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Dhaka Tribune

Catalytic grants

Opportunities, challenges, and inspiration to enable locally-led adaptation action

Update : 09 Jan 2023, 05:49 PM

Dr Zakia Sultana is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Environmental Science and Disaster Management at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science and Technology University, Bangladesh. She was the recipient of a Catalytic Grants award that is implemented by ICCCAD in partnership with GRP and CJRF. Her grant project was to foster knowledge exchange between rag-picking communities of South Asia and Africa, and she partnered with colleagues from SDI in Africa to execute this project. Zakia treated this grant as seed funding for a longer-term project.

Zakia's efforts are but a drop in a large ocean of knowledge, leadership, and energy that is waiting to be surfaced in the communities of the majority world or the Global South. Locally-led adaptation initiatives, knowledge exchange, and learning initiatives do not augur well for large-scale conventional implementation or research projects. Action research at the most local scales requires funding mechanisms to enable and catalyze change, and knowledge exchange, and foster leadership of the grantees in the process.

Catalytic grants

Historically, adaptation and resilience have been underfunded, and most of that funding meant for the Global South has been directed toward researchers and practitioners in the Global North. Conventional projects have been executed through parachute research and implementation, with little focus on learning, capacity building, and knowledge exchange among the actors in the Global South.

The Principles of Locally Led Adaptation (LLA), of which GRP is one of the founding signatories, articulate the need to shift this agency to the most at-risk communities, including youth, women and other genders, and indigenous peoples. The need for patient funding has been cited as a principle for LLA to ensure this shift in an agency.

While the Catalytic Grants do not offer patient funding in terms of time, they attempt to reimagine how grant-making for small grants can catalyze the capacities of leaders in the Global South to obtain such patient funding. Through knowledge exchange, capacity building, peer-to-peer learning, and building communities of practice, the catalytic grants have attracted cohorts of strong southern voices who build on existing knowledge among the communities they work with.

Catalytic Grants were initiated in 2021 in the first edition of the online Gobeshona conference by the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) in partnership with the Climate Justice Resilience Fund (CJRF) and Global Resilience Partnership (GRP). Their objective has been to catalyze collaboration across events such as Gobeshona, Community-based Adaptation (CBA) conference, and Conference of the Parties (COP) Resilience Hubs among Southern leaders.

The grant-making process is intensive in terms of time and human resources invested. The cohorts share progress over monthly calls, undergo capacity-building workshops, and contribute to knowledge exchange through alumni networks. In addition to that, their voices are amplified in policy, and efforts are celebrated through events at the milestone conferences.

Learning and reflections

On grantmaking:

The grant-making format of catalytic grants can be challenging. These are grants that run between events, and therefore, last for about a year. They are also small pots of money, which incur high transaction costs in managing multiple installments and holding financial accountability in the process. The biggest challenge is the difficulty to transfer money to certain countries despite the great quality of proposals we receive from those countries.

Despite all of these challenges, we are learning from every cycle. Our objective is to reduce the efforts of the managing team while not compromising on the efficacy of the grants. We want to ensure that the money and the time of the grantees are used in delivering the results rather than assuming the burden of reporting for the funds. Thus, we try to manage results rather than track detailed progress.

On tracking progress:

These small grants are not meant to demonstrate what conventional project management considers as impacts. These grants, therefore, don't measure indicators but rather ensure that the funds act as a catalyst to foster learning while acknowledging the existing leadership of grant winners. While the lack of indicators to track impacts or outcomes can be perceived as a limitation, these grants instead surface creativity, and innovation and therefore catalyze change from the bottom up.

On learning exchanges and communities of practice:

The biggest learning from these catalytic grants is the role of the communities of practice that have emerged out of the cohorts of grantees. ICCCAD has catalyzed these communities of practice through monthly calls. GRP has drawn on the experts from the Resilience Knowledge Coalition and has fostered learning through storytelling workshops, sessions on learning and MEL, and panel discussions between grantees and experts at Gobeshona, CBA, and COP Resilience Hub. These events have acted as spaces of learning and reflection for not just the grantees but the larger partnership and the coalition members on the role of LLA initiatives, local knowledge, and leadership in adaptation and resilience.

Zakia, in one of her presentations to a global audience, said, “The grants might be local in nature, but they have global ramifications. In changing the way projects are executed through bottom-up approaches and Southern experts, these projects address local needs while shifting the global funding landscape.”

While we at GRP are acutely aware of how far we have to go to influence the funding landscape for adaptation and resilience, we are glad that these small grants are making dents in an otherwise challenging landscape of adaptation and resilience funding, especially for locally-led action and local leadership. 

Shuchi Vora is working as a Programme Officer at Global Resilience Partnership (GRP). She can be reached at [email protected].

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