Getting conservation right takes time, and it requires local leadership and buy-in that’s often not easy to build. It can be difficult to find the long-term, flexible funding necessary to stick with such efforts and roll with the punches as they come.
One success story that demonstrates both the value of long-term funding and supporting local leaders comes from a U.K.-based partnership between Arcadia and Fauna & Flora International. The philanthropy has funded a conservation program at FFI starting in 1998, and just extended funding with a $27 million grant, through 2023.
That steady stream of funding and the additional money it’s leveraged have allowed the medium-sized NGO to significantly expand its work, which is uniquely focused on building up local capacity and genuine collaboration with local partners. The program, Halcyon Land & Sea, has allowed FFI to conserve 55.8 million hectares (138 million acres) over the course of about two decades.
Arcadia is the philanthropy of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, a couple with some academic prestige as well as inherited wealth. Rausing is an heiress to the Tetra Pak food packaging fortune of grandfather Ruben Rausing. The family is Swedish, with several members living in the U.K. She's a Harvard-educated historian, while Peter Baldwin is an American history professor and author. Their fund gives to a combination of cultural heritage preservation, environmental conservation, and open access to information. Arcadia’s also given millions to Wikimedia, and Baldwin’s one of just five on the Wikimedia Endowment advisory board.
Arcadia took a liking to FFI in 1998, when Rausing met with the NGO’s leadership about scaling up their ecosystem protection efforts. Part of what makes this partnership so unique is what sets FFI apart from larger conservation NGOs—that handful of groups that receive and spend the majority of environmental funding in any given year. While FFI's over a century old, boasting David Attenborough as a VP and even support from royalty, it's still relatively small and maintains a unique niche.
According to an independent review of the partnership from 2016, that niche includes building collaboration through lasting local partnerships, and using a “lean entrepreneurial style allowing fast and flexible engagement on critical issues.” In particular, the assessment differentiated FFI’s support for local partners in that it builds genuine local organizational capacity, rather than the more common but less-effective approach of merely “subcontracting” work to a local organization through regranting. Rather than following a centralized agenda for certain sites to protect, FFI goes where there are opportunities for such partnerships.
That same external review found that Arcadia has offered considerable trust and flexibility such that the group was able to build on this approach. The relationship hasn’t been perfect, and the review suggested even more flexibility in terms of paying for technical and overhead costs. But overall, “the Halcyon funds have been used strategically and consistently by FFI to achieve impressive gains.”
In particular, it’s been that long-term, reliable funding that’s helped the group to humbly build local relationships, be persistent in the face of challenges, and expand to new places as opportunities arise. It’s this combination of long-term backing and FFI’s unique approach to building genuine collaborative efforts on the ground that makes this donor-grantee relationship impressive.