A visit of four personnel from WACSI to SOS-Forêts on Tuesday 16 November 2021 was characterised by high sense of gratitude shown to WACSI by the over 10 members of staff and board of the organisation.
As our team meandered across the clean streets of the beautiful botanical garden seated in the heart of the legendary Houphouet Boigny University in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, we were greeted by the whistling sound of the birds that perched on the densely packed but well organised trees in the garden.
In the heart of the garden is found the office of SOS-Forêts, a 25-year-old organisation that works to protect the environment.
As we approached the office, we were welcomed by a jovial and eloquent gentleman whom we later got to know was the board chair of the organisation and award-winning botanist, Professor Wadja Mathieu Egnankou . He charmed us with a brief history of the garden, one that reignites a higher sense of pride in the West African nation.
As we took our seats to commence what would be a very fruitful and instructive coaching session, the board chair of SOS-Forêts, who was visibly happy to welcome our team to their calm, fresh and beautiful working space could not hide his satisfaction for the support his organisation has received from WACSI.
“This programme has helped us to improve our way of working,” he said as he took his seat.
This triggered our curiosity to know what inspired such positive comments. As we later learned from an eight-hour conversation with some board members and staff of SOS-Forêts, WACSI’s support to the organisation has led to an amazing organisational rejuvenation.
They’ve improved their governance structures, improved their financial management practices, put in place a smooth resource generation through improved proposal writing process, and increased their staff capacity from 3 in 2019 to 12 in 2021. Currently, an Executive Director independently leads the team under the supervision of the board; a practice that was far-fetched prior to WACSI’s support to SOS-Forêts.
From these, the board chair could not hide his optimism for the future.
“We hope from 2022, we will have greater success with the proposals we will submit,” he gladly and confidently stated. The board chair believes that the reorganisation process will lead to an eventual growth in resources for the organisation to continue to pursue its mission.
The organisational rejuvenation has seen them improve their approach to proposal writing, one that has led to an increased number of proposals submitted in 2021.
“We’ve started developing proposals frequently this year . So far, we have submitted 11 projects [proposals] in 2021. We hold regular meetings to discuss project opportunities at our disposal,” Narcisse Tehe, the young and vibrant Executive Director explained.
This is a significant improvement from previous years wherein the organisation sometimes submitted less than five proposals in a year.
SOS-Forêts is one of six organisations in Cote d’Ivoire working in the biodiversity conservation sector that was supported by WACSI to enhance its institutional and operational effectiveness. It is among 17 organisations from three West African countries (Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire) that are mentees of the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, participating in a two-year programme dubbed ‘Strengthening the Capacities of CSOs for an Effective Engagement of Stakeholders in the Biodiversity and Conservation in West Africa’.
Improved governance system
Prior to its participation in this programme, it experienced challenges in putting in place an effective governance system; one that would aid in the overall strategic positioning of the organisation and ensuring its operational effectiveness.
“Through this programme, we have improved our way of working,” attests Prof Wadja Mathieu Egnankou Board Chair of the organisation.
The highly respected botanist alludes to the fact that, as an organisation, they grappled to put in place the relevant institutional organs needed to catalyse the smooth functioning and growth of the organisation.
However, because of this capacity building programme steered by WACSI with support from CEPF, the organisation has been able to deliberately facilitate a smooth transition from an institution that is highly centralised on the executive committee. It has fostered a smooth decentralisation process, one that ensures the establishment of the board and an operational executive and programmes team.
“Through this programme, we saw the need to have a board. Prior to the programme, we had an executive committee,” the board chair said.
This realisation came after staff of the organisation took part in online and face to face trainings that addressed subjects related to board governance, proposal writing, project management, resource mobilisation, financial management, advocacy and communication and monitoring and evaluation.
Key lessons learned from these trainings triggered the decision makers of SOS-Forêts to prioritise key issues that needed to be addressed to strengthen their organisation. This led to some strategic reorganisation of the organs of the institution.
“So, we put in place a committee to develop the board charter. From this, we have identified key persons who can join the board. We want to identify persons who will add value to the board,” Prof Mathieu stated with optimism.
Instituting appropriate roles for team members
“Thanks to WACSI, we are working on improving our institutional components,” he said.
“This support helped us to review our language. For example, we now have the ‘terminology’ Executive Director [previously referred to as president] who leads the programmatic operations of the organisation under the guidance of the board,” he explained.
SOS-Forêts is a leader in the biodiversity conservation sector and in the country. Prior to their participation in this programme, they operated under what they described as ‘an archaic governance system’ with a president overseeing both strategic oversight, governance and operational engagements of the organisation. To the team, this wasn’t helping them to clearly differentiate responsibilities that would aid in the smooth operations of the organisation.
According to Prof Mathieu, this capacity building support made them to realise this. It enabled them to quickly take actions to improve their governance.
“With this support, we are consolidating our presence in the sector through the utilisation of the appropriate terminologies for our team members that aligns with and reflects the work and or role they have within the organisation,” he said.
This has led to several changes within the organisation.
“We are putting in place a board. It has improved our way of working and this has given us a lot of visibility,” the highly respected professor of botany proudly explained.
In addition to the robust revamping of its governance structures, SOS-Forêts has made strides towards improving its financial management practices.
“Thanks to this support we realised the need to have an accountant who is more rigorous in supporting us to have more appropriate financial accounting processes, which we are utilising to develop, file and share our financial reports,” he said.
Generally, the staff and board of SOS-Forêts are satisfied with the strides they’ve made since WACSI commenced working with them.
According to them, their organisation is becoming more professional, and they are optimistic about the outcome of this process.
“We are growing thanks to support from partners such as Birdlife International and WACSI,” the board chair said. And this expression of optimism is nurtured by the support SOS-Forêts has received from WACSI with funding from CEPF.