In a remarkable gathering of minds and voices organised by Blue Ventures and Maliasili, the first-ever African Community Conservation Forum brought together African Civil Society Organizations, international NGOs, and donors to harness the power of collective knowledge and experiences to enhance powerful partnerships in conservation. 

Agatha Ogada, Blue Ventures’ Regional Partner Support Coordinator in Kenya, shares her experience and insights as a key participant. 

The excitement for the forum was palpable from the first day. WE Africa, one of the facilitators, started off with exercises that brought out our vulnerability, as described by Brené Brown in her books, which was refreshing and different. I think vulnerability shouldn’t be a source of shame; it empowers and humanises us. We discussed power, privilege, and their contextual significance for us individually. It opened the door to deep, intense conversations with tough questions and answers we might not typically give. It was both challenging and energising.

It was high time we had all stakeholders in the same room. While intermediaries have their place, it’s essential to have control of the narrative. When someone speaks for you, you lose valuable information. We needed to come together to discuss funding and the power and privileges of accessing it, including running NGOs, representing communities, and all the intricate dynamics involved. Funding is one of the most pressing challenges for all of us in conservation. Sustainable funding that not only supports projects but also empowers organisations. There is a need for donors who understand the complexities and nuances of conservation work without excessive red tape.

I believe that aligning values which build trust is key in donor-beneficiary relationships, and building trust with funders requires authenticity. It enables organisations to communicate the challenges and potential solutions honestly. It is about finding common ground and working together towards a shared goal. The solutions don’t solely lie with the partners or donors but can be found through collective action – a prominent theme during conversations at the forum.

Organisational partnerships are not one-way streets; they go both ways. It’s crucial to anchor partnerships in something that can weather the storm. The processes and considerations in partnerships should be given ample time and attention to ensure fairness and transparency, avoiding extractive practices. Transparent partnerships are the way forward.

Exploring the power of collective advocacy highlighted the significance of organisational development instead of just focusing on grant implementation. We discussed the importance of unrestricted funding, which helps our partners build their organisations, acquire necessary skills, and make a bigger impact in the communities they work.

At Blue Ventures, our values guide how we work with our partners and how we work with communities. Our core value is “community first,” it is not just a slogan but a way of life. Our partners live and breathe this value and clearly showed this at the forum by sharing human stories, which are the heart and soul of their work. They went beyond statistics and gave a human face to conservation. They made it real, and that’s invaluable.

Out of our many conversations, two priorities stood out for me. First, fairness in funding distribution is crucial. We must ensure that funds are shared equitably along the chain without overburdening one part. Second, visibility should be based on merit rather than on who has more power or access to funding. We must communicate both successes and failures openly and equally.

We have just scratched the surface with this forum. The conversation must continue. Many more discussions need to happen, especially those involving funders. The African Community Conservation Forum was pivotal in advancing a more equitable and sustainable conservation future in East Africa. It’s only the beginning, and I’m excited about the positive changes it will bring to our community and shared environment. Let’s keep the conversation alive; together, we can make a real difference.

Watch the forum here:

Posted by Agatha Ogada

Agatha joined Blue Ventures in April 2018 as the fisheries partner support technician for Kenya. Her role is to identify partner organisations in Kenya and East Africa and provide technical support and guidance to them them on fisheries monitoring and management.

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