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A large group of smiling people in red T-shirts pose for a photo.
Participants in the CEPF Regional Implementation Team Exchange.
© Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI)

Five Ways CEPF and Its Regional Teams Are Working to Enhance Grantee Support

A gathering of regional implementation teams yields new ideas and best practices

CEPF's regional implementation teams (RITs) are made up of organizations located in or near each biodiversity hotspot where CEPF is investing. CEPF has contracted with these groups to work in the hotspots directly with CEPF’s grantees, helping to build local capacity and implement CEPF’s strategy. Their local presence and expertise are vital to CEPF's success.

In November in Quito, Ecuador, CEPF and representatives of its eight RITs from across the globe gathered to talk about ideas, challenges and successes in working with CEPF grantees. Many productive discussions were held that will improve support for biodiversity conservation and the people who make it happen. 

Here are just a few ways CEPF and its regional teams are working with grantee organizations for better conservation.

1) Building Community Among Grantees

In the Tropical Andes Hotspot, the Ecuador RIT has been working to achieve sustainability and long-term impact by collaborating with grantees to create a “Community of Practice''—an open, collaborative learning space in which knowledge and experiences are shared continuously. Communities offer social learning that encourages cooperation, knowledge sharing and innovation.

Carlos Cabrera, the manager for the Ecuador RIT, noted that many civil society organizations working side by side lack a shared vision. He described how the Ecuador RIT employed a series of virtual and in-person gatherings of the RIT and grantees to develop a theory of change and a results chain for each of the country’s three clusters of grants. This will lead to:

  • Development of an action plan to achieve common objectives.
  • Creation of a venue for reviewing progress and considering adaptive management.
  • Establishment of necessary procedures for the community of practice to ensure its efficacy. 

While the process to develop a community of practice is challenging, the benefits are clear. Experience with a cluster of grantees working in the Awá-Cotacachi-Ilinizas region revealed that a community of practice can lead to:

Greater access to information relevant to an organization’s objectives.

  • Reduced overlap among projects and increased efficiency.
  • Successes achieved via a range of methods of participation.
  • A model that responds to specific local needs to help achieve goals.

Other RITs are evaluating the Ecuador experience with such communities as a possible means to increase grantee and conservation success.

2) Supporting Development of Grantee Organizations

The RIT for the Mediterranean Basin Biodiversity Hotspot—led by BirdLife International—has gained a lot of experience in the field of organizational development over the years. Aurélien Garreau, Cabo Verde program officer for the Mediterranean RIT, shared key lessons. Some "essentials" for helping organizations become more resilient and capable of achieving their objectives in a sustainable manner include:

  • Strengthening technical skills.
  • Ensuring the presence of organizational foundations, including strategy, governance, procedures, finance and fundraising.
  • Building staff commitment to the organization and its mission.
  • Developing strong relationships with stakeholders.

As organizations grow and learn, Garreau noted, the type of support that should be provided is sure to vary. The RIT presented its three-fold approach. The first step is an evaluation, entailing an analysis of an organization's responses to CEPF's Gender Tracking Tool and Civil Society Tracking Tool; review of the national context and hotspot assessments; and preparation of an organizational development action plan. 

Step two is direct support from the RIT, which may involve day-to-day coaching, targeted trainings and integration of capacity building and organizational development into grants. 

Step three expands the horizons of the grantee, with a major focus on networking. Grantees are helped to participate in conferences, events and exchange visits. Grantees are also encouraged to interact with other grantees to share experiences and learn from each other. Meanwhile, the RIT plays an active role in publicizing grantee results and assisting them to develop fruitful partnerships. 

3) Sharing Best Practices for Social Media 

CEPF and its RITs conduct their own social media outreach to key audiences and encourage grantees to do the same. Alex McWilliam, manager for the Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot RIT, IUCN Asia, presented social media best practices gleaned in communicating about CEPF and the RIT's activities as well as interacting with grantees on social media. 

Some tips:

  • Determine who your target audience is—perhaps donors, conservation organizations or communities—then select the best social media channels to reach them. Consider including local/regional platforms among your channels (examples: Line in Thailand or Zalo in Vietnam).
  • Stick to one message. Don’t try to say too much. 
  • Avoid jargon. It's hard to get around sometimes—conservation involves science and technical practices that can be difficult to translate to broadly understood terms. But clarity is an essential part of social media success.
  • Visuals are more engaging than text.
  • Use a few hashtags, handles and/or tags where applicable—they offer the potential for better/broader engagement. Are the hashtags actually used? Check by searching for the hashtag in the social media channel.

4) Offering Tips for Better Photos

Visuals are vital to effective communication. They can bring conservation work to life for donors and other stakeholders. 

CEPF's Executive Director Olivier Langrand, who is also an avid photographer, shared tips for getting good photos even with a cell phone. His recommendations include:

  • Keep a respectful distance from wildlife to avoid disturbing the subject, damaging their habitat or just photographing an animal that looks distressed. 
  • Cell phones can be effective for close-ups of some species, such as flowers, reptiles, amphibians and butterflies when they're not in motion. However, a telephoto lens is necessary to get good close-up photos of some species, such as birds and mammals. 
  • When photographing species, try to take the photo at eye level, even if you have to get on your knees or stomach. 
  • Attempt to show scale when you photograph a vast landscape such as a mountain range. Including a house in the image, for example, can help the viewer better understand what they're seeing.
  • Ask for permission when photographing people and keep a respectful distance—getting too close with a camera may make a person uncomfortable.
  • Beware of hats when photographing people—they can cast a shadow on the subject's face.
  • When taking a posed group photo, have just one photographer shooting at any given time so the subjects know where to look. You want all eyes looking in the same direction.

For more tips, read "How to Take Great Project Photos." 

5) Engaging Youth in Conservation

Investing time and resources to get young people involved in conservation is an important element of forging a future for nature. Michel Pierre from the RIT for the Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands Hotspot led a discussion on what is currently being done to engage young people and ideas for enhancing their involvement in the future. CEPF's RITs and grantees have taken actions to engage with this important sector of society. Some examples:

  • Having students produce TikTok videos on conservation topics to share key messages.
  • Linking sports to conservation projects.
  • Including students in species research.
  • Training young scientists as part of projects and offering fellowships.
  • Internalizing the importance of young people into an organization, weaving their interests and concerns into policies and procedures. 

Ideas welcome

CEPF, its RITs, grantees and donors are all working together to provide the best support possible to our grantees and to biodiversity. Continuously looking for ways to improve is an important part of the equation and meetings such as the recent RIT gathering provide a great opportunity to identify the best path forward. 

Do you have ideas for improving how CEPF and its regional teams work with grantees? Email cepf@cepf.net with the subject line Ideas for CEPF.