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A global collective of conservation-focussed foundations has turned its sights on Cayman to champion, fund and tackle local environmental concerns.

By the end of this year, the Conservation Collective will consist of 16 local philanthropic funds, working from St Vincent and the Grenadines, to Spain and Sri Lanka, with the stated goal of “facilitating funding for the most effective grassroots environmental initiatives”.

In a webinar held Tuesday, potential supporters and stakeholders of a Cayman-based environmental foundation gathered to hear more about the project, which the Collective’s chair and founder, Ben Goldsmith, described as a “turbo charge” for local initiatives.

Only 3% of giving spent on environment

Goldsmith told attendees, which included the National Trust for the Cayman Islands, the Blue Iguana Conservation and the Department of Environment, as well as potential donors, that they estimate just 3% of philanthropic giving is directed towards environmental causes, which he called the “mother of all issues”.

Suggesting this may be down to the “abstract” nature of environmental problems, which can feel remote from people’s daily lives – whether the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, climate change or disappearing fish stocks from the world’s oceans – he explained these are “huge problems, which feel difficult to address for an ordinary person… so people typically shy away from it”.

The Conservation Collective localises the issue and its solutions, he stated.

While concerns were raised about another foundation potentially increasing competition for local philanthropic giving, the Collective’s executive director, Jade Brudenell, stressed that their efforts would seek to complement work done by NPOs like the National Trust and to leverage additional funding for their projects.

The vast majority of people who are giving to the existing 16 foundations under the Collective’s umbrella, Goldsmith said, are “people who have never written a cheque for an environmental group before. Very few of them are existing environmental donors, so we feel we’ve found a new well to dig”.

Local causes

Goldsmith explained that the Collective has been able to multiply the pools of money available for environmental causes.

“The Ibiza Environment Foundation is handing out 3,000 to 4,000 euros per year. That’s 20 times more than was available at the outset for environmental work. It’s a massive boost… the results on the ground have been astonishing,” he said.

The foundation states on its website that it aims “to raise funds from people and businesses with strong local interests and connections and will partner with local experts to identify and support the most effective grass-roots conservation initiatives”.

Mangroves are essential in helping to protect Cayman’s coastlines. – Photo: Stephen Clarke

Citing local causes from preserving the mangroves and dry forest to species protection efforts for endemic wildlife, the National Trust’s executive director, Annick Jackman, during Tuesday’s webinar, emphasised the Trust’s conservation efforts depend upon buy-in from the local community, as well as successful education programmes that promote Cayman’s environmental and historical legacy to the younger generations.

“We have not inherited the earth from our ancestors, we’ve borrowed it from our children,” Jackman quoted to attendees.

Funding and organisational structure

Brudenell said that the Collective helps to “seed and set up” new local foundations by raising the funds and doing the “coordination leg work”, as well as supporting existing groups under their umbrella, building a “commune of scales and efficiencies” to amplify the impact of the local organisations.

Responding to Compass questions about how the Collective’s funding structure would work, Goldsmith explained that “at heart, these are donor committees”.

“These are groups of people who come together to give modest amounts of money between them in a coordinated and, hopefully, effective way.”

There is also, Goldsmith added, a “higher level objective” to raise money from external sources. He said the Collective’s platform facilitates the raising of larger sums from much- bigger donors, which might be multilateral or bilateral agencies, or major international philanthropic foundations.

The Conservation Collective is a network of local philanthropic funds focussed on protecting, preserving and restoring the natural environment of a specific place. Photo: Facebook/theconservationcollectivenetwork

He cited a partnership with the MAVA conservation foundation, which has granted hundreds of thousands of dollars for “redistribution around seagrass restoration” and the Sri Lanka Environment Foundation, which has secured a $450,000 grant for a mangrove restoration trial.

The executive director of the foundation would be charged with identifying the best local opportunities, which are worked into proposals. These are screened by a local, unpaid scientific advisory group, before they are passed for approval to a steering committee comprising between six and eight donors.

Grant sizes are typically between $3,000 and $30,000.

Next stages

Goldsmith explained they are looking to reach “critical mass”, that is, they need to ensure they have enough supporters to ensure a Cayman-based foundation would be viable.

“We know we can make these work,” he said, but added: “It’s foolhardy to try, unless we have a core group of people to form a core, energetic nucleus”.

He explained the organisation would next identify a potential executive director who would be tasked with producing a scoping report.

The Collective is looking to raise a minimum of $100,000 in commitments by the end of the year. They have pledged $30,000 to get the ball rolling.

“If we pull the trigger on it, it will work,” Goldsmith stated.

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