BIOPAMA programme, with the support of its donor (the European Union and the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States) has launched a new type of grant named ‘Rapid Response Grant’ that was not initially planned. It aims at increasing the resilience of protected areas and local communities’ livelihoods facing the risks and difficulties of the global COVID-19 pandemic. From the experience of the BIOPAMA’s grant-making facility, local organisations on the front line would need a tailored support to not only to address the emergency situation but the recovery activities in the medium-long term.”

ꟷ Tanya Merceron, BIOPAMA Coordinator for West and Central Africa, IUCN

“Like in many other regions in the world, our partners working in 7 West Africans countries were hit hard by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the social and the medical effects as well, but also due to the restrictions that were put on traveling, some economic activities, social and professional gatherings. Many of our partners at the MAVA Foundation were not in the position to face this difficult situation for a long time, which shows the importance of reserve funds for organisations, to help go through unexpected difficult times. Some of them changed their intervention strategy and came up with more creative and more sustainable approaches, for instance by mobilising and building the capacities of local communities, in order to maintain key conservation activities in the field. Even our West Africa office team had to adopt some measures including telecommuting, stopping all travels, and organizing all meetings virtually.

In face of the pandemic and the consequences, and like many other peer donors, the MAVA Foundation response to support our partners was on 3 phases;

(i) Respond to immediate crisis: we put in place across all our programmes, extended support mechanisms for our partners, including urgent funding to cover unexpected costs or lost revenues, discussion fora for peer learning on leadership challenges linked to the crisis, more flexibility in some grant requirements (such as readjusting reporting deadlines or reallocation of project funds), and additional support on specific topics such as communications in the crisis, or planning in the face of uncertainty. Our priority was to respond to our partners specific needs on a case-by-case basis, and to ensure the continued payment of salaries during the crisis.

(ii) Rebuilding for resilience: we have for instance put an emphasis on supporting our partners to develop their fundraising skills through, among others, a free on-line course on fundraising that starting before the crisis, with a follow-up call for proposals for additional fundraising support, to allow some partners to work more deeply on their fundraising needs. We also offered the possibility to take part in a simple training on Scenario Planning in times of COVID and we continue our programme of organisational development support to some key partners.

(iii) Recreating the future: we are working with selected partners and fellow funders to help ensure that nature is stronger integrated into the post-COVID recovery, particularly within the framework of our sustainable economy programme. A specific call for proposals was launched to support activities that strengthen nature conservation in the immediate recovery phase and the mid-term (re)construction phase of the COVID crisis, in line with our mission. Additionally, we are looking into an approach to support our partners identify, within ongoing projects, opportunities for influencing post-COVID investments and economic decisions in the countries, so as not to compromise the long-term conservation of biodiversity and the resource base.

During this crisis, we learnt to put even stronger into practice one of our core values, which is flexibility, in order to be able to make quick decision, adjust our plans and be creative in adapting to the new context. This crisis showed even more clearly the importance of investing in our partners’ sustainability, which is and will remain one of our main priorities for the remaining time of operation of MAVA before its closure in 2023.

ꟷ Charlotte Karibuhoye, Director for West Africa programme, MAVA Foundation