Learning from a sunsetting foundation

After 28 years of funding nature conservation projects, the MAVA Foundation is closing down. While MAVA has allocated more than one billion dollars, through 1,500 projects carried out by more than 500 partners, it is now essential to take a step back, reflect on our experience as a funder, and gather lessons learned to share with others in the philanthropic and conservation community.

As each MAVA staff is increasingly thinking about our new professional lives, we are also taking stock of the foundation's knowledge assets and this process is akin to moving a house: it is necessary to sort things out, throw away the superfluous, put items away in boxes, label them and keep only what is essential to share. So, for over a year, we have been working to capture the lessons from our experiences as funders and share them in the form of blogs, articles, or syntheses so that these lessons can be of benefit to the greatest number.

We have organised all of this content on the MAVA Learning page, and below are highlights of the main learning products you can find there.

Be an Octopus: A guide presenting the general approach to engagement that MAVA adopted to support our grantee partners in making the most on the ground impact. Indeed, the role of the foundation is not limited to financial support: like an octopus, it has multiple arms which can offer as many levers for an efficient and adaptive support to partners. Collaboration through balanced partnerships, organisational support, coaching of individuals and strengthening of links between nature conservation actors have characterised MAVA's 28 years of experience. The guide draws lessons that are useful for all donors who wish to engage beyond project funding.

Strategic Partnerships – MAVA's approach to scaling up conservation impact: A guide detailing our collective approach to conservation funding. The collaboration of the foundation's partners through common objectives appears to be a way to achieve more impact in the field whilst limiting competition for funding.


Conservation Learning Initiative: Thanks to the large number of projects funded over the course of its existence, MAVA has a wealth of information on what conservation activities and approaches work, and which are less effective. The Conservation Learning Initiative presents the findings of the analytical work carried out by Foundations of Success and Conservation Evidence on the themes of capacity building, partnerships and alliances, research and monitoring, and flexible funding.

Not if but how – troubleshooting in projects: A project is never a smooth ride and a collective approach such as that of strategic partnerships can involve new problems in project implementation. A blog, available in English and French, from MAVA Manager, Luis Costa looks at the role of the donor in solving the problems that are bound to arise during project implementation.

Learning to Let Go – Decision-Making for Foundations: An overview of our trust-based approach and decision-making mechanism for project funding. This guide documents how the foundation distributes decision-making power based on trust with partners and on the autonomy of staff within the foundation.


Merging for Impact – Radically rethinking how we deliver impact: The evolution of MAVA as an organisation has been marked by a major step: its merger with another 'sister' foundation. Based on the testimonies of partners and other stakeholders involved in the process, this guide, available in English and French, explores the benefits, and also the prerequisites and challenges of such merger.

Using core values to honour the founder's vision without creating a mausoleum: In its lifetime, the MAVA Foundation has worked to reaffirm and formalise the values that have underpinned its commitment since its creation. This blog by MAVA Director General, Lynda Mansson, available in English and French, looks back at this structuring and inspiring process.

Tips of the Triangle – Exploring three-way partnerships for Organisational Development: In view of the end of its funding in 2022, the MAVA Foundation has reinforced its organisational support towards some of its partners. This guide, created in partnership with Stone Soup Consulting, details how a three-way partnership between the partner, an external consultant, and a donor can be particularly effective in strengthening that partner and a great learning process for all.

A fruitful OD partnership! Our retrospective of the long collaboration between MedPAN and MAVA: As an illustration of the diversity of Organisational Development (OD) partnerships, this blog, collectively written by Marie Romani (MedPAN), Simon Mériaux (MAVA Manager) and Julien Semelin (ex-MAVA), and available in English and French, looks back at an OD support that has matured over the years and underlines the need for a coherent approach between the different funding supports provided.

Why investing in leadership development matters: In addition to strengthening organisations, the MAVA Foundation has been engaged in setting up a much-appreciated mechanism to support the leadership capacities of young and not-so-young individuals working in nature conservation. Based on the MAVA Leaders for Nature Academy impact report, this blog , collectively written by Common Purpose, Mowgli Mentoring, MAVA, and Academy alumni, and available in English and French, details the rationale and results of the intergenerational approach (between junior and senior staff from different organisations) that has led to personal, professional, and organisational changes.

Care for Those Who Take Care for the Planet – Grant-making for staff development: Leadership support is an example of capacity building that partner organisations should be able to offer to their staff in order for them to thrive in achieving their mission. However, this is only possible if these organisations have the financial means for this type of support... and therefore if donors fund these activities. This guide looks at the investment in professional development of employees as an influencing factor in the impact and stability of teams, and at the appropriate means of funding.

Other learning products will likely be published... We hope you will be inspired to use and share them!

Learning from a sunsetting foundation


About the author(s)

Organisational Development Manager & Head of Learning
MAVA Foundation

Manager, Impact & Sustainability Unit and Mediterranean Programme
MAVA Foundation