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Collaboration at the Speed of Trust—Lessons in Localization

At Environmental Incentives (EI), we know that locally led development is effective development. Shifting from top-down to locally led programming requires supporting local organizations to amplify their impact, often while making use of limited resources.

One way to support this shift is to use existing tools for adaptive management—such as theories of change, situation models, systems mapping, and frameworks like the Conservation Standards—and tailoring them to meet the needs of local actors. Since 2021, EI has done just this to grow our partnership with Fundación Futuro Latinoamericano (FFLA), a Quito, Ecuador-based regional nonprofit committed to fostering locally led sustainable development.  

In 2022 FFLA received funding to lead a regional implementation team under the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), which finances biodiversity projects around the world. The grant involves convening organizational partners in three regions in Ecuador, many of which have never previously collaborated. Building off previous work together, FFLA partnered with EI—through a subgrant under CEPF—to support co-constructing common visions with grant recipients in the project’s three targeted corridors. EI’s support involves organizing kick-off regional workshops, using the Conservation Standards as a meeting tool, and building communities of practice in each region. After the most recent workshop with the Awa Cotacachi cluster, EI’s Lissett Medrano, Moira Pieri, and Paola Zavala reflected on key insights into the impact of using systems-strengthening, inclusive approaches to co-create solutions—including these three localization takeaways.

Three Localization Takeaways from CEPF Workshop Facilitation Process

1. Co-creation is Key

To prepare for the workshops, EI worked with the FFLA team to create situation models for each of the grant recipients’ projects. We also created a high-level situation model combining their two-year projects, providing a visual representation of the synergies between the organizations. The team then developed a high-level theory of change for the cluster. This allowed participants that hadn’t previously collaborated to see the overlap between their work—both shared opportunities and challenges—ultimately leading to identifying priority areas for collaboration as a community of practice.

The workshop was a resounding success—with one key consideration for future workshops and similar efforts. Many participants recommended that similar workshops should take place prior to the grant selection. This would have allowed participants to incorporate the learnings from the workshop into their proposals from the beginning. Overall, the workshops underscore the need for sustained co-creation throughout the life of an activity.

2. Capacity Strengthening Is Multi-Directional

Mirroring the principles of locally led development, capacity strengthening isn’t a top-down process, but rather an opportunity for mutual learning. Supporting local organizations requires significant—but valuable—time and investment in adaptation and flexibility to meet the context. Through this process, all parties can and should generate learnings and resources to strengthen their work, in turn advancing our dual goal to create tools that local organizations can use in future work.

For example, situation models and theories of change are common requirements for conservation projects, but they were new concepts to many of the organizations participating in the CEPF workshop. Through our previous support to a USAID activity focused on supporting ethnic communities in Colombia, EI is in the process of creating a Spanish-language toolkit to simplify the Conservation Standards for new audiences, helping us refine a flexible approach to using and applying the standards in other contexts.

3.  Mapping the Big Picture Is Worth the Work

The work that the EI team did to create a high-level situation model provided significant value to FFLA and the grant recipient participants. Because some of the organizations did not have the resources for this kind of investment, EI was able to help create a clearer understanding of the big picture. The grant recipients expressed how much they valued this deliverable, and how it will help them have greater impact both individually and collectively beyond the life of the program.

Conclusion

Adaptive management is at the center of EI’s work, and this absolutely plays a role in the future of locally led development. Building relationships takes time and it’s worth the investment. After all, results build at the speed of trust—as seen in our partnership with FFLA over the past two years. Through close collaboration with local organizations, we get to know unique contexts and adapt our tools to fit their needs. And by facilitating connections between local partners, like the CEPF grant recipients, we support them in creating a common vision that lays the groundwork for future collaborations after the grant period ends—paving the way for enduring change.

About the Author

Alison Howard is a Communications Associate for the Communications Service Line at Environmental Incentives. In this capacity, she provides communications support across all EI projects and programs.

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