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What micro-grants teach us about funding locally led research

What would happen if communities at the frontlines of climate change could frame their own burning climate adaptation research? If they could develop their own approaches to solution design, and have access to local resources and skills to implement their ideas? It could lead to contextually relevant adaptation action that is effective, inclusive of all peoples and knowledge systems, and sustained through a local network of capacity and resources.  But achieving this requires a new paradigm of adaptation research for impact that includes devolved mechanisms of financing – a model for which could be found in the Grassroots Action Research Micro-grants programme from the Adaptation Research Alliance (ARA).

Resources and power

People and communities on the frontlines of climate change are often the most active and innovative in developing adaptation solutions, but they lack access to the resources and power needed to implement solutions. Failure to deliver on a 2019 commitment by high-income countries to mobilise US$100 billion a year by 2020 to low- and middle-income countries for mitigation and adaptation efforts not only underscores this disparity, but also the urgency needed to restore trust and provide the much-needed finance. Even then, challenges in getting funds to community-level actors need to be addressed. Currently, the majority of funds are channelled to the national level or flow through international organisations and are earmarked by funders for projects that match their interests and capacities. This leaves out the communities living with the consequences of climate change, and their unique contexts. In Africa, for example, more than 75% of funding for African-related climate research flows to institutions in Europe and the United States. This has a tremendous impact on the adaptive capacity of those at risk, reducing the ability to support livelihoods in the face of a changing climate. 

Potential of communities

The ARA designed the Grassroots Action Research Micro-grants programme to unlock the potential for communities to lead adaptation research that generates effective action. It has funded 57 projects in Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean with the specific aim of empowering local actors in the Global South to frame climate issues in their context using both action and research.  The result is new knowledge production and the development of opportunities identified by researchers, communities, and institutions on the ground that support the potential for knowledge to be transformed into long-term solutions. 

Three key learnings gained from this approach feed into some of the Africa Resilience Hub thematic areas as described below. They not only inform a blueprint for how other innovative funding initiatives could be designed, but also highlight the value of micro-granting for contributing to systems change.

  • Let communities take the lead

First-hand knowledge of the interplay of climate impacts with environmental and cultural contexts and intracommunity politics is critical to a project’s success or failure. Effective, long-term adaptation thus hinges on the ability of local institutions to access funds and direct them to where they are needed most.

The ARA’s micro-grants specifically act on this, enabling local actors to identify their own burning issues and action research approaches, and to build multi-stakeholder collaborations that can lead to effective solutions. Funds are provided directly to local civil society organisations, universities, or other entities involved in the delivery of the project, giving them ownership over their budgets, activities, and implementation throughout the entire process.

As a result, African micro-grant projects were able to actively engage impacted community members so that knowledge and insights were generated collaboratively. An example is the Pad Up project in Zimbabwe, which carried out focus group discussions with local communities, traditional leaders, and resource users to co-produce knowledge around what has been done and could be done in future to adapt to climate change. The aim is to co-develop practical and implementable strategies for positive and sustainable adaptation solutions.

Engagement with local actors, as well as those from the public and private sector, was carried out by Madagascar-based project, Tanjona Association. Through a series of vulnerability assessment workshops to co-identify challenges and opportunities for responding to sea level rise, they aim to provide groundwork for co-developing a multi-level approach to taking action.

  • Tap into diverse knowledge holders

Indigenous peoples, women and marginalised groups are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. However, participation by these groups has benefits like increasing the effectiveness of technical assistance, contributing to social justice and change, poverty reduction and sustainability, and improving the impact of climate finance and climate outcomes.

As these links gain recognition, international policy makers are demanding inclusive and gender-sensitive approaches that demonstrate how climate finance can be channelled to achieve a greater impact. 

The ARA’s micro-grants may serve as a model for that, with several funded projects based in Africa addressing gender and social inclusion aspects, including recognising and integrating local and indigenous knowledge systems. 

For example, a project led by grassroots action organisation Women’s Life and Wellness Foundation, based in Zambia, aims to use local and indigenous knowledge to revive community seed banks. The aim is to move away from commercially valued seeds and instead utilise local seed varieties, which are drought resistant and do not require expensive fertilisers.

Another project explored the unique impacts of a changing climate on disenfranchised female communities. The Humanitarian Development Consortium (HDC) in South Sudan, conducted capacity assessments of existing community structures, in consultation with people with disabilities (PwDs), to assess the potential for these structures to meet the group’s needs in a climate disaster. The goal is to enable dialogue between PwDs and their communities to ensure adaptation is culturally responsive and provides long-term resilience.

  • Build financial capacity in grantees – and funders

Climate finance is increasingly being made available for vulnerable countries, and attention is being paid to more innovative and effective delivery methods. However, different funding schemes have their own individual criteria for eligibility, access, implementation, monitoring and reporting.

Learnings from the ARA’s micro-grants point to specific areas of financial implementation that could be improved to support effective project delivery on both sides of the grantee and intermediary funder relationship. Specifically, improvements could be made to the structural contracting process, where administrative transactions can be perceived as cumbersome and slow, and taking valuable time away from project implementation on the ground. 

Access to pre-financing expenses is also worth considering, especially in terms of project implementation. Delays in completing the contracting process, and the ability of grantees to meet funder requirements around financial reporting and due diligence, can result in grantees using their own funds to start work, to complete planned activities, or to finance crucial emergent needs related to the project’s success. 

Considering the realities of smaller, less-resourced organisations, which are often liaising with funders in a non-native language, these challenges can place a significant barrier to effective project delivery. 

By implementing leaner administrative processes and promoting a learning environment for both grantees and funders, capacity can be built on both sides of the programme to ensure financial implementation maintains the integrity of reporting required by institutions, and in ways that meet contextualised needs required to ensure the project’s success.

Re-imagining the future

The projects funded by the ARA micro-grants underscore the role of local action research for learning and innovation, the value of empowering of local communities, and the capacity interventions that could improve the financial implementation. It is a potentially powerful model for re-imagining the future of adaptation funding mechanisms, but it is not a silver bullet solution. More needs to be done to continue to share learnings from other innovative funding approaches so that best practices can emerge and shape new methods.

Attention also needs to be placed on how to scale up the ideas and opportunities that are identified in these locally led projects, and how to equitably leverage the relationships and capacities that exist on a community level. The ARA advocates for a new way of doing things, guided by the Adaptation Research for Impact Principles, that calls for all actors from across the adaptation community to effectively deliver finance to communities for research for adaptation that strengthens resilience.

Authors and Contributors: Laura Rawden (Adaptation Research Alliance), Sydney Church (Adaptation Research Alliance), Kirk Bright Enu (Green Africa Youth Organisation, Ghana), Natasha Sakala (Women’s Life and Wellness Foundation, Zambia) Hassan Moallim, (Action for Women and Children Concern, Somalia), Mayom Bear Atem and Alex Mbira (Human Development Consortium, South Sudan, Chinwoke Clara IFEANYI-OBI, (University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria), Kanto Ingotiana RAZANAJATOVO, (Tanjona Association, Madagascar), Dr Charmaine RS Manyani, (PadUpZimbabwe, Zimbabwe)

Illustrated by: Ellen Heydenrych 

This article was produced for the Africa Regional Resilience Hub. The Africa Regional Resilience Hub, led by SouthSouthNorth, is a crucial component of the COP28 Resilience Hub. Along with several other regions, the Regional Hubs work to amplify regional voices to global decision-making spaces, with a particular focus on communities and underrepresented and lesser heard voices. This blog forms a part of the Africa Regional Hubs efforts in this regard. The COP28 Resilience Hub events are all hybrid and allow for virtual attendance and participation. To register for the Resilience Hub virtual platform, visit their website.

This artcile was originally published by SouthSouthNorth.

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