UCF Feature By Jerry Burley, General Manager, Uganda Conservation Foundation
Are individualistic approaches to scarce funding sources and activities the way ahead for non-profit organizations?
Aid into developing nations has been, is and always will be the subject of very contrasting views and opinions. Historically, large amounts of aid money has been wasted, misused, abused and even just plain stolen, and not always by just the beneficiary. Because aid is often sourced through competitive funding mechanisms, this can also mean that organisations working in similar (and even the same) field end up battling each other for the same dollar, thus absorbing time, resources and cash that would be better used productively on a project, and in what can become quite unpleasant and unnecessary political battles. As a result, the key outputs often end up being duplicated or conversely serious gaps in the overall project integrity can result. Uganda Conservation Foundation (UCF) has been watching this dynamic for a number of years now and is adopting a different stance to its approach to funding, through co-operation with our “competitors” in the conservation arena.
UCF focuses entirely on the conservation field in Uganda, specifically on the wildlife in our game parks, the communities surrounding them and on supporting Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) in a hands-on, practical manner. We generally avoid too much research work, leave operational activities to the mandated bodies and try instead to bring appropriate training resources, equipment and fixed assets to the table, thus supporting existing bodies to be able to execute their activities more effectively. That doesn’t mean that we inflexible though or operate in a bubble, and we are certainly not too proud to acknowledge when something comes along that we are not competent to do, or that we are not comfortable with being able to achieve. That’s when we call on our other NGO and business colleagues in the industry to help. That often means we will channel part of a project funding, with donor approval, into another body to do said works that we cannot, rather than attempting to do it all ourselves. A similar approach applies when we become aware of a funding stream that doesn’t fit our model.
We would rather bring it to the attention of others in the industry and support them to bid for a project, possibly with UCF as a lesser partner and with the understanding that the reverse process also applies! This certainly is not an attempt to form cartels to improve the chances of securing funding, but more an acceptance that no one entity can do it all (although we do on occasion meet some that believe they can) and that specific skills are required for specific tasks. There is no harm at all in competition here, but from within the specific sub-sector rather than by all players. Co-operation also offers other, additional benefits as we shall see below.
Poaching Steals From Us All is a multifaceted media campaign run by conservation communications experts WildAid, with whom we partner in Uganda, alongside our senior partner UWA. Our partnership has assisted WildAid to come into the country and “hit the ground running”, building off an existing logistical platform, taking advantage of our tried and tested networks and a local knowledge base that has been developed for over a decade. This saved WildAid time, money and the inevitable “newcomer mistakes” at start-up, and has allowed them to leapfrog obstacles that might have presented themselves otherwise – for instance, navigating cultural nuances and bureaucratic red tape and introducing them to key players and partners.
Plus, of course, providing them with much needed on-the-ground, logistical support – people, office space in our own building, vehicles, and access to our myriad in-country supporters and contacts, all available from day one. Yes, WildAid contribute to our central costs, but a fraction of the cost of attempting to do it all themselves, which would be a financially futile exercise. As a result, they have achieved huge amounts of what they set out to achieve in their formative time here without having to worry about the support services. Plus, they bring their own skills set to the table that we in turn can draw on, film-making being one good example of something that UCF has no experience of! The ad campaigns you may well have seen around town on billboards illustrate this togetherness and make a compelling statement of our combined intent.
UWA senior staff and WildAid celebrity amabassadors at the Sheraton launch
Uganda celebrities and WildAid ambassadors Irene Ntale, Maurice Kirya and Anne Kansiime attended the lauch of the WildAid, UWA and UCF Poaching Steals From Us All campaign at the Sheraton earlier this year
Bringing in-country NGOs together in an industry also gives comfort to external donors and supporters that they are dealing with “all the right people” and minimising duplication or omission. Many of the big donors also draw much more comfort from a programme, project or development that has say half a dozen globally recognized brands attached to it, rather than them supporting it in isolation. Particularly if the project is being prosecuted by a group of organisations that each shoulder a part of the burden, within their own skills set. It adds credence and credibility to all parties involved and to the end product. Would you be more likely to watch a feature film that had MGM on the label, or Hill and Billy Celuloid Enterprises (yes, celluloid was spelt incorrectly quite deliberately)?
Surely that’s the whole point isn’t it, not wasting time rushing around doing what a dog does to demarcate his garden?So, competition is good but in the NGO world co-operation is actually better. UCF is now holding regular meetings with its many conservation partners here, including UWA as the over-arching body that we all aim to support, and first signs are positive. Those who have looked at the new UCF website will see a fairly unambiguous statement about what we as an organisation do, and equally importantly what we don’t. When there is an (often inevitable) overlap into others’ territories, be it of funding, skills or operational capacity, then we chat it out with our partners and donors alike and we are seeing a pleasing flexibility and new-found willingness to shuffle assets around to get the job done.
Is this approach new? I don’t know, but NGOs are not always famous for co-operating,… and we certainly intend to be disruptive and break that mindset in our small sector to ensure that more gets done, with less duplication and waste, which is what gives the whole NGO sector such a bad name so often.
UCF is just ramping up again now to help UWA in the recovery and reversal of the slide in animal numbers in Queen Elizabeth National Park, hopefully emulating the huge gains made recently in Murchison Falls by the Authority. It’s a massive task in a hugely complex eco-system and we are drawing in all our major international supporters to help. The goodwill to effect change is certainly there. If you use Facebook then keep in touch with what we are up to in QE and elsewhere, and if you have something to contribute to conservation in Uganda, however small or seemingly insignificant you might think it is, then get in touch or come in and see us. There’s a lot happening and much to do over the coming months and years.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
UGANDA CONSERVATION FOUNDATION
22 Solvent Avenue, Mbuya, Kampala
Tel: (041) 4692642
FB: Uganda Conservation Foundation