Sophie Grange-Chamfray, Synchronicity Earth Knowledge and Learning Manager, reflects on what she has learnt through her work with locally-led conservation organisations in the Congo Basin.
At Synchronicity Earth, developing trusted and open relationships with our partners (‘grantees’) is at the core of our conservation programmes. This approach is deeply rooted in our philosophy and is constantly guiding and informing our decisions. Over time, we have gradually embarked on a learning journey that now enables us to provide better support to those individuals and groups directly concerned and affected by biodiversity loss and threats to natural ecosystems.
Since we believe locally-led initiatives offer the most effective solutions to address today’s conservation challenges, many of our partners are small organisations and grassroots groups that belong to or work with local communities and Indigenous Peoples to safeguard the incredible ecological and cultural biodiversity of our planet Earth. Many of them develop their activities in response to urgent and identified conservation needs in their areas and use their experience and knowledge to implement locally adapted solutions. All of them will go through challenges and successes and have to adapt quickly to a constantly changing environment. This is especially true in regions affected by political instability and extreme poverty, and where conservation work is largely underfunded.
In many cases, small organisations are unable to take much time to reflect on their work – usually because of the inherent pressure to deliver results for short-term conservation funding. As a result, many of these organisations struggle to define a long-term vision and assess their impacts.
I have been working at Synchronicity Earth since November 2018 and during that time I have started to develop relationships with partners in the Congo Basin region. Through our regular discussions, we have had the opportunity to learn about each other, our work and our backgrounds. On several occasions, some partners expressed their willingness to better understand the impacts of their activities and their work with communities, and directly asked me for specific support on this… that’s where our learning journey really started!
As a funder we always chose not to ask partners to complete complex proposals with logical frameworks. Instead, we designed simple forms in different languages that guide partners to develop their proposal through a series of simple questions, which break down the required stages for the adaptive management of a project. We analyse these proposals and discuss them with our partners to learn together and provide support or advice when appropriate. In collaboration with my team and our Congo Basin affiliates – Bihini Won wa Musiti and Julie Gagoe Tchoko, we also developed simple tools to enable our partners to define and plan their activities, develop their own indicators and evaluate their results to assess their impacts and adapt their approach as needed.
Dr Bihini Won wa Musiti, Synchronicity Earth Congo Basin Affiliate (regional consultant)
We are still adapting and reflecting on our approach to better support our partners, but so far it has brought some powerful changes.
On the one hand, our partners now feel more empowered and equipped to assess, reflect and communicate about their conservation impacts. On the other hand, we have learnt from and with them, which has informed our funding impact and strategy.
If I need to retain some lessons from this learning journey, I will say that communication and openness are key to collectively build and create effective approaches to catalyse conservation action where it is most needed. I’m still fully embarked on this learning journey, and I know it will require long-term commitment and cultural change to develop conservation models that are not only effective, but also inclusive, sustainable and culturally relevant.