Revitalizing a Network Joint Forest Management

This story is drawn from the experience of a grantmaker and her grantees who worked together to revitalize the stalled network the Ford Foundation had been supporting for years. Grantmakers working in other fields will appreciate their insights on issues such as:

  • Helping an established network respond to new challenges

  • Building capacity among grass roots groups

  • Affecting public policy

Mamta Borgoyary
Program Officer, Winrock International, India

In India particularly, the forests are a main source of livelihood and income for a particular class of people — the very poor.

Ishrad Khan
Forestry Specialist, World Bank

People were, in effect, deprived of their rights or their resources they have been using. This process went on and there was heavy exploitation of timber by the traders, by the government and all that.

Sushil Saigal
Senior Program Officer, Winrock International, India

It had become apparent that something was wrong. Forests were getting degraded and there was a growing tussle between the local communities and the forestry department.

V.K. Bahuguna
Deputy Inspector General of Forests, Government of India

The real shift in India’s forest management took place in 1988 with the enactment of new forest policy. After that, India’s forest would be managed with the people and for the people.

Sushil Saigal

The Ford Foundation initially supported Joint Forest Management in two states. When it became a national program, a national-level network was set up and the Ford Foundation provided a grant to the Society for the Promotion of Wastelands Development (SPWD). The network initially played a more activist kind of role. Over the years, Joint Forest Management has been accepted by the forestry departments of various states.

V.K. Bahuguna

Today, out of a population of one billion, 315 million people are dependent on the forest for their livelihood needs. Out of the 28 states of the Union, the Joint Forest Management Program is at present being implemented in 26 states — 36,165 people’s committees!

Doris Capistrano
Program Officer, The Ford Foundation

When I joined the New Delhi office in 1997, I walked into a portfolio that had around two decades of history. The portfolio incorporated perhaps the best and the brightest in terms of institutions and individuals working in forest management at that period. They had evolved ways of doing things both good and bad, and they were perceived to be a group of very committed, very active NGOs. But that is all an NGO-led and NGO-defined agenda, which may or not be representative of larger concerns both at the grass roots level and perhaps the more practical needs of people who have to implement and enforce policy.

There was a kind of animosity at some level between the groups that we were supporting and policy makers who had to make decisions. Network members perceived that there was an inner circle that had more access to the foundation, almost like a social club. We were perceived to be at the center of the networking effort.

The kinds of issues and concerns being raised from five or six years ago were exactly the same issues that were still being reported when I came in. So it was very apparent that we needed to make some changes. We started a process of consultation to decentralize the network. We could not just implement changes without partner institutions and individuals being part of that process.

Nayana Bose
Program Associate (1997-1999), The Ford Foundation

The first meeting was certainly not pleasant and peaceful because people were upset that their control was going to be taken away. They did not quite understand what the new structure was going to be like and what responsibility they would have.

Doris Capistrano

There are several steps involved in it. One is making groups and individuals understand the logic. It wasn’t too difficult to explain that if we’re talking about empowerment, participation, democratizing, and responsive governance around natural resources, then one could not argue with the logic that it is better to evolve structures that would allow all of this to happen. A network that is tightly controlled from Delhi simply would not allow that to happen.

Nayana Bose

In addition to meetings, I am sure Doris must have met with the SPWD people on her own, perhaps as a follow up to what had been discussed, about where this was really heading, and so on. It was important to reassure everyone that it was all going to work out well. At the end of 1997 we came up with a report that detailed the reasons why decentralization was necessary, what the current problems were, what the future challenges were going to be, and what the new structure was going to look like.

Empowering Grass Roots Organizations through Modest Grants and Information Sharing

Doris Capistrano

Grass roots organizations normally would require assistance in putting together proposals, in conceptualizing the project, and in facilitating travel. While we would like to support them to the extent that we can, we clearly could not do that for a large number of those small organizations. Yet we did not want to miss out on assisting at that level. What we did in order to accommodate a large number of these small groups was to open a small grants facility at the Winrock International Office.

Kinsuk Mitra
Forest Economist, Winrock International, India

We work with the prospective grantee a lot before a proposal is finalized. Very often there are grantees that have very bright ideas, but they are not trained to prepare work schedules, budget schedules, and things like that, so we sit with them and talk to them. We shape the proposal along with them. It’s this kind of nurturing relationship with small NGOs that makes it very rewarding. The local groups feel there is someone in Delhi who is interested in them. That itself is a big motivation for them to do a little bit more. It’s not that you have to keep track of every penny and how they are accounting for it. Financial trouble has been the least of our worries.

Sushil Saigal

Another way is to promote information sharing between different people in the field. Being such a big country there are a lot of good things happening in different nooks and corners. We just want to highlight and share with others what’s happening. One way, of course, is through an electronic newsletter. We are also planning to come up with a hard copy version of that newsletter.

Madhar Karki
Regional Program Coordinator, International Development Research Center

People are looking for ways where there are success stories, ways that could be replicated. If you do a good project in Kerala and we have you share your information with a large number of researchers, then you are already doing a service that will help people to solve their problems.

Opening Paths of Communication with Policy Makers

Doris Capistrano

As the regional networks are evolving, they’re defining their own agendas and their priorities, at the national level, we work very hard to make sure that networking supports the policy process. Over the past year and a half we have been working with the Ministry of Environment and Forests to set up official mechanisms so that stakeholder groups, including our grantees, have a legitimate entry point in decision making. They have just set up an official forum that will meet at least twice a year to advise government in all aspects of Joint Forest Management policy. The first meeting was here at the Ford Foundation. Meetings that are actually presided over by the Ministry have in the past been held only at the Ministry of Environment and Forest, under conditions that have been very regimented and controlled. So here is a conscious decision that they have made at our suggestion that in order for stakeholders to be able to participate more freely, they should take the meetings outside of the Ministry.

Radika Johri
Program Associate (1999 - 2000), The Ford Foundation

This was the first time that they were coming together to talk about collaboration and a wider consultative process. My impression at the outset was that the different parties were rather defensive. Doris really played the role of a facilitator. She got people to open up, to talk about their concerns, and about what they thought was needed in terms of the program. At the end of it there was a lot of enthusiasm about forming a wider partnership.

V.K. Bahuguna

It was an amazing success when we started discussing it. I think now people are realizing that they cannot carry forward joint forest management by only criticizing each other.

Doris Capistrano

We’ve had two meetings in that official forum and the Ministry’s finding it more and more useful because it is a way of bringing in other voices that they would otherwise not hear.

Suchil Saigal

In the Ministry they have limited manpower and even now they are not very flexible in terms of doing certain studies. The new idea is that with Ford support, the unit here in Winrock is going to assist the Ministry. When the network says that they want to make a policy decision about whether there is, for example, a particular percentage of women in the committees, or whether something is likely to work or not — what’s been the experience? This unit will do a short study for them with short turn around time — a month — and that will give them some insight. Then this information will be provided to the network and the policy makers and they can make a policy from that.

The Grantmaker’s Role in a Changing Situation

Doris Capistrano

The job involved meeting with all of these groups. It also involved providing technical assistance. In many cases it was just asking critical questions. A lot of that involves the one-on one discussions. They are not necessarily planned in meetings or inside rooms. Sometimes they happen as one waits for yet another flight at the airport, or as one travels to yet another meeting, or goes from village to village. For example, I traveled with MASS in my visits to Orissa. That involved many hours on the road together moving from place to place, where there was a captive audience in a small car for five or six hours going through the whole set of issues.

Bibikananda "Bibi" Patnaiik
Board Member, MASS

During the traveling in the car we always had discussions and she always advised us how we could alter our plans to incorporate the success stories from other areas. We used to call it the mobile training center.

Doris Capistrano

The role of the foundation is to bring together the parts of these institutions that are actually able to collaborate well. Some of these grantees have worked better with some groups than with others. Some of them refuse to work with others. So here is a case where the kind of facilitation that we provide is to bring together groups that are potentially able to productively engage with each other. Not that they necessarily share the same point of view, but they should at least be able to constructively have a dialogue and then work together in places of critical importance. Sometimes it’s just a visit to one location where they are thrown together simply because they have to figure out the kinds of itinerary. In the process they have to come together just to figure out logistics: Who takes the vehicle, you know, who picks up from where to where, etcetras. In many cases those kinds of meetings, in site specific and problem specific contexts, become the beginning of productive relationships.

Suchil Saigal

When you interact at that level you feel more free. If the donor is of a different type, then you just worry that a particular report is proper, even if you haven’t done any work. Now you prepare a nice little report, make it more glossy.

Doris Capistrano

The effort to decentralize the network, the effort to bring in new players and new partners — a lot of that is really an effort to bring in groups and individuals who do not think like us. Otherwise we’ll be preaching to the converted, we’ll be talking to our kind, and we’d be no better than when we started.

Joint Forest Management aims to promote community participation in degraded forest areas. For example, local communities form forestry protection committees that work with government foresters to protect forests from degradation and share revenues from timber harvesting. Since its initial success in West Bengal, Joint Forest Management has spread to 26 of India’s 28 states. The Ford Foundation supported the original advocacy effort of 25 NGOs that started this national network. By the end of 1996, the group had expanded from 25 members to over 150. Most of this growth consisted of grass roots institutions that supported implementation efforts in local areas, and regional federations of forest protection committees. Once successful, however, the network faltered when pressed to respond to the emerging demands of new members from all over the country. The preceding is the story of how a grantmaker, Doris Capistrano, helped this established network revitalize itself.