The need for funding in nature conservation has been and continues to be large. So large that philanthropy and grant-making have turned into an industry, including sponsor associations and conferences, grant opportunity databases, and software companies providing grant-making management platforms. However, it seems that the nature of nature’s funding is changing. Just as new technologies are developed to help nature conservation forward, so is the funding industry subject to new technology. Do not take my word for it, but read what my recent interview with Léna Plaud reveals.
Who is Léna Plaud?
Léna has a background in business and corporate social responsibility. She used to work in tourism, for which she moved to Chile, a country which is, as she puts it ‘a country of extremes in nature’ while being stretched out from tropical regions in its Northern parts to very cold climates in its Southern regions. About a year and a half ago, Léna got the opportunity to start working for Lemu, where she is the head of external relations. Her job, among other things, includes reaching out to organizations in nature conservation, to learn about their problems and needs, and explain how Lemu can help.
Well, what are their problems and needs?
Léna explains that at the top of the list for most conservation organizations ( COs ) in the global South is the problem of funding. One of her recent lessons is that there is easier access to funding in the global North, whereas in the South, where support is needed most, there is a severe shortage.
Moreover, as Léna points out, the sponsors that do finance nature conservation in the global South, require effective action and nature management, and verifiable impact of the work that they support. Here COs can run into a vicious circle: as long as sponsors do not understand their value, money is not flowing, and without money there can be no progress.
Trust and transparency are the crux
Léna’s main lesson for the conservation community is about the importance of trust and transparency. COs need to show that they can be trusted with the support they receive, and they do this by transparent reporting of what they do. This is more easily said than done. Through her contacts, Léna learned that many COs lack resources and capacity for the reporting that is necessary to show progress and to build that trust.
Léna explains that this is where Lemu aims to play a role. It provides a platform that allows COs to connect with supporters, who are willing to fund meaningful and impactful environmental projects. With the platform, Léna continues, COs are better able to focus on outcomes and interpret the impact of conservation management, along with sharing the full story of their work. There is a gap between sponsors’ short-term expectations about the good that their money does, and the long time horizon of many nature conservation projects, especially when it comes to forestry. After all, trees do not grow fast.
Léna : Lemu’s online platform therefore aims to have two sides. One for progress reporting, as usually is done through annual reports. The other for telling the story about the daily work, so that sponsors can see how extensive nature conservation is, including that, occasionally, things do not go as expected. Léna believes that telling this full story is key to COs getting funded.
Transformation of fundraising
Asked about an insight or lesson that the conservation sector is currently missing, Léna mentions two things. There is a switch needed to seeing conservation’s support as an investment as it does create value, but typically not in the sense of financial ‘return on investment’. For example, planting the right tree at the right place for the right people creates value, like CO2 capture, improvement of water quality & biodiversity. This investment value goes beyond simple philanthropy.
Secondly, Léna is seeing a new trend regarding the willingness to support the environment. Younger generations are more and more involved and are easier to be reached through social and new technologies. Payment & fundraising technologies thus have the potential to transform the way COs get funding and represent a great opportunity.
Lemu is currently working with 60 conservation organizations which are managing 5 million hectares of forest. Lemu aims to finance the protection of 1% of the world’s land in the next ten years. The Lemu platform is planned to go public in the spring of this year. See https://le.mu
This article is based on a Zoom interview with Léna Plaud, by Frank van der Most, on 12 January 2023. The article is part of the WildHub community’s Conservation Catalyst program. https://wildhub.community
With many thanks to @Lena Plaud for her enthusiastic participation ; to @Thirza Loffeld for introductions ; and to @Ross Rowe for patient and instructive coaching, and for proofreading. Al remaining mistakes are mine.
Photo by Pixabay from PexelsPhoto by Pixabay from Pexels: https://www.pexels.com/photo/persom-holding-black-android-smartphone-and-2-1-u-s-dollar-163069/Photo by Pixabay from Pexels: https://www.pexels.com/photo/persom-holding-black-android-smartphone-and-2-1-u-s-dollar-163069/Photo by Pixabay from Pexels: https://www.pexels.com/photo/persom-holding-black-android-smartphone-and-2-1-u-s-dollar-1630
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Great post @Frank van der Most and @Lena Plaud ! Lena, your insights regarding the time to build trust and the need for transparency resonate with me. We found similar themes when discussing this with donors who fund capacity development work in conservation (post here).
@Lena Plaud : how can organisations best get in touch with you to partner with Lemu?
Thanks for sharing!