This tool aims to support marginalized communities on a short-medium term whilst they pursue other projects that can ensure them financial and environmental sustainability in the long term. The goal of bridge funding is to empower communities by providing them with funding to obtain economic resilience by involving them in projects aimed at preserving the local environment.
This tool remunerates the efforts of the community in the conservation of the ecosystem on the basis of a participatory approach. Bridge-funding is a kind of conditional, yet unrestricted cash-transfer tool that aims to provide financial support to marginalized communities. In return, the communities actively participate in the conservation of natural shared resources. This tool mitigates external pressures that result with the depletion of natural commons, and also encourages their upkeeping. In the agreement, the aspect of conditionality is not binding, in order not to further oppress marginalized communities. In order to do so, communities establish a partnership with an NGO and together they agree on shared goals and responsibilities. This agreement is carried out in a participatory way that takes into account the needs and the values of the community involved in the process. The project is then implemented until gaps are addressed in the living conditions of communities; indeed, bridge funding is to be understood as a way to provide financial empowerment to marginalised communities while they pursue broader projects that can ensure financial sustainability and, at the same time, contribute to the preservation of the natural commons.
Establish a connection There are different ways in which bridge funding can be established. In some cases, communities will approach an NGO to establish a partnership with them and create a agreement together. In this case, the process is quite straightforward and the project can be implemented in a relatively short time. In other occasions, it is the NGO that approaches communities with the idea of co-creating an agreement; in this case, getting to know the community and co-creating the project might take years. These relationships are established through networks that involve different actors (NGOs, indigenous rights organisations, communities). · Get to know each other There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to the implementation of a tool like bridge funding. Each community has different problems, needs and resources; for this reason, it is vital that NGOs remain open-minded and agile, taking the time that is necessary to get a good understanding of the local situation, in order to understand what kind of project might be the most beneficial for the people involved. The NGO must bear in mind that the framework it normally uses might not align exactly with the aims and needs of the community involved in the dialogue, so it is fundamental that it keeps a flexible approach. An important part of the process is to understand the cultural, social and economic values and norms that characterize the relationship of the community with the environment. This holistic approach to conservation ensures that the bridge funding project incorporates and fosters the local culture, and is not imposed as a new system of values in a top-down fashion. Furthermore, it is important that the NGO knows the local context beyond the community, taking into account regional and national issues and finding pathways to overcome the challenges they might pose. Another key issue is that bridge funding projects cannot work everywhere: in some occasions, there might be power relationships or cultural reasons for which implementing a bridge funding project is not possible. · Get to know the legal system Different legal systems allow for different implementations of projects. In some cases, the lack of a strong legal system allows for a more creative approach in the design and delivery of the project. In some others, a highly bureaucratized state might, on the one hand, reduce problems connected to corruption, but on the other might hinder or slow down legal processes. In any case, it is vital that the NGO understands the local legal system in order to produce an agreement that is in accordance with local laws. International treaties are an important legal tool as well, but most of them are not legally binding, thus providing some challenges in their implementation. A further step could be seen in influencing policy: whilst indigenous legal rights organisations have successfully brought about change in policy, at the moment it seems that conservation NGOs still need to foster more dialogue with policymakers. The Escazú Agreement might provide a useful blueprint for the collaboration between indigenous rights organisations, environmental human rights defenders, the civil society and policymakers. · Participatory process The NGO and the community should then agree together on the aims of the project, the modality of its implementation and the responsibilities of each party. These elements cannot be imposed on the community in a top-down way, but must be the result of a participatory process that engages as many different voices as possible in the community. This is a delicate process that can take a significant amount of time, during which the NGO must stay open-minded and not to have an agenda. Indeed, sometimes NGOs might be pressured by donors to achieve results in a short amount of time, and this might foster top-down approaches to working with communities; NGOs have to resist these pressures and develop community-led organic participatory processes that ensure that people’s aims, needs, cultural and social values are respected. Communities, therefore, have to reach decisions and consensus together on the content of contracts with NGOs. · Create an agreement The local community and the NGO create a contract that states the aim of the project and each party’s responsibility. It is necessary, however, that the contract does not create any unnecessary pressure on the local community as indigenous communities who are involved in conservation projects are very often heavily marginalized. Implementing sanctions, for example, might be seen as a normal legal boundary to ensure the success of the project, but in reality, it might just damage the communities and shift the power balance between the parties involved in the contract. · Implement the project Once the parties have agreed on the aims of the project and on the compensation that the communities will get, the project can start. It is important that bridge funding is just a way to give financial resilience to the community, and not the only aim of the agreement. For example, Cool Earth’s partnership in Parijaro combines bridge funding with sustainable coffee production and community-led data collection, which not only can provide a source of sustainable income in the future but also improve literacy rates and provides training to the local community. · End of the project Bridge funding projects are designed to bring short and medium-term benefits to the community and to empower them. They cannot be seen as an end per se, but rather as a starting point for long-term projects that enable a community’s independence and sustainability. For this reason, it is important to think about the goals that have to be achieved on the short, medium and long term. Until what point is the presence of the NGO necessary? What do independence and sustainability look like for the communities involved in the project? Overextending the length of the process might be a hindrance for the local communities and might prevent them from achieving their long-term goals.
Cash transfer programmes are aimed at increasing a household's income by providing monetary support; some of these programmes might be conditional, that is, financial compensation is only awarded if some conditions are met (WHO, 2011). Conditional cash transfer programmes (or CCT) have been implemented in a wide range of contexts all over the world, with varying conditions to be met. In some instances, they are geared towards behavioural change, for example, increasing school attendance or visits to health centres; in others these conditionalities might be different and decided in response to the needs of specific groups or to tackle particular societal issues. In the context of environmental conservation, there are several examples of conditional cash transfer programmes that provide money in exchange for services of ecological management and upkeeping of a land. We can understand bridge funding as an example of conditional cash transfer programme that compensates ecosystem services. Indeed, one of the most common forms of cash transfer programme in the environmental context are PES -paid ecosystem services. PES programmes provide funding to communities that take care of environmental resources. PES “seeks to internalize the positive externalities (that is, the third-party benefits) generated by natural systems, creating incentives for landholder behaviour that ensure service provision” (Salzman et al. 2018). PES is a tool that has been implemented successfully in different communities, Financial compensation ensures a buy-in of local communities in the preservation of the natural commons and supports their economic development. The key difference between bridge funding and PES is that the first is meant to provide short or medium-term support, whilst the community pursues other projects that can ensure long-term financial and environmental sustainability. A critique of PES and other cash transfer tools argues that, if not supported by other activities, they might foster “perverse incentives for people to remain (or feign being) poor to continue receiving means-based payments” (Fletcher and Büscher, 2020, p.4). By combining short-, medium- and long-term goals, bridge funding aims at fostering the community’s independence. Furthermore, the conditions of bridge funding are not imposed by an NGO in a top-down form, but are based on participatory processes instead. This gives communities the opportunity to design the project on their own terms, taking decisions on activities, goals and ends. By including a wide range of voices in the participatory process, it is also possible to ensure that the conditionalities can be met by a wide range of people. Indeed, one of the issues with CCT programmes is that contracts might ignore the barriers that prevent communities from meeting certain conditionalities, thus discouraging participation. By deciding together aims and conditions, communities and NGOs can work together towards common goals that are feasible and relevant for participants.
Fletcher, R. Büscher, B. 2020. Conservation basic income: A non-market mechanism to support convivial conservation,Biological Conservation, Volume 244, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2020.108520. Salzman, J., Bennett, G., Carroll, N. et al.2018. The global status and trends of Payments for Ecosystem Services. Nat Sustain 1, 136–144. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-018-0033-0 WHO, 2011.Public health agencies and cash transfer programmes: making the case for greater involvement. Discussion Paper Series on Social Determinants of Health, 4. Available at https://www.who.int/social_determinants/publications/9789241503075/en/
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