Strengthening Partnerships for African Conservation Leadership

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Strong partnerships between global conservation organizations and networks, and effective local African conservation organizations, are a critical ingredient in achieving lasting impact and change. In order to explore some of the key lessons from partnership development in African conservation, the Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group (ABCG), in collaboration with Maliasili Initiatives, organized a dialogue on , hosted by the World Resources Institute, Washington, DC on February 16, 2017.

This half-day dialogue produced a discussion on current practices, challenges, and opportunities related to building robust global-local partnerships that can foster the kind of organizational leadership and capacity that African conservation efforts need to scale up results and address current threats.

Effective and committed local organizations are key change agents in achieving lasting impact in African conservation. Such organizations are driving promising and scalable conservation models, new collaborations, and policy reform efforts across Africa, often working closely with international conservation groups, funders, and government agencies. Finding ways to effectively support and invest in the growth and viability of African conservation organizations, and their individual leaders, is consequently a key long-term strategic issue for the African conservation field.

The dialogue facilitated discussion around the following aspects of these issues:

  • Experiences and case studies of partnership models between international organizations and local African organizations, including different support models for building local civil society capacity.
  • Ways of developing diverse multi-stakeholder collaborations between international and local organizations to achieve systems-level change.
  • Best practices for private and public investment in effective and transformative long-term partnership models.
  • Emerging opportunities through new networks, collaborations, and leadership development models.

Panel speakers brought a variety of perspectives including international conservation groups, research, and specialists working on leadership and organizational effectiveness. Speakers included Peter Veit, World Resources Institute (WRI); Lisa Steel, World Wildlife Fund (WWF); Allison Martin, The Nature Conservancy (TNC); Emily Wilson, Well Grounded, Jessica Campese, Independent Consultant, and Fred Nelson, Maliasili Initiatives (moderator).

In addition, the case study report, AFRICAN ADVOCATES: Partnerships for Building Civil Society, A review of World Resources Institute support to East and Southern African civil society organizations 1995-2005, was introduced. This review highlights key lessons from WRI’s work in the region, and shows how strong, adaptive, and responsive partnerships can have long-lasting impact on the emergence of key civil society organizations working on land and natural resource governance.

Following the panel session, participants divided into working groups to discuss key obstacles and strategies to creating robust and durable global-local partnerships to support African conservation leadership. Priority recommendations from this group work included:

1. Keys to designing and maintaining effective partnerships between international and local organizations:

  • Early and frequent consultation is important for establishing clear expectations of roles
  • Genuine and meaningful inclusion in design and idea generation, and transparency in decision making processes
  • Recognition of the inherent power differential, and respect for legitimacy of parties’ assets and core competencies
  • Awareness of potential challenges
  • Adaptability through flexible funding structures like cooperative agreements can provide local partners opportunities for leadership
  • Willingness by international NGOs to embrace/accept a level of risk when entering into partnerships
  • Structuring requests for proposals, grants and contracts to ensure local organization involvement
  • Building trust through personal and professional relationships for long-term mutual goals should be as important as the focus on building organizational capacity. Healthy partnerships arise from shared vision and commitment to the relationship
  • Including the success of the partnership and not just the accomplished activities as a measure of achievement

2. Key pitfalls to avoid in designing and maintaining partnerships:

  • Not properly vetting local partners to identify potential problems
  • Lack of financial transparency or large budgetary disparities creates power imbalance
  • Reliance on single charismatic leader or individual relationships to sustain partnerships
  • Perpetuating donor dependency or “failure to fledge” phenomena by lack of organizational development
  • Tendency for competitiveness rather than cooperation between lead recipient and implementing partner
  • Inflexible funding arrangements which don’t allow for adaptive management

3. Opportunities for ABCG to promote robust global-local African conservation partnerships:

  • Replicate this Partnership Dialogue in Nairobi to include local African civil society leaders
  • Identify budget for other ABCG member orgs to repeat the WRI case study
  • Use existing networks in Africa to communicate ABCG outputs and share knowledge
  • Create a mechanism for feedback to encourage continued dialogue
  • Strengthen connectivity and collaboration of ABCG members in Africa to encourage and formalize communities of practice
  • Develop a Partnerships Charter where ABCG members agree and commit to using best practices for promoting strong partnerships

Participant organizations represented included ABCG members: Conservation International (CI), the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), TNC, WWF, WRI, as well as Maliasili Initiatives, the Rights and Resources Group, Well Grounded, the Frankfurt Zoological Society, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the State Department, and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

ABCG is supporting WRI, TNC and Maliasili Initiatives through its Emerging Issues small grant Piloting Mechanisms for Strengthening African Conservation Leadership and Organizational Capacity. This project aims to design and pilot a new program for strengthening the management and leadership capacity of key individuals working in African natural resource management and conservation. The training program targets mid-career leaders of outstanding, high-potential organizations in eastern and southern Africa.

ABCG is supported by USAID to advance understanding of critical biodiversity conservation challenges and their solutions in sub-Saharan Africa. ABCG is hosted by the Wildlife Conservation Society, in coalition with the African Wildlife Foundation, CI, JGI, TNC, WRI and WWF.

For more information, please contact Fred Nelson, Maliasili Initiatives, at

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