Original article published by Mongabay, October 20, 2023 by Malavika Vyawahare
In “Rooting for Change,” a recent study from Maliasili, it was revealed that one of the greatest challenges that small, locally-based conservation organizations in Africa face when trying to build relationships with larger international NGOs is a lack of trust and autonomy. Of the local organizations interviewed as part of the study, 71% cited these difficulties as an impediment to achieving the greatest possible conservation success through such collaborations.
Big international NGOs—nicknamed BINGOs—often form these relationships with the best intentions, but in practice, their partnerships with local partners can sometimes feel more like dictatorships than collaborative relationships. Maliasili’s report shows that 88% of smaller organizations interviewed rely heavily on the funding that BINGOs provide, which can lead to the smaller organizations feeling beholden to the influence that BINGOs can assert, or even feeling held back by them.
Resson Kantai Duff, Director of Portfolio Funding at Maliasili and former Deputy Director of Ewaso Lions, points out the growing demand to “localize conservation funding and decision-making” since local communities play such a pivotal role in conservation work. This makes the imbalance in power between local groups and BINGOs highlighted in the report all the more troubling.
“The person giving the money is naturally the boss,” says Aristide Takoukam Kamla, Founder of the African Marine Mammal Conservation Organization and former WCN Career Program recipient, who participated in the study. “[But] the funder is not on the field, so sometimes they don’t know the reality.”
Dr. Moreangels Mbizah, Founder of Wildlife Conservation Action and a Lion Recovery Fund grantee, echoes the sentiment that some BINGOs will not trust smaller groups with large grants, and some historical inequities stemming from colonialism and parachute conservation can stoke mistrust among local conservationists in BINGOs’ ability to respect the decision-making of their local partners.
Local conservationists want partners they can trust, who share decision-making power and bring respect, not just money, to the table. Dr. Mbizah named Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN) as an example of an international partner that fosters healthy collaboration and provides crucial support without hindering the partnership with bureaucracy or power dynamics. Unrestricted funding is so important to address the many intricacies and challenges of conservation work, and WCN’s 100% donation model helps funding reach partners in the field with zero overhead taken out.
At WCN, we know that conservation is not possible without the leadership of local conservationists and involvement from the communities living alongside wildlife. We are proud to play an important role in supporting the critical efforts of our local partners, and trust that their insights about wildlife and their shared landscapes, along with generations of traditional knowledge, are the most important tools we have to ensure that endangered wildlife can coexist with people and thrive.