Forests need people - and strong organizations

“Organizations matter. They make it possible for us to pool the strengths we have as individual human beings to achieve things that we could not do alone. They enable us to collectively mobilize our individual powers to face our human challenges with greater possibility.”

-The Barefoot Collective (2009)

The theme of the XIV World Forestry Congress, which kicked off today in Durban, South Africa, is, “Forests and People: Investing in a Sustainable Future.” Such a theme is welcome, as it acknowledges the critical role that forests play in people’s lives, particularly those who live alongside forests, and highlights the need to find innovative and sustainable solutions that will benefit both forest ecosystems and livelihoods. But forests and people need something even more – strong organizations. Sure, organizations are made up of people, but it is the collective action of these people – their shared vision and strategies – that can help shape a sustainable future, for people and forests.

Take for instance the example of the Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative (MCDI), a civil society organization based in southern Tanzania. MCDI is a leading organization in Tanzania working to enable local communities to develop market opportunities from sustainable forest management. In just ten years, MCDI helped 20 communities in southern Tanzania to set aside more than 214,000 hectares of forest as Village Land Forest Reserves. At the same time, MCDI has helped communities generate an income from their conservation efforts. Since 2009, it helped five communities earn more than USD $200,000 in timber sales – a figure they hope to quadruple by 2018. All of the timber harvested is certified as meeting the highest international standards of responsible forest management by a Forest Stewardship Council group certificate, the first and only of its kind in Africa.

Where MCDI works, the future for people and forests looks brighter. And while MCDI has made considerable progress in scaling it’s efforts, it’s operations cover only a fraction of the country. So, in going back to the Congress’s theme, if you want to invest in a sustainable future for people and forests, strengthening leading organizations like MCDI is a great place to start.

However, the way in which organizations are supported, invested in, and sustained over time are topics that get relatively little attention. Within the natural resources field, relatively few initiatives and partnerships are explicitly geared towards strengthening local organizations as a core outcome. And even where such capacity development investments are being made, there is limited documentation of outcomes, models, or best practices.

A new study by Maliasili Initiatives and Well Grounded, entitled Strengthening African Civil Society Organizations for Improved Natural Resource Governance and Conservation, explores this set of issues. The study looked at the major challenges and issues facing African organizations in their growth and development, as well as current practices and trends in funding and external capacity support. The report’s recommendations are as follows:

  • Improving partnerships between African civil society organizations and international actors for greater long-term impact, by developing more collaborative and mutually accountable approaches to partnership design, structure, and investment.
  • Shifting to a more long-term, customized, sustained, and demand-driven organizational support paradigm.
  • Support new approaches and investments in organizational leadership development.
  • Bolster investments in documentation and learning to build up the base of empirical evidence about practices and impacts of organizational strengthening in the African natural resource management, governance, and conservation fields.
  • Encourage greater dialogue around fundamental organizational issues that relate to ownership, constituent accountability, and financial sustainability.

“To fulfill our role we need an enabling environment, which is sometimes missing for us as an organization - we don’t have adequate resources.”

-Makala Jasper, Chief Executive Officer, MCDI

This blogpost was originally posted on the World Forestry Congress's #Forests2015 Blog

Strategy, MCDIJessie Davie