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This New Global Conservation Fund Aims to Move Dollars Directly to Indigenous Groups — Inside Philanthropy

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Over the last four months of 2021, two related billion-dollar-plus pledges were unveiled promising much-needed funds for land conservation efforts by Indigenous communities. 

The pair of commitments—a five-year, $1.7 billion pledge by governments and philanthropy and a 10-year, $5 billion foundation-backed initiative called the Protecting Our Planet Challenge, which earmarked 20% of its funding for work related to the other pledge—were landmarks in their size and significance. The announcements came as a growing scientific consensus confirms what Indigenous peoples have long known: They play an outsized role in preserving biodiversity and preventing deforestation.

But given a long history of such funding going largely to white-led international NGOs, many observers were concerned from the outset about what share of the money would actually reach Indigenous leaders. One recent study found that Indigenous peoples and local communities (or IPLC, the summary phrase favored in development circles) receive less than 1% of climate finance—and just 17% of such funding involved an IPLC organization.

This week, a pair of organizations launched a new funding mechanism to serve as an intermediary to channel money from both pledges directly to Indigenous organizations and communities, and send future conservation support in that direction, as well. The goal is to bypass the hurdles such groups often face as they seek funding from philanthropy and other sources.

Dubbed the Community Land Rights and Conservation Finance Initiative, which goes by the very pronounceable acronym of CLARIFI (i.e., “clarify”), it is a product of two organizations—the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), an international coalition of more than 150 organizations in Africa, Asia and Latin America that work on resource rights for Indigenous peoples and others, as well as the Wyss Foundation-backed Campaign for Nature. 

CLARIFI wants to achieve two overarching goals: recognizing the land rights of Indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant peoples and local communities (particularly women within these communities) for at least 400 million hectares of additional territory; and expanding those communities’ legal land ownership to cover at least 50% of all tropical forests. Aside from any conservation goal, these milestones are in service of securing long-overdue rights and protection for Indigenous territories, a mission that is sometimes overlooked as climate change takes center stage.

One challenge the fund faces is that, historically, just 11% of the funding directed toward Indigenous peoples and local communities has been for securing land tenure, a cause which tends to be more politically sensitive than, say, forest management, according to a Rainforest Foundation Norway study

“In a nutshell, this is really filling the gaps—the gaps within the financial, climate and biodiversity sectors, but also filling a gap in recognizing the rights of local communities,” said Dr. Solange Bandiaky-Badji, coordinator of RRI and president of the related Rights and Resources Group, which coordinates the initiative.

While there are many details still left to hash out following CLARIFI’s launch this week, not to mention the matter of raising the estimated billions of dollars necessary to secure Indigenous land rights, here’s an overview of its intended role and how it came about.

A “missing link” between funders and Indigenous peoples

RRI is already involved in two international financing mechanisms. One of them, called the Strategic Response Mechanism, provides groups with grants of $10,000 to $100,000 to address unforeseen challenges or opportunities. The other, the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility, known as the Tenure Facility, offers grants of $1 million to $2 million in countries with an established framework for land rights. 

The new fund will, in part, fill the gap between those two structures. It aims to provide grants of $100,000 to $1 million to on-the-ground groups working to secure land rights, but which are not located in areas with the type of legal environment required by the Tenure Facility. “Maybe thousands of organizations are out there but have not been able to [get] funding to do such work,” Bandiaky-Badji said.

The fund, which will be legally based in Washington, D.C., also plans to serve as a pass-through organization for grants of $5 million to $50 million to an emerging set of national and regional funds set up by Indigenous and community organizations around the world to support land rights. Among other challenges, those funds struggle to receive support from American foundations and individual donors since they are not based in the United States, Bandiaky-Badji said.

To design and guide the fund, RRI members elected a five-person steering committee, including one member each from Africa, Latin America and Asia to ensure geographical diversity. The committee, whose other members are Bandiaky-Badji and a representative from Campaign for Nature, will later grow to include an even wider range of representation from Indigenous peoples and local communities from the RRI membership and key donors.

“CLARIFI addresses a need long felt by Indigenous and community organizations for a vehicle that mobilizes funding directly to them for activities not yet supported adequately by any donor,” said Pasang Dolma Sherpa, executive director of the Nepal-based Center for Indigenous Peoples’ Research and Development, who serves on CLARIFI’s Steering Committee, in the fund’s announcement.

Multiple billion-dollar goals

To secure land rights for Indigenous communities at a rate sufficient to meet the challenge of climate change, research suggests an enormous investment is needed. Last year, RRI and the Campaign for Nature did an in-depth analysis of land rights in countries around the globe. They looked at the historic rate at which such rights were recognized—and how much that progress cost, relying on more than a decade of experience. Based on those calculations, they estimated that a full $10 billion is needed by 2030 to achieve the 400 million hectares goal, and thereby stay on track with the goal of conserving 30% of the planet by 2030, a key milestone in mitigating climate change.

As a first step, RRI and allies set a goal of raising $1 billion by last year’s international climate change conference in Glasgow, known as COP26. At the time, some considered that amount “too ambitious,” Bandiaky-Badji said. But ultimately, governments and foundations pledged $1.7 billion over three years. To be clear, none of that funding is currently committed to CLARIFI, but the fund hopes to be one of many intermediaries to channel that money and future pledges to Indigenous communities and related organizations.

Private philanthropy helping to shift the sector

Private philanthropy’s increasing presence in this field, most visibly in the commitments last year, is laying the groundwork for this new work and helping set new standards compared to what was common under public grantmakers, according to Bandiaky-Badji.

In early December, the Bezos Earth Fund announced its latest round of grants, including a $25 million grant to RRI. Bandiaky-Badji said the majority of that funding is intended for regranting, an exercise she said would serve as a pilot in drafting the administrative procedures of CLARIFI. Notably, another Bezos recipient, ClimateWorks Foundation, which received $30 million, is partnering with the Tenure Facility to distribute that funding.

Philanthropy can be infamous for its exacting requirements. But some new funders in this area are taking a different path. “They are also coming up with new requirements that are flexible, and could be very helpful for Indigenous peoples and local communities,” Bandiaky-Badji said. “For example, they are not really asking [for the] classical bilateral donor’s requirement of coming up with this output-outcome way of reporting.” 

RRI is developing alternative approaches to due diligence, financial management and reporting that will not block less traditionally formalized groups from accessing funding. It aims to come up with arrangements that are appropriate for those communities while still ensuring transparency and donor confidence.

“That’s a new dimension that the private philanthropists are bringing into the sector, which is really key. And I think they should keep on doing more of that,” Bandiaky-Badji said.

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Environmental Protection

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  1. There is a need in Melanesia, for Indigenous peoples who live in tribes, in islands and villages, need attention. We have third largest rainforest, and the largest human tribes and languages on earth, but keep declining due to modernisation processes.