Though civil society organisations (CSOs) have significantly contributed to addressing a wide array of rights-based topics in West Africa, they still have an essential role to play in complementing governments’ work and raising awareness on the protection of West Africa’s biodiversity hotspots. However, given the broad scope and rapid development of emerging conservation issues like climate change, CSOs, particularly those operating at grassroots and subnational levels, are often under-resourced and face critical capacity constraints to exert influence.
In response to this, the West Africa Civil Society Institute1 (WACSI) was selected by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund2 (CEPF) to implement the programme; “Strengthening CSO’s capacities for effective stakeholder engagement in biodiversity conservation”.
The project seeks to strengthen the institutional and operational capacities of 17 CSOs from Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. This project seeks to equip the organisations to effectively engage and advocate for the development and implementation of national frameworks, policies and regulations for climate change mitigation and adaptation, that would meet national needs for development and environmental sustainability.
The project offers a series of capacity strengthening activities to participating organisations3, in four phases including (1) training; (2) mentoring and coaching; (3) support to apply for small grant proposals; and (4) documentation of change stories and lessons learnt.
The capacity development support project has been designed to improve on the participating organisations’ operational processes and related policies and procedures while taking into consideration the specific context of each organisation. The training content is being developed based on information collated from organisations through learning needs assessment conducted prior to each training phase. This has been done through the design of an online questionnaire adapted to each module and administered to representatives of each organisation. It has helped to customise and deliver training that respond to the knowledge and skills gaps of the respective organisations, whilst attempting to provide a solution to critical organisational needs expressed via the CEPF’s Civil Society Capacity Tracking Tool4.
Furthermore, participating organisations were supported to develop a Post-training Action Plan (PAP) after each training phase that articulates specific actions and systematic steps to pursue and achieve positive results. Generally, some of the actions documented in the PAP include development of a board charter to guide the functioning of their respective boards; development of a strategic plan, institutionalise staff appraisal; development of a communication strategic plan, build an organisational monitoring and evaluation system and sound financial management system, among others.
The PAP has been serving as a basis for the mentoring and onsite and virtual coaching support towards an effective implementation of the training benefits. It is envisaged that the PAP will translate the current situation, ambitions, and commitment of the organisations to bring change by the end of the mentoring support.
Under the dark cloud of the pandemic, WACSI adopted a dual delivery approach. Some of the training modules and technical support were provided through virtual means while, where feasible, in-person support was provided. However, due to the operating environment of some of the mentees, (at the local level with limited access to internet) having good and stable internet connection has been a challenge as well as not being too familiar with some modern technology tools. Hence, the sessions were recorded and made available to all to ensure that mentees who faced connection challenges during some live sessions did not miss out on anything. The mentors opted for phone calls in some cases – instead of the traditional online calls for technical support.
Several lessons have been documented from these processes. The dire need for modern technology adoption by CSOs to drive their interventions is topmost. Also, cognisant of the importance of leadership in changing the fortune of many organisations, we continue to devise specific and deliberate ways of engaging with the leadership of the mentees not only at the beginning but throughout the project phases to drive positive change and sustain relevant gains.
We have learnt that passion is the centre of local organisations’ engagement. Sometimes with little resources, these organisations are pushing for change at the local level. However, organisations aiming at self-reliance should espouse the passion with merit (right skills and competencies) as well as gender mainstreaming. The holistic nature of this capacity development support – instead of a one-off initiative (connected to a project) has been helpful in addressing these challenges.
West Africa Civil Society Institute5 was created in 2005 to strengthen the institutional and operational capacities of civil society across West Africa. The Institute strengthens civil society in West Africa to be responsive, collaborative, representative, resilient, and influential through knowledge sharing, learning, connecting, and influencing. Thus far, WACSI’s programmes have benefitted 4,535 development practitioners from 3,798 civil society organisations across and beyond West Africa.