Funding in politically unstable countries: high risk, huge pay-off

By Cecilia Gas, Intern, MAVA Foundation

Supporting environmental conservation projects in politically unstable countries may not appear as a safe bet for the donor, however if you work with good and dynamic partners the outcomes of the project can be extremely impactful and gratifying.

It was not long ago that I started working at MAVA, but as I entered the job I was quickly very busy with the administrative closing of numerous projects of all sorts. I read about projects of devil rays in Palestine, lynxes in Spain, wetlands in Croatia, protected areas in Switzerland, and circular, green and blue economy. The diversity of the projects seemed endless and so did my constant learning.

This exercise allowed me to understand how the Foundation works, the type of projects we support and some of the difficulties that we encounter, but most importantly it helped me identify some important lessons.

One of the lessons that could be drawn and that we would like to share with you is on the importance of supporting work in politically unstable countries.

You may wonder: why fund projects in unstable countries when conservation objectives could be more easily achieved in a stable country?

Well, typically, politically or socially unstable countries do not receive much funding to support conservation but this does not mean they are less important. Often donors are afraid of investing in them because they are wary of the situation, prefer surer bets, or do not realise that the projects can be impactful despite the difficult local context. Our experience is that, to the contrary, funding small and medium conservation NGOs is critical to deliver promising conservation outputs and maintain civil society alive in turbulent times.

For this, some aspects need to be taken into consideration:

Expect delays

Political turmoil can easily delay the outputs of a project. Some activities may need to be cancelled for security reasons and alternatives will need to be foreseen. It is important to remain flexible and adapt to unexpected circumstances.

Perception matters

When working in a politically unstable country it is important to work with a partner that is acknowledged and respected at the national level. On several occasions the image of our partners proved to be an essential leverage to negotiate with governmental institutions and achieve promising advances.

Work with dynamic partners

Dynamic and capable partners can achieve good results regardless of the political situation of the country. With some of our partners we were able to fulfil our projects in countries or areas like Libya, Northern Cyprus and Gaza. The political situation wasn’t a handicap for our active partners to successfully carry out their missions.

Give them a chance!

Unstable countries often put on hold their conservation work due to lack of resources. Supporting projects in these countries can lead to promising results and be a signal of hope for many of them. For instance in Israel, Palestine and Jordan, the three countries came together to ecologically protect their agricultural fields from rodents through the use of barn owls. In Gaza, a committed group of scientists achieved extraordinary scientific results by tracking and collecting information on giant devil rays. And in Northern Cyprus, where the area is stable but funding is scarce due to the political situation, our partner successfully protected sea turtles nesting sites.

Supporting unstable countries can have its risks but the outcomes can be significant. Despite some delays, most of our projects in conflict-stricken countries achieved their conservation objectives, bringing hope to the conservation efforts in the area and the civil society that struggles day by day to maintain forward progress.

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