Guest blog – D. Karavellas, WWF Greece: Reflecting on a strategic partnership

By Demetres Karavellas, CEO, WWF Greece

Twenty five years ago, I found myself walking along a sea turtle nesting beach on the island of Zakynthos, together with Luc Hoffmann. With the enthusiasm and impatience of a young conservationist at that time, I was telling him about all the tough challenges we were facing in trying to protect the nesting beaches and establish a marine park. I remember Luc stopped for a moment, and said in that soft, kind voice ‘we must be patient and persist, these efforts take time’.

Luc understood the importance of respecting the rhythms of change, both in nature and in local communities. In a diverse region such as the Mediterranean, where humans have co-existed and co-evolved with nature for years, this understanding is fundamental to the success and long term viability of conservation efforts. In short, just as Luc had said, conservation takes time.

Since our initial establishment in the early 90’s, WWF Greece has enjoyed the continued support of the MAVA Foundation. We are proud and privileged to be considered a partner. Many of our conservation successes over the last 25 years would not have been possible were it not for MAVA. Looking back on all these years, there are certainly many valuable lessons to be learned. Here are the top three for me:

⇒ From project donor to strategic partner: Over the years, our relationship with MAVA has evolved, from that of a donor of individual projects to one of a strategic partner. This change has had important positive implications for both parties. From our side, it has allowed us to plan and implement long-term strategies with the relative security and support of a major partner. We have managed to diversify our funding sources, with the overall aim of securing financial sustainability and growing our individual supporter base. For an NGO operating in the challenging setting of Greece, this is no easy task but having MAVA as a strategic partner has certainly made it that much more feasible. From MAVA’s perspective, I presume this shift translates to better alignment of strategies, empowering of its partners and ultimately, greater impact.

⇒ Trust and transparency: The fact that our two organisations have known each other for so long is certainly a plus, but time alone does not de facto guarantee success. Our relationship with the MAVA Foundation has been built on the principles of trust and transparency. We have learned to speak openly and take pride together in our successes but also to share our failures and challenges. It has not always been easy but being open and honest with each other has proven to be absolutely key. It goes without saying that the special relationships and friendships that have developed between our people over time have also been critical.

⇒ Scaling up resources and impact: A few years back, we started a project to identify and protect hundreds of small wetlands located on the Greek islands. With the encouragement of the MAVA Foundation, that project has now evolved into a pan-Mediterranean effort called MedisWet that aims to replicate and scale up our experience from Greece to the entire region. In the transboundary Prespa region, we worked together with MAVA and other partners to develop PONT, a conservation trust fund that will provide long-term financing to conservation efforts. Important initiatives such as these have brought us out of our respective comfort zones and together we have scaled up resources, brought together many other partners and hopefully through this, will achieve greater impact.

When it comes to supporting long-term conservation in Greece and the Mediterranean, the MAVA Foundation is in a class of its own. As we plan for the years ahead when MAVA will no longer be with us, we will treasure and build on the lessons we have learned, we will remember the great people we have worked with, and we will honour the vision and wisdom of Luc Hoffmann.

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