Winding down or winding up?

By Holger Schmid, Director, Sustainable Economy Programme

Securing lasting results and launching something new, a contradiction?

Considering the winding down of MAVA, we have given much attention to the question of how to ensure lasting results and financially healthy partner organisations by 2022. With conservation and environmental funding stagnating over the last years, it is particularly the latter that is posing a real challenge.

In response to this, we sharpened the thematic focus, developed phase out plans and transition scenarios, all supported by a newly created unit for impact and sustainability – well staffed and resourced. At the same time, we decided to support a new, five-year initiative on circular economy in China, a geography and culture unfamiliar to MAVA. It sounds counterintuitive, but is it a contradiction?

Seizing emerging opportunities

Philanthropy can be an initiator, accelerator and/or an influencer of a given issue. As such, strategy development is much about identifying and seizing opportunities, or, however less often, even about creating these opportunities.

Societal organisation and its development, as well as the type of political system and economic dynamic, all have an influence on whether those opportunities emerge and how open they are to outside participation.

Simplifying, I would argue that within Europe, emerging opportunities are more predictable and take very long to engage in, whereas in China opportunities are less predictable but can present a short window for engagement and rapid innovation. Circular economy could just be in such a window.

Deciding to work in China is therefore a decision to trade predictability for speed of change and scale. The overall chance of impact within a five-year time span could therefore be considered similar in Europe and China.

 It takes trust… and a leap of faith

Funding allocation is usually based on good knowledge of context and project specific due diligence. For a new and time-limited initiative in an unfamiliar environment, investment in building context, culture and country specific knowledge would present a big investment in time and resources.

Opting for a single partner model instead of a collaboration is a valid proposition. Selection is based on excellent track record, trustworthy working relationship and a long-term commitment to the issue, and access to appropriate local partners in the country. After years of working together in Europe, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation fulfils all these criteria.

Working with a trusted partner does not eliminate all uncertainties, it still takes a leap of faith, but one we can take with excitement, not fear. We are confident that we have chosen an opportune time and that over the next five years we can share the excitement and gain support for a lasting initiative.

We believe that new initiatives have a place in a winding down scenario if carried out with the right partner, at the right time and with sufficient resources.

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