Engaged donor, the MAVA trademark

By Ibrahima Thiam, Executive Director, Wetlands International Africa West Coast and Gulf of Guinea

The MAVA Foundation has been working in West Africa for over 20 years now, supporting “conservation that benefits people and nature”. Since the spark was ignited by its founder, Dr Luc Hoffmann, the Foundation has made a remarkable contribution to the success of conservation in several countries and communities in West Africa. Wetlands International is one of the numerous organisations that have benefited from MAVA’s multifaceted support: as such, we have witnessed the evolution of the Foundation’s action over the last few years.

One of MAVA’s distinguishing features is that it defines itself as an engaged donor; by this it means that its action is not limited to the mere provision of financial resources. In addition to grants, MAVA’s relationship with its partners is founded on productive exchanges; this includes capacity building for stakeholders, relationship building and, more recently, the development of leadership adapted to the sector. MAVA’s approach has always been marked by the fact that it listens carefully to its partners, and also ensures permanent exchanges whereby the Foundation shares its points of view with the partners, and provides different types of support without falling into the trap of becoming authoritarian. This trademark gives MAVA’s grant-making a distinctive character particularly well suited to West Africa, by demonstrating flexibility and openness, qualities that are rare in an environment characterised by complexity.

The innovations introduced by MAVA over the years have been very useful in helping to refine the Foundation’s model and its relationship with the stakeholders. Over the last few years, MAVA’s action in West Africa has changed to some extent. In our opinion, three of these changes have played a decisive role in the effectiveness of its action in the sub-region.

Physical Presence in the Region

In 2015, the MAVA Foundation, whose operations have for many years been based at its headquarters in Switzerland, opened an office in Dakar and set up a regional programme team. This choice has brought the Foundation closer to local needs. It has provided greater possibilities to participate in internal processes and to obtain the necessary feedback and cues for its action. As one of MAVA’s partners, this presence helps us to have more direct, permanent access in order to share experiences about the programmes, make decisions about project adjustments, or simply to ensure an increased responsiveness to monitoring activities.

Development of a Programme Area Action Plan

In 2016, MAVA produced an innovative strategy paper to guide the Foundation’s action in West Africa. The implementation of this strategy is done through outcome action plans.  The action plans are drawn up in a participatory manner after careful consideration and numerous exchanges in workshops to which MAVA invites the key stakeholders from the target area: public administrations, civil society, international NGOs, experts, etc. This way, participatory and consensual projects / programmes can be selected and the stakeholders mobilised more effectively. This new modus operandi also helps create ambitious projects and programmes at a sub-regional level in a more coordinated and holistic manner. These action plans also have the advantage of bringing together organisations of different types and with different cultures, and therefore of facilitating inter-organisational learning.

The Promotion of Multi-partner Initiatives and Collaboration

The actions plan workshops have served as a wonderful lever for generating multi-partner initiatives.  These collaborations are necessary given the nature and the extent of the threats facing the different biological targets. However, they are hard to form because of the organisations’ specific characteristics, and also due to the compartmentalisation of projects that frequently occurs in the sector. These sometimes hard and even divisive initiatives often took a long time to develop. However, once the learning period was over, the stakeholders recognised the relevance and the usefulness of these consortia of players. Admittedly, the initiatives require a lot of time to become functional. They also require new negotiation, prevention and conflict resolution competencies, but they offer more powerful and credible platforms for action than the organisations taken individually.

It is encouraging to note that MAVA is working to refine its ‘engaged donor’ toolkit in order to provide organisations with new competencies, and to strengthen its partners’ leadership skills.

We hope that MAVA’s model will inspire other key stakeholders in supporting conservation in West Africa.

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