This summer is an exciting time for me—how often does a donor get to go back and see what happened 20 years after support ended? I’ve spent a significant part of the last two years working on an evaluation of USAID’s conservation enterprise investments.
Conservation enterprises are community businesses that generate income for rural communities and conserve nature at the same time. Going back to a site after 20 years is a pretty rare opportunity in the development world and one that provided a lot of lessons about how and why our efforts to improve community self-reliance work, or don’t, and what we need to do to improve the chance for success.
To compare approaches at six different USAID-funded sites, we worked through our assumptions about how our actions would lead to results. In short, we think that if the right conditions are in place and people receive benefits from the enterprises, then their attitudes and behavior toward conservation will change, which will reduce threats and ultimately conserve nature. Maybe money really can grow on trees!
The good news is that the enterprises are still operating at all of the sites. At some of the sites, we could see how people’s lives have changed because they make money from well-managed forests.
More girls have been able to go to school, more people have rights to their resources, and more people are very proud of their forests.
We saw first-hand how the more valuable the product, the more difficult it is to navigate competing interests and ensure access rights. In the Philippines, almacega is used to make resins and is burned as incense. Managing who has access to these forests and rights to harvest it has often led to conflict.
The role that visionary local leadership plays was evident at each site—they all had leaders who could inspire people and lead through conflict and change.
At all of the sites, though, I learned that more expertise is needed to measure and monitor progress so we can connect what we do with what really happens for impact. Also, as a project planner at a large donor institution, I need to find a way to allow more time to get to results—they don’t magically appear in a five-year funding period. It was satisfying to see how sustainable conservation enterprises can generate income for people that depend closely on the land and lead to multiple benefits like education, health and security.
I saw examples of how courageous people like Felisa Navas Pérez in the Maya Biosphere Reserve of Guatemala stood up to illegal loggers after they killed the community president’s son—because she thought they would be less likely to murder a woman.
This retrospective evaluation helped show me how valuable it is to go back to project sites and learn from the experiences of our partners, and that building local self-reliance catalyzes a virtuous cycle of benefits that flow from businesses to people to forests, and then back again.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Megan Hill is an Environment Protection Specialist in USAID’s Office of Forestry and Biodiversity
- Please join us for a webinar on The Nature of Conservation Enterprises: A 20-Year Retrospective Evaluation. Speakers include: Dilys Roe (International Institute for Environment and Development); Judy Boshoven (Measuring Impact); Ann Koontz (Relief International); David Hircock (Estee Lauder); Mark Moroge (Rainforest Alliance); and Jason Houston (Ind. Photographer).
When: Wednesday, September 5, 9:00am EDT
Register Here: https://goo.gl/forms/Y1sGeszlJxJGHbSe2
Meeting website: https://www.gotomeet.me/EIteam2
- Check out the full text The Nature of Conservation Enterprises: A 20-year retrospective evaluation of the theory of change behind this widely used approach to biodiversity conservation.
- Discover more about the six sites visited with this photo story.