Sunday, 15 November 2009

An oathstone ceremony protesting the Kaiduan Dam

Marrakech, Morocco

News from our fieldsite in Malaysia: There is an ongoing protest against the building of the Kaiduan Dam, which will make environmental refugees of the Kadazandusun people in the Ulu Papar region of Sabah, Malaysia.  On 17 October, the 11 Ulu Papar communities gathered on the banks of the Papar River in the village of Timpayasah to declare their common stand in fighting for their lands and sealed this oath in blood.  Representatives of each community placed a plant around the oath stone.  The plants chosen, among them gingers and palms, cannot survive with too much water, symbolizing what will be lost if Ulu Papar is flooded with the building of the dam.  As reported in the Daily Express, a local newspaper, one of the community leaders stated “In the old days, the oathstone was used as a territorial boundary of a village to demarcate land ownership among the Kadazandusun community. But this time we chose the traditional ceremony … as a strong sign that we … have vowed to stay on our land.”

Thursday, 12 November 2009

What's wrong with charitable giving: part 2

Marrakech, Morocco

The second nugget of wisdom on charitable giving in Pablo Eisenberg’s Wall Street Journal article of 9 November addresses multi-year funding.  He says, “Few foundations are willing to give their grantees long-term support. Most grants are made on an annual basis, renewable for one or two more years. It is the rare institution that is willing to commit upfront support for five, 10 or 20 years. But that is exactly the kind of commitment that excellent organizations, especially public-policy and advocacy groups, require to meet their long-range goals. Public policies and institutions often change slowly. Nonprofit organizations must be given sufficient time and stability to bring about such changes. Not all nonprofits merit this kind of financing, but those that have the capacity, integrity and leadership to achieve long-term success should be given the resources to reach their objectives.”

I would include GDF in this group, as we are committed to long-term, community-based projects that evolve over time. Fortunately, some of our funders – such as the Darwin Initiative – understand this approach. The Darwin Initiative guidelines state, “Experience from previous projects has shown that, when working with local communities, speed of progress may be constrained by the need to build understanding and consensus before engaging in new approaches.  Therefore, projects working with communities should be realistic about timeframes and rates of progress.” The Darwin Initiative has shown its commitment to this principle by supporting our work in Sabah, Malaysia for an eight-year period.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

What's wrong with charitable giving: part 1

Marrakech, Morocco

I am impressed by Pablo Eisenberg’s Wall Street Journal article of 9 November on charitable giving. Among other sensible points, he suggests that individuals and foundations increase their general operating support and multiyear funding to non-profits. His argument for increasing core funds:

“General operating support, or unrestricted money, is the lifeblood of effective organizations. It permits them to hire and maintain quality staff, conduct advocacy activities, build organizational capacity, participate in coalitions and retain the flexibility to pursue targets of opportunity. Unfortunately, only about 20% of all foundation grant money is allocated to such support. Many grantors believe that special-project funding is more easily evaluated and, therefore, more accountable, though there is little evidence to support this contention. What is true, of course, is that special-project funding gives foundations more control over the agendas of their grantees, responsibilities that should be vested in the boards and staff of nonprofits.

Whatever their reasons, foundations need to change their old habits. At least 50% of all foundation money should be granted for general operating support.”

This resonates with GDF’s experience. We have had relative success in attracting donations and obtaining grants for specific profits, but quite a bit less in finding sources of support for general operations.  To remedy this, we are considering launching a funding campaign to engage people interested in providing core support for our international and regional programs.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Protected Natural Areas in Mexico

Marrakech, Morocco

I am reading a report on Mexico’s potential to conserve and sustainably use its biodiversity. Issued by the country’s National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO), with support from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), it is an impressive compilation of perspectives on protected areas, community conservation, forestry certification, payment for environmental services and other aspects of conservation.  The establishment of protected areas – such as national parks and biosphere reserves – is an important approach to in situ conservation, which means preserving ecosystems, landscapes and species where they are found rather than in new places such as botanical gardens and germplasm banks.  Mexico has set aside nearly 24 million hectares of land and forest in protected areas, which corresponds to 12.2% of its national territory.  While impressive, a more important question is the overall success of these conservation areas. The National Commission for Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) recognizes many protected areas are deteriorating despite efforts to conserve them.  The CONABIO report argues that working effectively with local communities is an important way of rectifying the situation.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Remembering Claude Lévi-Strauss

Marrakech, Morocco

The news of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s passing brought back memories of his visit to the University of California at Berkeley in autumn 1984, when I was finishing the coursework for my doctorate in the Anthropology Department.  A sign-up sheet for 15-minute meetings with him was circulated among graduate students, and I was quick to put my name down for a slot. I remember being ushered into his office in the Kroeber Building and sitting down to a brief discussion about the importance of the classification of nature as a subject of anthropological enquiry.  Lévi-Strauss had included a few notes on Amazonian ethnobotany in Tristes Tropiques, his philosophical autobiography published in 1955.  In The Savage Mind, which appeared in 1962, he explored – among many other topics – the classification of plants and animals by diverse indigenous peoples.  As this was the subject of my pending fieldwork in Mexico, I was curious to hear what Lévi-Strauss thought about continuing the debate on ethnobiological classification. In sum, he appeared to think it was a relatively passé subject that he had left in his past.  Of course, it was 22 years after his book on the subject …

Monday, 2 November 2009

Ethnobiology conference underway in Pachuca, Hidalgo

Marrakech, Morocco

The GDF-Mesoamerica team has travelled through the Hidalgo Huasteca region of Mexico – where they joined in the Xantolo (Day of the Dead) celebrations – and on to Pachuca today for the combined Ist Latin American and VIIth Mexican Congress of Ethnobiology. Armando Medinaceli, GDF’s new intern from Bolivia, is accompanying Carlos del Campo and Claudia Camacho, the regional coordinators. Armando will present of this master’s research (he was a student in the University of Kent Environmental Anthropology Program) on Chinantec ethnozoology – knowledge, practice and beliefs about animals in this group indigenous peoples of southern Mexico. Carlos and Claudia will discuss our project on strengthening Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs) through ethnobiological research and training. Attending scientific congresses is one way that we disseminate the results of our field projects, and network with colleagues from other regions.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Same sky, reconciliation and rebuilding communities in Rwanda

Marrakech, Morocco

Bridget Bailey, who is active in the charitable organization Same Sky, has been staying with us over the last few days. Same Sky is a trade-not-aid initiative that helps Rwandan women who are living with HIV/AIDS, a tragic result of the widespread sexual abuse during the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. The majority of these women are destitute, and the goal of Same Sky is to help them rebuild their lives and communities. One way to achieve this is to give the women an opportunity to earn an income that allows them to provide food, education and healthcare for their families. In the case of Same Sky, the products sold are glass bead bracelets hand crocheted by women artisans in Kigali, Rwanda. Effective production and marketing are guaranteed by Gahaya Links, a small business created by two sisters, Joy Ndungutse and Janet Nkubana. Gahaya Links, which is supported by Global Relief and Development Partners, now employ over 4,000 rural women who weave intricate baskets that are sold in department stores such as Macy’s in New York. Through this initiative, Tutsi and Hutu women can work side by side, contributing to ethnic reconciliation and community building in Rwanda.