29 Feb 2016

Transformation for Conservation in the Mara Wetlands

A section of the group discusses questions from the Capacity Assessment Tool ©Chris Magero
By Enock Kawira and Chris Magero

“I never knew drafting a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a partner was important, we have never thought of it like that before!”


 “As members we didn’t know we are allowed to know the group’s financial position and make follow-ups on financial and other reports!” 

These were some of the responses of community members during the Organisational Capacity Assessment (OCA) of south Mara Water Users Association (WUA).

The Organisational Capacity Assessment Tool (CAT) developed by the BirdLife Partnership is based on the Conservation Empowerment Index (CEI), and supports local community organisations to assess their capacity under four broad categories:

i) Aspiration and Strategy,

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ii) Organisational Skills,

iii) Human Resources,

iv) Systems, Infrastructure and Organisational Structure.

South Mara Water Users Association is a Local Conservation Group (LCG) working in the Masurura Swamp, Mara in Tanzania, one of the critical wetlands in the Lake Victoria Basin. The group was formed and registered in 2013, with the objective of conserving and managing the water and wetland resources of the Mara/Masurura swamp. The OCA, conducted by the group and supported by the BirdLife Africa Partnership Secretariat, proved to be an acutely eye opening opportunity for the community to assess their capacity to deliver their mandate as an LCG and also to identify what they need to do in order to strengthen their structure, strategy and operations.  

The process included training for facilitators who then assisted at a roundtable meeting with other WUA members engaged in listening, discussing, responding and scoring the different questions based on their experience. The facilitators explained the set of questions, while the chairman engaged small groups in thinking them through, discussing and providing information. This was a process full of anxiety and expectations for a group of seven women and nine men, who were undertaking such a process for the first time. This quickly changed as they explored the questions and began to realize that the questions clarified for them their organisation’s achievements and expectations.

It was a tiring but important two-day event for this LCG, which eventually turned into one of the most enjoyed and successful moments in the group’s life. This is what members had to say after the session.

The South Mara Water Users Association committee members & BirdLife staff ©Chris Magero

 “I have understood something that I didn’t know before, that communication between the officials and members of the group on every matter including finances, projects and other WUA matters are important. Now I know.”


“It was a very good session to help me understand how an organisation should work.” “There is so much we didn’t know but now we understand where we should be and what we should be doing.”

Working with local people is critical to effective, sustainable and equitable conservation. Through the Local Engagement and Empowerment Programme (LEEP), BirdLife aims to provide effective support for local conservation action, and to strengthen and expand networks so that LCGs are well equipped to conserve, manage and defend their sites, as well as to benefit from their biodiversity value.