A Family Foundation's Approach to Protecting Wilderness Around the World, by Don Weeden


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Don Weeden, Executive Director of The Weeden Foundation, spoke during the Friday (13 November) WILD9 plenary session on Saving Wildlands through Private Finance, Philanthropy and Commitment, specifically on "A Family Foundation's Approach to Protecting Wilderness Around the World."

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  • Main point: Small foundations can effectively support International Conservation Weeden Foundation’s 25 years of experience internationally perhaps can provide ideas and reassurance for fellow smaller foundations and individual donors interested in getting into the international arena. I also hope that these ideas may also benefit grant seekers , particularly from funding-scarce areas . Here’s the deal: As little as a third of smaller foundations engaged in US conservation currently fund internationally . Many of these - and more individual funders as well - could potentially step up to help meet the massive gap in International conservation funding, a gap that is gaping compared to the situation in the US .
  • Those of you in the room who are on the other side of the table – grantseekers- may be familiar with this list and perhaps could add other reasons . #1 is a common misperception ; smallish but timely grants can make a great deal of difference especially where funding is scarce #2 …. there is more risk …. Investing in Russian or Bolivian conservation isn’t the equivalent of investing in triple A bonds ….but done right international grants can greatly leverage a small foundation’s conservation dollars. #3-4 can be worked around particulary by working through US-based intermediary organizations # 5 …I certainly respect foundations that feel there’s too much need for conservation funding in the US for them to start exploring internationally. But collectively the US foundation community , by far the rock of private philanthropy worldwide, could/ and should be doing more around the globe.
  • We actually started in International conservation as one of the pioneers in debt-for-nature swaps , a strategy that continues to snowball Our initial 100k grant using this concept- to CI – got the ball rolling in establishing the 3.7 million acre Beni Reserve in Eastern Bolivia . We also supported early swaps in Costa Rica, Madagascar, and Ecuador. These initiatives whetted our appetite for international habitat acquisition - we began funding 1-2 one-off projects a year . It wasn’t a conscious effort to establish a habitat protection program, it just happened as we gained more positive experience in choosing suitable projects, and international groups became more aware of our interest. Where we add value to our modest grants is – I think – our ability to respond quickly , with little red tape, and our openness to different funding approaches . 150k Loan to purchase cheetah habitat in Namibia Purchase of 125k acres in Eastern Bolivia becoming part owner of El Refugio Huanchaca Conservation concessions in Peru through Amazon Conservation Association; Operating costs and restoration activities for Estancia Valle de Chacabuco, Chile
  • We tell other foundations that we get tremendous bang for the buck working internationally. If Chile or Ecuador are good value stretching 20k to the equivalent of 50k in the US , then the Russia’s Altai Republic or Namibia are even better values . Often smaller, early grants are used to bring in bigger grants …..that’s leverage Our niche - as it has evolved - is to focus most on large undeveloped landscapes, with unique (not necessarily ) high levels of biodiversity US-based intermediaries such as Global Green Grants or region-specific groups such as Pacific Environment can minimize the guess work and uncertainty of processing grants
  • In addition to the one-off grants we have developed long-term, place-based programs in Chilean Patagonia, Russia’s Altai Republic, and we own and manage a conservation research station in Eastern Bolivia, which I’ll get to later. After initial grants in both Chilean Patagonia and the Altai we recognized that each area was a good fit – large undeveloped landscapes, important biodiversity, numerous threats, and a big gap in conservation funding – and we decided to dig in long–term. That’s the thing about place-based programs – to see results you have to be there awhile… We started in Chile with a grant to establish a preserve for endangered araucaria forest , which you see in the picture. But we soon recognized that to successfully protect these landscapes we needed to help to build local NGO capacity to fight the threats, and to strengthen governmental and private conservation efforts . In our twenty years of support in Chile and ten years in the Altai we have taken part in virtually every major conservation campaign
  • I was really gratified to take part on a panel yesterday at the conference on the new IUCN-WPCA Connectivity Conservation Project in the Altai-Sayan. Finally the International Conservation Community is paying much-needed attention to vast swath of transboundary wildlands across the Altai Range, of which the Russian Altai is the core. The GEF now has a multi-million dollar project with the WWF playing a major role. But over the past couple of decades it is a band of grassroots NGOS that has been critical in keeping bad infrastructure projects at bay, and establishing community parks that will enhance any efforts at connectivity. Critical to this effort was the extraordinary commitment of a handful of Americans, mostly fluent in Russian who headed US-based projects that served as intermediaries for our funding. We’re proud to have been part of that effort, sustained at perhaps a total cost of 150k per year. For a land area that is close to that of the State of Indiana.
  • In 1992 – we took our habitat protection program to a new level when we became a partner in the acquisition of 125,000 acres adjacent ot Noell Kempff National Park in Eastern Bolivia. We’re now the sole owner of what has become a conservation research station . Essentially we own and manage a piece of the rock , a pristine property that supports the full range of historical biological diversity, including upland rainforest, seasonally flooded savanna, and a small Amazonian tributary.
  • From the vantage of NYC – where 400k will get you a small studio apartment in Brooklyn - we consider El Refugio quite a bargain . The maintenance fees may seem high but they support 6 staff , and a basecamp that can house a dozen scientists.
  • These forest islands , a major feature of the reserve, start from anteater mounds . This picture is taken from a chapter on El Refugio in the Foundation for Deep Ecology’s latest book, “Wildlands Philanthropy,” a beautiful and inspiring book about the Amercian tradition of buying and protecting wildlands.
  • Funding gap for international landscape conservation/protected areas is in the billions Most funding will have to come from governments , some in-country, but most through bilateral and multilateral funding But increased Foundation funding will greatly aid these efforts especially combined with quick responsiveness , staying power and flexibility. Affinity groups such as the CGBD and the EGA are good ways to reach foundations with new program thinking Developing country and Intermediary NGOS also need to be more creative and resourceful in reaching out to foundations
  • A Family Foundation's Approach to Protecting Wilderness Around the World, by Don Weeden

    1. 1. Don Weeden Weeden Foundation New York, NY
    2. 2. Main point : Small foundations can effectively support International Conservation. (You don’t have to be a Moore, MacArthur, Marisla, Packard, or Hewlett-sized Foundation) <ul><li>What’s small? Weeden Foundation $30 million endowment </li></ul><ul><li>($1.7 million annual grants); 2 staff </li></ul><ul><li>Mission : Protect Biodiversity </li></ul><ul><li>Allocation: 2/3 biodiversity funding (40% international). </li></ul><ul><li>Bottom line : Involvement of more small and medium-sized foundations could mean tens of millions more funding $$$ </li></ul><ul><li>There are scores of small to medium US foundations engaged in biodiversity conservation </li></ul><ul><li>But currently – less than 1/2 to 1/3 fund internationally . </li></ul>
    3. 3. Reasons smaller foundations “shy away” <ul><li>Belief that small grants can do little internationally </li></ul><ul><li>Political uncertainty is high – too risky </li></ul><ul><li>Non-profit certification difficult outside U.S. </li></ul><ul><li>Difficult to monitor and evaluate overseas projects - lack staff, travel budget </li></ul><ul><li>Smaller foundations more family-based, generally more local-, or regionally-focused </li></ul>
    4. 4. <ul><li>Since 1989 : over twenty 20k-100k grants for direct land acquisition, mainly in Latin America </li></ul><ul><ul><li>One-off grants , at least one per year as part of Weeden’s Habitat Protection Program </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Different approaches: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Loans </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Direct purchase </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Conservation Concessions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Support operating costs and restoration activities </li></ul></ul><ul><li>WF International Conservation grant making: </li></ul><ul><li>Late 80s – several 100k grants for debt-for-nature swaps </li></ul>
    5. 5. Guidelines/Rationale for WF International Conservation Program <ul><li>Accept greater risk – for expected more bang for buck </li></ul><ul><li>10k-20k grant internationally = 50k in US </li></ul><ul><li>20k-100k grants do make a difference especially early on (leverages larger amounts) </li></ul><ul><li>Be open to : different approaches (e.g. loans and swaps); countries outside program preferences </li></ul><ul><li>Preference : Protecting large undeveloped landscapes , “The Last Great Wild”/ Don’t’ follow hotspot criteria/go where funding is scarce </li></ul><ul><li>Work mainly through US-based intermediaries </li></ul>
    6. 6. WF Long-term International Programs: <ul><li>Chilean Patagonia – since 1989 </li></ul><ul><li>5-8 grants per year; average 20k grant </li></ul><ul><li>One of 5 current US funders for Chilean conservation </li></ul><ul><li>Grants direct to Chilean NGOs/1-2 monitoring trips per year </li></ul><ul><li>Long-term activities: </li></ul><ul><li>NGO capacity building </li></ul><ul><li>Advocacy to stop/reform bad projects/industries </li></ul><ul><li>Promoting private land conservation legislation/networks using US model </li></ul><ul><li>Supporting ongoing private conservation efforts </li></ul>
    7. 7. <ul><li>Altai Republic , Russia – since 1999 </li></ul><ul><ul><li>3-4 grants per year; average 20k grant </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Only consistent US funder/ Support 50% of NGO activities </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Mix: advocacy (mainly opposing bad projects); community-sponsored nature parks; anti-poaching measures; alternative energy </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>capacity building key responsibility </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>grants through US-based intermediaries </li></ul></ul>
    8. 8. El Refugio Huanchaca, Bolivia Managed by the Weeden Foundation <ul><li>1987, WF funded first debt-for-nature swap for 3.7 million acre Beni Preserve in Bolivia </li></ul><ul><li>1992 Purchased 125,000 acre property adjacent to 4 million acre Noel Kempff National Park, </li></ul><ul><li>WF manages preserve as conservation science research station </li></ul><ul><li>Ongoing collaboration with park authorities, Bolivian research institutions, and local communities </li></ul>
    9. 9. El Refugio Huanchaca <ul><li>Cost to acquire and manage 125,000 acres of Bolivia wilderness? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>$400,000 to purchase </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>$ 40,000 facilities improvement </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>$40,000 annual operating cost </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Tremendous conservation dividends </li></ul><ul><li>Ownership to be transferred to joint Bolivian/American non-profit ownership </li></ul>
    10. 11. <ul><li>End Game : Get small and medium-sized US foundations more involved in international conservation initiatives </li></ul><ul><li>Encourage through affinity groups Consultative Group on Biological Diversity and Environmental Grantmakers Association </li></ul><ul><ul><li>60 and 300 foundation members respectively </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Developing Country and intermediary NGOs need to do better job in identifying and persuing potential US foundations </li></ul>