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Group of about 25 miners, most wearing orange vests and hard hats, stand outside a mine.
Bolivian miners trained by CEPF grantee Wildlife Conservation Society in environmental best practices.
© Omar Torrico/WCS

7 Tips from Conservationists on Working with the Private Sector

Finding common ground with for-profit stakeholders

For many conservation projects, partnering with the private sector is crucial for success. Whether it’s a bank, an oil company or a coffee producer, these businesses have a huge influence on the community. Long-term success, therefore, likely isn’t possible without their participation.

We reached out to a few CEPF grantees who’ve worked with for-profit stakeholders to get their advice on the best ways to overcome common hurdles and make these collaborations successful.

1. Ensure the partnership is a “win-win.”

Your conservation pursuits may be important, but the fact is that the private sector has different priorities. To pique their interest, you need to appeal to their goals, not just yours.

“If conservationists want to engage with the private sector, they should not forget that the private sector’s main objective is to keep their activities profitable and sustainable,” said Koloina Anjatiana Ramaromandray from Miarakap, an impact investment fund in Madagascar. “The ideal scenario would be that the environment conservation aspect is directly embedded into the business model and for the impact and profitability to be interdependent.”

Kendra Hasenick from Calidris Association, which is building birding trails in Colombia to bolster ecotourism, agreed. Calidris integrated local business owners and tour operators into their project model, encouraging them to adopt good tourism practices. “Think about what they want and need, and how you can get it for them,” she said. “Can you solve both your problem and theirs simultaneously? Be innovative.”

2. Be upfront with your intentions.

Though you want to ensure what you have to offer is appealing to the private sector, that doesn’t mean you have to hide your own motivations. 

“Be open about your conservation intentions,” said Mirjan Topi from PPNEA in Albania, which worked with the private sector to develop alternative livelihoods for local communities. “This makes you more reliable.”

3. Don’t assume your audience already understands the importance of conservation.

Before discussing a new collaboration with a potential private sector partner, you may need to take a step back and explain how a healthy ecosystem benefits their business’ success.

In India, Applied Environmental Research Foundation (AERF) worked with various companies through its Business and Biodiversity initiative. AERF’s Jayant Sarnaik said they encountered a “very low level of awareness” about the critical role healthy ecosystems provided in sustaining business operations. Without that understanding, it’s difficult to generate enthusiasm or a commitment from the private sector.

One of the ways AERF has tackled that challenge was by creating experiential learning opportunities for private sector staff to help them understand the impacts of biodiversity loss and forest degradation. For example, AERF brought 15 employees from HSBC Bank into the field for a week and asked them to develop a financial plan that would bring 10,000 hectares of forest under conservation management.

4. Take the time you need to prepare.

“If we were to do it over again, we would put more emphasis on incubating and nurturing the projects before the investment,” Ramaromandray said. “I would have avoided premature meetings.”

Being well-prepared should continue throughout the entirety of the project. "It is crucial to plan each consultation process, consult inclusively, document the process and communicate follow-up," said Saleem Hamadeh from Environment for Life, which is working to maintain traditional land-use practices in Lebanon.

5. Consider non-monetary incentives for the private sector.

“There can be benefits not related to money,” said Awatef Abiadh from the CEPF Mediterranean Basin Regional Implementation Team. She noted CEPF grantee Notre Grand Bleu in Tunisia, which incentivized local fishermen to participate in conservation work by allowing the fishermen to moor their boats in areas that would have otherwise been off limits. 

6. Think long-term.

“Most of the time, the private sector provides actions that have incremental rather than immediate impacts, and it is often these impacts that are the most sustainable,” Ramaromandray said. 

7. Set realistic expectations.

It’s important to be honest about what you can provide and what you cannot. “Be clear and concrete,” Topi said. “Avoid overpromising and always deliver on what you have promised.” Doing so will boost your reputation as a trustworthy partner.