In this article, we take a look at how a long-term, flexible approach to conservation funding benefits both the partners we work with and the funders who support them.
Why conserve nature?
Measuring the circumference of a Funtunia Africana tree, Democratic Republic of Congo © Ollivier Girard
Conservation done well benefits both nature and people: forests, wetlands, rivers, lakes, oceans, grasslands, coral reefs and all the species that bring them to life are the green infrastructure of our planet. Wherever we live, we depend on them to regulate the air we breathe and the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. A healthy environment underpins our food supply, provides fresh water and countless resources without which we could not survive. Wildlife and wild places fire our imaginations, inspire our stories and are integral to our wellbeing: when nature suffers, Earth’s unique and extraordinary natural heritage is endangered and our own societies and culture are impoverished.
The problem with conservation funding
Conservation works, but there is simply not enough of it. Many factors have an impact on how we protect (or fail to protect) the natural world – government policies, corporate lobbying, international bodies and scientific institutions, consumer behaviour and engagement – but whilst these are not always easy to influence, we do know that philanthropic funding can play a key role.
Short-term, inflexible project cycles can also impose a heavy burden on smaller NGOs, locking them into an endless process of proposal and report writing. ‘Top-down’, donor driven funding can prevent an organisation from carrying out the work that it knows needs to be done, or building the capacity to amplify its impact (which is why pooled funding can free up vital time for organisations to focus on the work they need to do). Claire Nouvian, the founder of French NGO and Synchronicity Earth partner, Bloom, highlights the impact that reporting can have on smaller organisations:
“If we had to do as much reporting as expected by large funders, then we’d probably spend more than half the year just writing reports, and we wouldn’t be able to do half the work we are actually doing!”
Funding cycles need to be much longer term, reflecting the natural rhythms in the ecological and social systems in which conservation has to operate. Changing the fate of a species within its ecosystem, or fostering societal change for conservation, cannot normally be achieved in 3 years! When Synchronicity Earth commits to supporting a partner, we try to understand their long-term needs and generally aspire to fund them over a longer timeframe. This may mean providing flexible one-year grants over 4 or 5 consecutive years or more, which we have done for many of our partners, but as our capacity to give larger grants grows, we will be able to provide a greater number of multi-year grants from the beginning.
Building relationships and understanding needs
Wherever Synchronicity Earth supports work, the relationships we develop with people and organisations are central to our ability to create strategic programmes that have real impact. Through dialogue, site visits and by taking a long-term view, we learn where funding and support will help our partners to achieve their goals, exploring what works and what does not.
For example, Mbou Mon Tour (MMT) is one of 16 local groups that Synchronicity Earth supports through its Congo Basin Programme. Since 2016, we have been providing funding for MMT, learning what they need to achieve their goals. We funded their work to support six local Bateke communities in Mai-Ndombe province to apply to the provincial government to create community forests which they would manage themselves.