Starting as a New Grantmaker Mozambique Sustainable Wilderness Development Initiative

The following story is based on the experience of a new grantmaker, working together with his grantee partners, in the field of sustainable development in Africa. Grantmakers working in other fields or geographic areas will appreciate insights on issues such as:

  • Scanning the landscape
  • Focusing your efforts
  • Building relationships with grantees

This case is based on a transcript of "Starting as a New Grantmaker" in our Reflection on Practice video series.

Ken Wilson
Program Officer(1993-2002), The Ford Foundation:

By the later ‘80s and early ‘90s, Mozambique had been rendered by decades of war and economic problems the poorest country in the world, bottom of the United Nations human misery index — a desperate, terrible situation. It was clear that we needed to put in place a set of policies, a set of institutions that could really address the needs of the rural poor.

Linking National Thinking with Rural Realities

I once traveled in provincial Mozambique with a Mozambican official from Maputo who told people from Chimanimani that Mozambique is Maputo. The rest is just scenery. In countries like Mozambique that are extremely large and very poorly integrated, one of the biggest problems is how you relate a national process of renewal and policy reform in the capital city, to what’s really happening in the villages across the country. 

Perhaps the most important contribution that the Ford Foundation has been able to make to the Initiative has been to support the process of a national policy of reform — giving communities rights under the land law and changing the whole Forestry and Wildlife Act to reflect community engagement. 

First of all, we were the first significant donor to really give resources to the people at the province to do concrete programs in the field. Secondly, we enabled people who were at the central level but who believed that they should be out in the field to get that kind of experience. And we’ve enabled the Forest Research Center, CEF and the Socio-Cultural Institution, as well as the NGOs, to post many of their best qualified and most dedicated officials right out in the field working firsthand with the issues.

They’re not just doing a nice little pilot program that benefits communities, though. It’s a much greater challenge to work out how to make sure that pilot program fits in with the changing thinking at a national level, and contributes concretely to the rewriting of forestry and wildlife laws. 

In Mozambique, the forestry and wildlife officials captured the moment, so what we’re engaged in is a twin process of working with government to realize this new vision that they have. On the other hand, we’re building the institutions of civic society, whether at the national level on policy reform, or at the village level in terms of the actual realization of the things that matter to villagers.

Forging Essential Relationships

Under the Chimanimani and Tchuma Tchato pilot programs, the Ford Foundation basically funds the activities that enable communities to gain natural resource rights, establish their democratic councils and make decisions over the development and management of those resources. Eco-tourism is a major opportunity for these spectacular areas of Mozambique with their heritage of bio-diversity. But more than just eco-tourism, there’s a whole number of other resources which now have new global markets. One of them is honey. These are marvelous honey producing areas where the forest trees produce nectar with very distinct flavors. Another major opportunity is wild mushrooms. The communities generate the revenue from the utilization of these resources. It’s with those kind of revenues that they may choose to solve whatever particular problems they have, whether it be through the purchase of grinding mills, the establishment of shops, or the improvement of their schools, etc.

Community-based resource management is not something that you decide to do today and tomorrow there’s a concrete benefit. It takes many years to line up everybody, to build the capacity in communities that are usually distrustful and, historically disorganized. But in order to get to grips with the Chimanimani Mountains a lot needed to happen. Mahat, the Great Rain Chief of the Chimanimani Mountains, and the other Elders and spiritual leaders closed down the Chimanimani Mountains in 1983. After ten years of isolation, peace came, and Mahat and his community were in a dilemma. Could they risk reopening their area, or would they simply be subject to resource looting by logging companies and by commercial hunters without getting any of the benefits — or would they indeed be able to secure those benefits. For four years Mahat and the other elders deliberated on this. Pedro, Garicai and one or two other individuals went regularly to sit with him and to talk with him.

Pedro Garicai Penengunguza
Provincial Forestry & Wildlife Service (Serviços Provinciais de Florestas e Fauna Bravia):

When we visited chief Mahat there were some difficulties making progress. At last we managed to get permission from him. I am a coordinator — a representative of the government, and also basically of Chimanimani, and of all these organizations coming in to do some projects. I like to see and know what’s to be done first and not to disturb the cultural environment, and the systems of the area, so that when we coordinate with the people, with the chiefs, and with the medium spirits, everything works smoothly.

Ken Wilson:

In the establishment of these relations of trust between the outsiders and the people of Chimanimani, we need to understand this concept of sacredness and the power of the spirit mediums as a way of trying to establish the terms of these relationships.

Camilla De Sousa
Forest Research Center(Centro de Expérimentação Florestal - CEF):

In August we have to do a really big traditional ceremony so that we can communicate to the spirits that we will be here and what we will be doing.

Ken Wilson:

In the last two years the agencies involved in the Chimanimani pilot program have steadily expanded the area in which they work. First, they go in on foot many times, and walk for days on end while talking to all of the communities.

Paulo Boaventura
Association for Rural Mutual Assistance (Organizacao Rural de Ajuda Mutua - ORAM):

It’s not quite easy, even if you have a nice idea, to transfer your idea to other people. You need to motivate these people, you need to explain to them what the project is relating, and what benefit they can find in it. So we are trying to be a facilitator.

Ken Wilson:

At the moment in Chimanimani, they’re establishing the first elected councils. It’s taken quite a number of years to bring the community to the point where they feel that they want to have elected councils. At the beginning, they had a lot of doubt. So they were brought together and taken to visit Tchuma Tchato, where elected councils have been operating for three years. There, they spoke not to researchers or officials but to villagers and spiritual leaders like them about how it works. They
spoke about how an elected council can take legitimate decisions from the community and consult with the spirit mediums, who are still recognized as having a legitimate voice in making decisions that affect the futures of communities and their landscapes.

Starting as a New Program Officer

I knew how to do research. I had no idea how to make grants. I had no idea what Ford Foundation really was. For the first year, I was in the process of listening and working out how things were going to unfold. It seems to me that when you join a foundation, the first thing you think is, “How could I know whether that’s a good project or not, or whether it’s a good grant? The activity is well designed, but does it make a difference as a grant?” Then, as you think more you begin to realize, “Actually, I’m not only here to make good grants.” We have to try to look at a wider process. We’re trying to move a field; we’re trying to change the way in which everybody in that sector thinks about problems. We’re trying to deal with underlying factors.

I talked to all of the people who were in this field. What did they think were the opportunities, the needs, and the mood of the country? What was very clear then was that in that process there were a number of people who had very good ideas. I quite quickly got to have faith in certain people’s ability to look at the bigger picture. Others might be wonderful in their particular area, but some people had a capacity to look at the bigger picture, and I decided that those were the people that I wanted to listen to.

Of course, the trick in programming is to recognize the unusual opportunities. The unusual opportunity in Mozambique was that there was a new government. The government acknowledged that they didn’t know how to best address rural people’s needs, but they wanted to learn. Yet, the set of agencies that government might need to think about-to work out how to revive the rural economywas simply very fragile. Young people were coming back into these institutions, often from having done masters degrees overseas. Most of them really felt the responsibility of that education. They wanted to imagine a whole new way of things working in Mozambique.

Maputo is a separate world. We had a bunch of young people who wanted to rethink this question but how were they going to do it? What Ford Foundation was able to do is say, “You have this vision.” The director of CEF said back in 1993, “We want to find out what it means to be able to sit down with peasants and talk about forest management.” We were able to give them the resources to do that. We were able to help those people who wanted the resources to get out of Maputo, to be based across this huge country working practically on the ground with real issues, with real communities, with local government structures and so on.

When you work for a foundation — when you’re looking at your program — I think that one of the most important things to do — to reflect upon — is to work out who are going to be the change agents for you in this society. Who really can make a difference — both from studying that society and from studying your own foundation? Identify them and make sure that, in terms of how you distribute your resources, you’re meeting their needs.

Working with Grantees

Antonio Ribero
Forest Research Center (Centro de Expérimentação Florestal - CEF):

He just came here to learn and to speak with us, and he’s the kind of person that you can talk to and you can exchange ideas with. I think that is one of the most important things. Some donors come here with some ideas, and they want you to do it. But if you don’t do it they don’t give the money. But Ken comes here and discussed with us our needs.

Ken Wilson:

The program officer has to listen, to listen deeply to the grantee. It has to be a listening relationship. Secondly, it must be validating. Normally speaking, we’re looking for new people with new ideas. People often don’t get much support for those ideas. You need to validate those ideas. But then immediately we need to be critical. People are not just looking for, “Yeah, you’re doing everything fine.” They need their ideas to be criticized. They want a genuine relationship with you-they want to hear. Certainly you can challenge them with your suggestions about how to do things. When you have a really healthy relationship, they will take that as one of the many pieces of advice and they will chart their own course.

What you certainly can do is help them get in touch with other kinds of comparative experiences. We can identify which places in the world have the particular kind of experience relevant to what somebody is trying to do — linking people with similar people around the world, but also within their countries. We can also link different levels. Because we gain the trust of all of these people in very different kinds of positions, we can help them see where else in their own country there are people with whom they can link up and do more. Finally, and only finally, do we resource with grant funding and give the money to them.

A key feature of programming is not just to support good work by one or another agency, but rather it’s to find a way to get agencies that can and should play complementary roles to each other. To get NGOs and government agencies working together, and to get research agencies not only doing good research, but also feeding that research concretely into the practice of NGOs and of government are also key features. I think, actually, that this is the most important thing that funders can do. Funders quite often don’t realize that they end up separating agencies by funding them separately.

The interacting together really happens in two kinds of ways. The first kind of way is where you as a program officer bring them in, in slightly different ways around the problem. The second aspect which must surely soon follow is where the agencies themselves start to interact, to gain ideas from each other, to collaborate together in different kinds of ways, and to generate new perspectives. This isn’t just collaborating to solve a problem. It’s understanding how moving the whole problem forward by identifying the next stage in the policy area, the legal framework area, or the capacity to live on the ground — it’s actually having concrete outputs in and impacts on the lives of people. You are there to work in concert with a whole set of grantees. The first thing must be that the foundation program officer has to be able to let others play the lead role in actually changing things, and be a resource to those people.

The Chimanimani program really provides a wonderful laboratory for how to bring these different kinds of agencies together. We’ve got the governmental implementing agencies — the SBFFB, in particular — the provincial Forestry and Wildlife Service — creating the framework of rights and community participation. Meanwhile, NGOs work to actually realize this in practice. ORAM comes in to help mobilize and organize the communities. AMRU, the Association of Rural Mozambican Women, brings groups of women together to develop, concretely, the honey and mushroom enterprises, which enable them to generate income from the management of natural resources. Research agencies like the Socio-Cultural Research Institute, ARPAC, the CEF, the Forest Research Institute, work out and investigate these tremendously challenging relationships between people and environment over time. Cultural organizations like Jesson focus on audio and video dissemination, and the cultural activist program, the PAC, brings in a dance and street theater perspective.

The agencies involved in the Chimanimani program work together in two kinds of ways. One, they meet on a regular monthly basis in the provincial capital in Chimoio to discuss problems, priorities, who’s doing what, what else they need to do, why things are not moving forward, or whatever else they need to discuss collectively.

The second way they work together is out there in the field. If you have coordination in the office but you’re not really experiencing and collaborating around the actual situation of the villages, mountains, and forests, it’s very unlikely that you’re really going to meet needs. Thus, from time to time they go on joint expeditions into the mountain areas — working with communities and looking at the situation on the ground. They use that to better craft how they come together around the problems to bring the Chimanimani process forward.

I think the most important thing is to not feel that you somehow have to — in a period of X number of months — construct the whole thing; it has to be an ongoing, slow, steady, iterative process. You’ve got to go step by step, brick by brick. As you put in each brick you will find it has a different shape than you thought it did, and you’ll find you’re going to go in a different direction, that you’re going to hear new things from grantees. The situation in the area that you are working is going to change dramatically in ways that you can’t expect. But build in such a way that you are always going forward; you are always responding to a situation.

As a program officer crafts the initiative, you have to realize that you can only really work with a small, or relatively small, number of institutions. These are core institutions in the sense that you’re not only concerned about what they do, but also about the building of the capacity of their institutions, and the nurturing of the creativity of their staff. If you try to take on more core institutions than that you simply won’t have enough time to understand them and to give them the input they

One of the issues that you have to address is in which geographic areas are you going to work. We need to identify a few locations in which to do our focused work — especially the pilot program work. Don’t take one location — something might happen at one location — either internal or external — to the project, which will shape events and mean that it can’t be a laboratory for the country. Choose a number of locations and, in line with the particularities of those locations, do things completely differently. A small core of officials working within the Forestry and Wildlife Service leads Tchuma Tchato. Chimanimani is different — it has several research agencies and NGOs that are balancing the work of the Forestry and Wildlife Service. What did this mean? How will it unfold? It’ll be very different.

Work in a number of locations but remember the really important thing is to link those experiences organically to the national policy reform process. You must build the capacity of a country to use its own experience to make its policy reform.

As program officers engage with their grantees in an initiative over a period of time, they really need to think about their role and understand that it is going to change. The special circumstances in Mozambique, back in 1993 and 1994, required of me a very unusual type of role. It was really important to the Mozambicans that I didn’t just say, “Here’s money to work with communities.” I went with them into these areas and together we were able to learn far more about what it would actually take in Mozambique to create relationships with local communities that would actually work. This approach is not something I would have done in many other circumstances. Again, looking at working in this kind of way as a process, one of the really important challenges for me is to phase out that type of relationship. People can now do it for themselves. I’m not involved in Tchuma Tchato now in the way that I was involved some years ago.

The key thing for the foundation now is to ask itself, “Where do we go next? What do we need to do now?” Without turning our back on those young people, we now have to help look at their institutions. How can we make their institutions durable, effective, and capable of delivering the services that they as individuals have? This is why I’m so concerned with working with, for example, the Center of Forestry Research, ARPAC, and others to recreate themselves in terms of their statutes,
their relationship with other statutory bodies, and their capacity for autonomous financial management. So, the program officer must be ever self-reflective about what is the next kind of role that needs to be taken, and be strong enough to do that.