By: Louise Brown, Mirja Stoldt and Toini Amutenya

The Empower to Adapt project was implemented by the Environmental Investment Fund of Namibia (EIF) from 2017 – 2022 with a grant of USD 10 million from the Green Climate Fund. The project, which aimed to strengthen climate resilience through community-based natural resource management, was the first in Namibia to provide funding directly to community-based organisations (CBOs) through a small grants programme. This approach represents a paradigm shift in financing climate change adaptation and resilience, as it puts the communities most vulnerable to climate change impacts in the driver’s seat of defining and implementing the interventions needed to build their resilience. It was also the first project globally to pilot the GCF’s enhanced direct access modality, which aimed to devolve decision-making to the national and sub-national levels.

A new report, jointly published by the Namibia Nature Foundation, Triple Capital and the EIF, presents the experiences and lessons learned from the implementation of the EIF’s Empower to Adapt project and sets out recommendations for the GCF and other funders looking to support locally-led adaptation interventions. It also sets out recommendations for the EIF and other developing country institutions looking to implement similar projects. It draws on information provided through interviews with project beneficiaries and a range of other project stakeholders, as well as project documentation provided by the EIF. It builds on a previous report, that looked at the EIF’s experience with its four GCF-funded projects.

Some of the key recommendations for the GCF and other climate funders are as follows:

  • Invest in building capacity and governance systems at the local level. One of the major challenges that the project faced was limited capacity within CBOs to manage their small grant projects, combined with weak governance systems at the local level. These capacities and systems are a pre-requisite for a project to have a lasting impact.
  • Provide patient, predictable funding over long periods. The five-year time frame of the project was not well suited to the needs of the communities, as it did not provide adequate time for learning and investing in long-term adaptation solutions. Communities require modest but consistent and predictable funding over time frames of 10 years or more.
  • Be willing to take risk and have the flexibility to learn and adapt. The project represented a new approach for Namibia, for the EIF and for the GCF. As a result, there were some things that didn’t work as planned, and there was a lot of learning along the way. It is important for funders like the GCF to take risks in piloting new approaches, to view failures as learning opportunities, and to adopt adaptable approaches that allow such learning to be integrated into the design of the project during implementation.
  • Review the approach to environmental and social safeguards to enhance impact. A more pragmatic approach to the application of environmental and social safeguards would allow small grant projects to have more impact, while still minimising risk, and at the same time enabling the EIF to build its experience in managing medium risk projects.
  • Provide for higher management fees that are proportionate with costs. The implementation of the small grants programme required much more time and resources to manage than a regular project, and the EIF projects management fee of 8% and monitoring and evaluation fee of 3% were insufficient to cover the full costs of managing and monitoring the project.
  • Consider innovative approaches to building resilience in conflict settings. Conflict was a factor that reduced the success of small grant projects, however climate change can exacerbate conflict in resource-poor settings, and vice versa. Integrating peace-building elements into projects in conflict-affected communities may offer a means of addressing interlinked challenges in a judicious manner.
  • Review the design of the EDA modality. In light of the experiences and findings, the EDA modality should be redesigned to better align it to the needs of local communities, drawing on the principles for locally-led adaptation as a guide. The report provides some suggestions for what an improved EDA modality might look like.

Some recommendations for the EIF and other developing country entities looking to design locally-led adaptation programmes are as follows:

  • Provide guidance to CBOs in format and language that is accessible to them, and ensure there is clarity on roles and responsibilities. This would help to minimise misunderstandings that may arise during project implementation.
  • Vet agreements between CBOs and third parties. In the majority of cases, the CBOs are less experienced in contractual matters than their partners, and are at risk of being manipulated. Vetting any agreements related to the project would ensure that they are in the best interest of the CBO and that the CBO understands the terms of the agreement.
  • Provide project development funding where it could enhance proposal quality, especially for convening communities to agree on priority needs and to come up with project ideas.
  • Support revenue generating activities for longer term sustainability. Ultimately, adaptation interventions will only achieve long term sustainability if they enable communities to establish revenue-generating activities from their natural resources. CBOs may need support to identify and nurture win-win partnerships with private sector or other partners to scale up income generation.
  • Ensure strong checks and balances to protect against misuse of funds. The EIF project had a number of important measures for ensuring good financial management and identifying any possible challenges at an early stage, including a tranched disbursement approach with the release of each tranche linked to submission of reports and verification of satisfactory utilisation of the previous tranche.
  • Enhance the exit process for improved sustainability, and include a contingency budget. This would strengthen the impact of interventions beyond the timeline of the project.
  • Broaden the eligible grantees and consider incentives for good project management. This would allow more innovation in the design and implementation of projects as well as a more meritocratic approach to allocating funds, thereby incentivising improvements in governance and project management and enhancing accountability.

The Empower to Adapt project demonstrated a successful model of empowering locally-led adaptation, and the EIF is already integrating lessons learned from the project into its subsequent GCF-funded Ecosystem-based Adaptation project. It is hoped that the lessons learned from this experience will be helpful to funders and implementers globally in empowering actors at the local level to adapt to climate change in ways that are responsive to their unique needs and contexts.

Read full report (Here)