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Home » Profile of the Month » Sep 2016

IOSEA funding opportunities via the GEF Small Grants Programme

Source: Douglas Hykle, IOSEA Coordinator



Part I of the IOSEA Profile of the Month for September 2016 highlights an important programme of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) that provides grants to civil society organisations (CSOs), aimed at reducing threats to the global environment.  Many groups around the IOSEA region have already benefitted from the programme for their work related to marine turtle conservation; and others are encouraged to explore what it has to offer.

The following article completes a trilogy of papers I have developed over the course of 2016, exploring the potential for GEF funding for the IOSEA Marine Turtle Site Network, as well as so-called ‘Enabling Activities’ for IOSEA implementation in selected Indian Ocean countries.  Part II makes reference to these earlier initiatives. 

I remain convinced that these “works-in-progress” are worthwhile for the IOSEA constituency to pursue, even if it may take a number of years of persistent effort to reap the benefits for marine turtle conservation across the region.


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The following description draws in part on material posted on The GEF Small Grants Programme website (
https://sgp.undp.org), as well as an informative “Summary: Joint GEF-UNDP Evaluation of the Small Grants Programme” prepared in 2015 (available for download here).

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) created the Small Grants Programme (SGP) in 1992 with the explicit aim of developing community-led strategies and technologies for reducing threats to the global environment – notably in connection with biodiversity loss, mitigating climate change, and protecting international waters – while at the same time addressing livelihood challenges.

The SGP provides grants to civil society organisations, such as national and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs), community-based organisations (CBOs), and indigenous peoples’ organisations, among others. The programme empowers communities to act and participate in their own development, thus ensuring community ownership and impact.

The SGP is implemented by UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), while the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) provides financial and administrative support.  A relatively small Central Programme Management Team, based in UNDP-New York, provides supervision and technical support. The global Programme Advisor for the Biodiversity portfolio, Dr. Terence Hay-Edie, happens to be based in the UNDP-Bangkok Regional Hub – in the same building where the IOSEA Secretariat has been located since 2003.

The principal strategy of the SGP is to provide small grants – normally up to a maximum of USD 50,000 – to communities to support the use of practices and technologies that benefit the global environment.  Since start-up, the SGP has provided over 18,000 such grants to communities in more than 125 countries. Funds under the SGP are also used for related capacity development, monitoring and evaluation, knowledge management, scaling-up and replication, and project management. Local communities also contribute to the programme in many ways, by committing their time, resources and labour, and by providing knowledge, innovative ideas and in-kind co-financing for SGP projects.

The Fifth Operational Phase of the SGP ran from 2011 to 2014.  The total GEF funding allocated to the programme was USD 288.28 million, consisting of SGP core funds (from GEF replenishment discussions) and additional funds assigned to the SGP by countries out of their GEF country allocations. Activities in each participating country are guided by a country programme strategy.  Each country has a SGP national coordinator, supported substantively by a national steering committee and operationally by a programme assistant. Project ideas are generated at the community level.

The SGP in the IOSEA region

Twenty-six countries around the IOSEA region are participating in the GEF Small Grants Programme.  They are: Cambodia, China, Comoros, Egypt, Eritrea, India, Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Jordan, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Seychelles, South Africa, Sri Lanka, United Republic of Tanzania, Thailand, Timor Leste, Viet Nam, and Yemen.

The purpose of the current review is to determine the extent to which projects in the IOSEA region, directly or indirectly related to marine turtle conservation, have received SFP funding.  Fortunately, the SGP website includes a useful database that is searchable by keyword.  A global search on the keywords “turtle”, “tortue” or “tortuga” yields more than 300 mostly community-based projects that have benefitted marine turtle conservation around the world since the inception of the SGP  (i.e. through its first five operational phases).  An Excel spreadsheet has been compiled, containing information extracted from the online database, which can be sorted by country, grant amount, start date, project status etc. 

A total of about 75 SGP projects (approximately 25 percent of the global number) have been undertaken in the IOSEA region, with a total funding allocation of about USD 2.4 million from February 1998 through December 2015.  Three-quarters of this funding was allocated in the last two Operational Phases (from 2007-2104), suggesting increased attention given to marine turtle conservation activities in recent years.

Civil society organisations operating in 20 IOSEA countries have benefitted from the SGP, as follows (number of projects indicated in parentheses):

Cambodia (1), Comoros (6), Djibouti (1), Eritrea (1), India (3), Indonesia (7), Islamic Republic of Iran (10), Kenya (4), Malaysia (8), Maldives (1), Mauritius (2), Mozambique (6), Pakistan (2), Papua New Guinea (5), Philippines (5), Seychelles (1), Sri Lanka (5), United Republic of Tanzania (1), Viet Nam (1), and Yemen (3).

Within this list, we observe that CSOs in five countries in particular have been especially successful in gaining access to SGP funding.  Organisations in Malaysia have been, by far, the largest beneficiary of the SGP (USD 557,000) followed by those in the Philippines (USD 222,000), Sri Lanka (USD 202,000), Iran (USD 179,000), and Comoros (USD 154,000).

Digging a little deeper, we see that a few organisations have been the recipients of multiple or multi-year grants (i.e. up to 3 or 4 grants each).  The funding allocated to just three NGOs in particular – Marine Research Foundation (Malaysia), World Wide Fund for Nature (Malaysia) and Turtle Conservation Project (Sri Lanka) – accounts for nearly 25% of the entire SGP funding allocated for community-based sea turtle conservation in the IOSEA region over the past two decades.

Individual grant allocations over the years have averaged about USD 33,000, which also probably approximates the median grant size.  (Exceptionally, two grants have been approved for nearly USD 150,000 each and another for USD 78,000, well above the norm.)  Typically, the average SGP project duration is about 20 months; with 29 of 74 projects lasting around two years or longer.   Exceptionally, two projects are reported to have extended more than four years.  Currently, about 20 projects are said to be “under execution”, however half of these projects were scheduled to have been completed between 2012 and 2015 – suggesting that they are behind in their implementation and/or reporting.

Programme effectiveness

In 2015, GEF and UNDP conducted an independent evaluation of the efficacy of the Small Grants Programme, in general.  One of the audit’s important conclusions was that: 

“There has been a limited emphasis on evaluation.  … Significant resources and efforts have been devoted to improving the M&E [Monitoring and Evaluation component] of SGP, but a number of SGP characteristics make it extremely challenging to develop an effective M&E system. …  At present, the M&E system is unable to provide a clear picture of the impacts of the SGP on the global environment. …  The issue is not a lack of resources. Rather, there is a need for a sharper focus and better use of M&E resources and information.”

These findings are germane also to projects related to marine turtle conservation.  Superficially, 46 of 51 projects are reported to have been “Satisfactorily completed”, with only four projects having been “terminated prior to completion”; and another said to be “on hold and due to be closed down”. However, with very few exceptions, there is scant information on the SGP website about the objectives and methodology of individual projects and, more importantly, even less about the tangible project outcomes.  It’s not clear whether this is a failure of the SGP to publish meaningful information about project results; or whether the shortcoming stems from inadequate reporting by grant recipients.  In either case, there is almost no information to enable interested readers to assess the real efficacy of individual projects.   

The following projects are among the few notable exceptions to this dearth of information on the SGP website:

(1) Onshore Preservation of Hawksbill Turtle Eggs through Community Participation (Iran) – clear description of project activities and outcomes.

(2) The Development of Marine Tourism and Alor Woven Fabric for Conservation of Coral Reefs in Batang and Lapang Island, Alor District (Indonesia) – objectives stated very clearly, but no reporting of outcomes.

(3) Helping the turtles survive (Pakistan) – very comprehensive project document, however the reporting of project results is superficial.

(4) Renforcement de capacité communautaire en gestion de l’électrification Solaire d’Itsamia Mohéli (Comoros) – very clear indication of planned activities and expected outcomes (project was due for completion in May 2016).


Conclusions / Recommendations

1. The GEF Small Grants Programme offers a substantial, alternative funding source for small NGOs and community organisations in the IOSEA region to tap into.  Importantly, the SGP has developed “Memoranda of Agreements” that can allow grants to be awarded to community-based groups that are not formally registered, without having to go through an intermediary NGO.

2. Many CSOs in countries of the IOSEA region have already benefitted from the SGP.  The total funding allocated to this part of the world compares favourably to other regions that have also taken advantage of it (notably, in countries of the Caribbean, parts of Latin America and West Africa).  It is interesting to note that relevant projects in Islamic Republic of Iran, Papua New Guinea, and Yemen – which don’t often make headlines for their marine turtle conservation work – have been relatively well supported.

CSOs in IOSEA-region countries that have so far not taken full advantage of what the programme has to offer (e.g. China, Egypt, Jordan, Madagascar, South Africa, Thailand, and Timor Leste) – as well as those in other countries that have benefitted from only one or two projects in the past – should seriously consider the merits of submitting an application.

Hopefully, the analysis presented here will encourage some of the many other excellent NGO initiatives in the IOSEA region, which require ongoing support for their conservation work, to apply for this complementary source of funding.  IOSEA Focal Points should be encouraged to facilitate and support well-prepared submissions. 

3. The administrators of the Small Grants Programme need to address the serious inadequacies in online reporting of project outcomes (and also activities) – either at source or by enhancing the availability of such information on the website.   Better documentation of individual projects would be useful for exchanging “lessons learned”, and also for establishing a baseline of what conservation initiatives have already been attempted in a given country, whether successful or not.  This could be an interesting topic for an in-house internship, perhaps shared between IOSEA and the UNDP/SGP offices in Bangkok (which Terance Hay-Edie and I touched upon in our meeting in June 2016).

4. Ideally, as part of its routine Monitoring & Evaluation system, it would be useful for the SGP to revisit a representative selection of individual projects – say, 3-5 years after their completion date  to try to ascertain whether the funding provided actually promoted a sustainable conservation activity.

5. Analyses such as this one, which can reveal potential unevenness in the allocation of SGP funding – across countries or among individual beneficiaries – should be carried out periodically by the SGP administration, with a view to prioritising and encouraging future funding applications.


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Here follows the contents of a note addressed to all IOSEA Focal Points and Advisory Committee members in January 2016.  The note described two papers I developed to explore the potential to secure funding from the Global Environment Facility for activities to help eligible countries implement aspects of the IOSEA Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding.

The first paper, Exploring the potential of GEF funding for the CMS/IOSEA Marine Turtle Site Network, aims to get IOSEA Signatory States / Focal Points thinking about a longer-term strategy for funding conservation activities directly linked to the CMS/IOSEA Marine Turtle Site Network.  It describes various options currently available within the GEF, and gives an example of a comparable project for Dugong conservation that started in 2015 (after several years of careful preparation), which IOSEA might try to emulate in the coming years.

The second paper, Project Concept - GEF Enabling Activities in selected Indian Ocean countries (Madagascar: as demonstration country), proposes to bundle certain activities critical for IOSEA implementation (such as development of a national strategy/action plan, gap analysis, and capacity-building) into a package that could be framed as a “GEF Enabling Activity”.  The GEF Secretariat defines these as “activities aimed at enabling countries to prepare national inventories, strategies and action plans to guide and encourage the integration of convention objectives into national development efforts and sectors.”  These activities are of relatively short duration, with modest funding -- perhaps a quarter million US dollars over a couple of years.  

Unfortunately, a representative of the GEF Secretariat indicated in January 2016 that the available funding is intended only for countries to revise their National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) under the Convention on Biological Diversity, as well as preparation of various other reports.  No explanation was offered as to why the broader definition of enabling activity would not also encompass measures aimed at strengthening actual convention implementation, above and beyond the preparation of reports.  (The concept paper gives more detail on the apparent scope of general enabling activities.)  In any case, there seems to be no possibility of pursuing this project concept further under the present circumstances.  However, the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity will meet next in Mexico, in December 2016, and this will provide a forum for countries to express their views and priorities for the use of GEF funding going forward.

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I am sharing these papers with CMS/IOSEA Focal Points because, ultimately, it is within their remit to try to convince decision-makers in their own governments (including, or even especially, the GEF Operational Focal Point), as well as officials within the GEF Secretariat who administer the funds, that the Signatory States to the Indian Ocean Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding consider access to GEF funding for IOSEA implementation both important and necessary.

Douglas Hykle
September 2016

UNEP © IOSEA Marine Turtle MoU Secretariat, c/o UNEP Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific,
United Nations Building, Rajdamnern Nok Avenue, Bangkok, 10200, Thailand
Tel: + (662) 288 1471 ; Fax: + (662) 288 3041 / 288 1029; E-mail: IOSEA Secretariat
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