Nature For Justice has engaged with hundreds of nonprofits, civil society groups, businesses, and communities of faith who work at the local level, most of whom have reached out to us to learn about Nature-based Solutions (NbS) and the opportunity to access funds for launching their own NbS projects. These climate project proponents represent hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of households that need support to become more resilient to the rapidly changing climate and the myriad associated risks this presents for them.
We see our role as working with local organizations to develop successful NbS projects that meaningfully and permanently improve climate resilience for local people alongside making a contribution toward containing global warming. While this assurance of project success is also what our investors and funders look for, we also recognize that it is local communities that suffer the most if a project fails.
How to Ensure High Integrity NbS Projects?
So, how do we develop projects for success, or more succinctly, how do we ensure high-integrity NbS projects?
We believe there are three core “tentpoles” that form a central framework for high-integrity NbS projects: (1) robust and locally appropriate project design/approach; (2) capable project delivery partner(s); and (3) good organizational capacity to ensure project risks are effectively managed.
Our project evaluation method was captured in our blog entitled “Evaluating Potential Nature-based Solution Projects: Systematically and Fairly,” and a future blog will describe how we approach organizational capacity building. The purpose of this blog is to explain how we evaluate partner capabilities in relation to project delivery needs and risks. I use an illustrative example to illustrate our approach.
Request for Proposal Process: Evaluating Projects
The Request for NbS Project Proposals we managed in Africa early in 2023 had nearly 90 respondents, and in evaluating all of these, it became clear that we needed to help the many smaller-sized proponents overcome The 5 Barriers to Entry for Nature-based Solution Projects. Our view is that in order for a project to be resilient over the long term, it must achieve climate justice additionality and meet the eligibility requirements for high-integrity carbon projects (e.g., additionality, permanence, leakage, and effective governance).
A project that only brings carbon revenues to local beneficiaries without using carbon finance as a catalyst for positive, context-sensitive social-ecological systems change will not have long-term durability and therefore lacks integrity. This means a central need for projects to unlock meaningful and permanent improvements in financial revenue for smallholder farmers and/or communities and generate a tangible reduction in their exposure to climate-related threats, such as food, water, and energy security.
Using an illustrative example below, we evaluate three possible project implementing partners for their capability to deliver high-integrity NbS projects:
Project Delivery Capacity:
- Strength of presence in the project landscape (i.e., existing trust networks / social capital, understanding of local context, existing staff, infrastructure, and projects)
- Level of experience in implementing large-scale, long-term NbS activities of the type envisaged
- Breadth and depth of experience in engaging with, working with, and/or contracting with government, community leadership, communities, and landowners
- Alignment of organizational mission/activities with the project focus and objectives
- Strength of organizational structure and associated qualifications and skills (i.e., board, executive, and staff)
- Evidence of stable leadership
- Organizational funding portfolio and likely fit with anticipated project investor(s)
- Financial stability (i.e., strength of the balance sheet)
- Strength of policies and systems:
- Financial systems (auditable)
- Procurement and logistics management
Recruitment and management of large numbers of staff/contractors
- Health, safety, security, and environment
- Internal and project-scale reporting and governance
So, based on this, it appears that potential partner #3 is the strongest candidate for project implementation. However, by revisiting the scores and thinking through the weighting of the evaluation criteria relative to each other, the ultimate result may differ. Specifically, this example shows that #3 did less well on:
- Presence in the project landscape (staff, projects, infrastructure, social capital)
- Presence in the project landscape (existing trust networks)
These are two critical factors, as they are indicative of the trust that local communities have in the prospective partner and its ability to mobilize and operate effectively in the project landscape. Of course, #3 could build trust with the local community, but the evaluation highlights that it’s not there now. Given the complexity of these projects, especially in the first 3 to 5 years of project implementation, this is potentially a critical gap.
Partner #2 scores much higher on “presence in the project landscape”, but the evaluation shows that it has less experience in implementing large-scale, long-term projects than Partner #3.
This suggests that we could look at teaming Partner #3 with Partner #2, to leverage the strengths that each partner brings, or we could look at Partner #3’s experience in confronting a similar situation elsewhere and judge how well it did. Essentially, the evaluation gives us guidance on the different strengths of the prospective partners, with a view to identifying gaps that need to be filled through capacity building, additional partners, or in some cases a change in project design (including the governance approach).
Once we select a partner, we have a detailed due diligence process that we follow to ensure that they will be able to meet the due diligence requirements of investors. We are minimally invasive to potential partners in this process, our main aim being to understand any organizational weaknesses that could translate into project delivery risks or underperformance at the get-go. Given the implications for beneficiary communities when projects fail, we see this as a critical step in ensuring high-integrity carbon projects.
As with all our systems, we welcome feedback.