E Co. Sound bites: Conversations with AEs Episode 5 Transcript – International Union for Conservation of Nature

18 November 2021, Category: All insights, News

This is the transcript for Episode 5 of Conversations with Accredited Entities: Transforming Eastern Province through Adaptation. You can listen to the full episode here.

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About this episode

Project: Transforming Eastern Province through Adaptation

Organisations: International Union for Conservation of Nature

Podcast Speakers: Dr Grant Ballard-Tremeer – E Co., Charles Karangwa – IUCN, Sébastien Delahaye – IUCN, Marijan Gajšak – E Co.


Grant: I am joined now by Charles Karangwa, who is the country representative of the Rwanda office and is also the head of forests and landscapes across the 24 countries of the eastern and southern regions of Southern Africa for IUCN. Charles, congratulations on the approval of your project.

So your project is called Transforming Eastern Province through Adaptation, the TREPA project and it was approved at the board meeting 29. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Charles: Thank you very much for that question and of course thanks to the E Co. team for working alongside IUCN and other partners in this project. The Transforming Eastern Province through adaptation project, we just have an abbreviation. It’s called TREPA.  It’s quite an interesting construction which is building on previous experience of a pilot project IUCN was implementing in the two districts of Eastern Province. It was called the Piloting Landscape Restoration Approach. And after four years of implementation of the project in two districts, we realize the huge potential of scaling this up, and that whole idea of developing a large-scale landscape restoration project to transform the whole of East Africa started coming. The Eastern Province itself, which is the driest region in the country with high rain-fed agriculture dependency presents also at the same time, the greatest opportunity for farming and is the most degraded area of the country. So this combination makes it a very good candidate if you are looking at a large-scale landscape restoration. The project intends to restore 60,000 hectares of drought degraded landscapes into a climate-resilient ecosystem through different approaches; reforestation, agroforestry, restoration of pastureland, soil erosion control measures, but also we will support small scale irrigation infrastructure in different targeted landscapes to build livelihoods of smallholder farmers through what we call the climate-proof technical packages. At the same time, interestingly, the project will be able to unlock access to climate finance for smallholder-led enterprise or businesses in the eastern province to be able to build that resilience of farmers. So it’s quite an interesting project, as I said, and the partnership itself also brings together government entities; the Rwanda Forestry Authority, IUCN, Enabel, which is the former Belgian technical cooperation, and as well as other partners, such as the ICRAF, World Vision and the ICCO to work together to deliver this. So I will be probably explaining more of each of those details, but that’s a little bit about the project.

Grant: Thank you very much. You mentioned, Charles, the pilot project that you did piloting landscape restoration in the region, I’m really interested in how you’ve used a pilot to build this larger project because that’s a really good approach for knowing what you’re gonna do and how it’s going to work and such-like. Could you tell us a little bit more about that? What was the pilot project and how did it inform this current project?

Charles: The Pilot Landscape Restoration Project had three major components. One was, of course, piloting biophysical restoration of agricultural land, but also other abundant degraded areas using different species of trees. Then the second component was around using a  community approach to build ownership of communities. And then the third component was focusing on assessment, developing different assessments including biophysical assessment of the eastern province and other parts of Rwanda, developing this reforest management plan, as well as developing what we call the community level action plans to restore landscapes. So that’s the third component. The fourth one was focusing on private sector engagement to bring out what we call a restoration value chain. So it was a small project, 4 million euros targeting to restore 18,000 hectares of degraded land in that area. When we started the third component of assessment, we conducted what we call the landscape restoration opportunities assessment for the whole of Eastern Province. And this was quite revealing. 

We found out during that assessment, that the whole of the Western province had a total of 660,000 hectares of available land for restoration through agroforestry, protective forest woodlot management and forest plantation. And this could result in soil erosion control, increase the land management on farms, increase the pastureland, animal fodder, and other benefits of climate including carbon sequestration, etc. So, this then informed our thoughts. We were like, oh, wow, is this how these opportunities look like? So we started talking to partners. From that pilot, looking at how can we scale to the seven districts of the whole of Eastern Province? And how much do we need in terms of resources? So this is how it came. We built on that project, the current TREPA which is basically scaling up landscape restoration. The adaptation also has three components. You have biophysical restoration, restoring landscapes, to make them climate-resilient. The second is re-building those communities and people’s livelihoods to make them resilient to climate change. The third one is around institutions, where you look at strengthening the labor environment to manage, to plan to monitor climate adaptation outcomes. So I can summarize in three words. The first one is building resilient landscapes, resilient people and resilient institutions.

Grant: Excellent. So these three components are really building on that pilot almost directly and the opportunities that you saw through the pilot.

Charles: That’s correct. That’s very correct. So basically it’s an assessment of those opportunities and then those opportunities informed the scaling up which is going to be basically done by TREPA. TREPA is scaling up restoration opportunities in all the seven districts of the Eastern Province.

Grant: Okay. This is potentially a hugely transformative project. You’ve got it in the name, of course, Transforming Eastern Province through Adaptation. But the GCF deputy director also said that this project epitomizes GCF’s strong support for ecosystem-based approaches which I guess we can translate as this landscape type of approach to some extent. Do you want to say something more about the transformative potential of this project?

Charles: Yeah, thank you. Historically, I have to say that tree planting has always been a political kind of statement in many countries in Africa. Even beyond Africa, and in Europe, in the Americas, and other places. So planting trees has always been a political motivation. So there’s always a political motivation behind every one. Many countries celebrate an international day of forest and planting millions of trees. In Rwanda alone, you realize that annually between 40 and 60 million of tree seedlings are planted every year. And the big question, of course, is where do these trees go? And what is the survival rates? And if you compare that with what we see then it poses a question. So to think about transformation is starting from that narrative of where and why all trees we plant do not survive. And with this project, the first transformative approaches respond to that question. Let communities own, lead, take action to restore their landscapes. So that whole community-led approach that brings ownership of what type of trees, what types of species, where to plant, why to plant is the first transformative part of that mindset on survival of trees that this project is going to plan. 

The second is, we are, as I said, Transforming Eastern Province through Adaptation. In this program, there’s a very strong connection between the livelihoods of people who depend on farms and the whole project deliverables. If you look at all components, from component one, component two, and component three, there’s all that core people approach, people-centered approach which is coming in the program. So we will build restoration of landscapes with people, for people and to be in the long-term managed by communities. And the second part is livelihoods of people will be also basically strengthened through jobs creation, but also other livelihoods enterprise that could basically catalyze landscape restoration. So for example, businesses around the tree seedlings production for communities will be strengthened, but also other value chains that could catalyze landscape restoration will also be financed, funded and developed. Cooperatives will be connected to the financial institutions to access finance. There will be a huge work around community-led action plans through the community hubs to really work and manage the whole deliverables of the program and take that ownership. So that itself is really transformative. You’re not only transforming the landscapes bio-physically, but also you’re transforming the landscapes economically, and building that long-term forward-looking sustainable management of that landscape. So that’s really where we want to put all the work. 

And then for institutions, you are also at the same time building institutions’ capacity to be able to manage, monitor, and build the knowledge around this project. Because some of the challenges, of course, historically was how do we monitor trees that have been planted? How do we connect the changes of income, within the landscapes, with the restoration, etc? So we want to be able to build that capacity of institutions to monitor and coordinate the whole project and learn and be able to scale up even outside the Eastern Province. So that’s the potential of transformation we are looking at.

Grant: Is it correct perhaps to say that the three elements to sustainability that are in here are; firstly, the very strong community approach that you’re using? And secondly, the building of the institutions that will ensure, maintain that type of sustainability? And the third is the private sector angle to it, ensuring the people have got aligned economic interests alongside the adaptation interests?

Charles: I think you nailed it with that. So community-driven work. This is a big part of the project, making this project community-driven and owned, is very important. And then the institutional capacity, and how the private sector also invests and finds opportunities to invest within the landscapes.

Grant: One of the comments from civil society at the board meeting was around consultation and a claim that some beneficiaries were saying they were not fully consulted in here. And I know IUCN, I know the background to how you did this work. What did you feel when you heard that? And what really is your reaction to that type of comment?

Charles: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think I was quite shocked by that question because the program invested quite a lot in consultation from the early stage, within all the seven districts, with civil society organizations, with community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, but also the private sector and other players. And we had really documented that. 

However, I also understand the civil society entry point, because Rwanda has a very unique history, a very unique history. Because historically, Rwanda emerged from a history of tribalism, fought the tribalism because Rwanda has no tribe. We have one language as a country from East to South, North to West. But those who don’t understand the context can easily feel like we have three tribes in Rwanda. And what the government has been doing was really to build that spirit of Rwandans. And as a result, some of the people who used to live in the vicinity of the forest, who are also Rwandans, speak Kinyarwanda, enjoy all the benefits and citizenship as Rwandans have been leaving in the vicinity of the park. Well of course, as part of other Rwandans integrated, like all of us in the development programs and activities, and integrated in the communities, living with other people within the same villages. And if you don’t understand the history, you will think that the government forced those people outside the forest, but actually, the government improved their lives, their livelihoods, by also enhancing that access to services, education of children, access to health, etc, etc. So I think some of the comments from civil society were also out of the context, I might say, but very relevant, because, of course, not it’s everyone who understands the context. But IUCN note of that. 

And during the whole inception phase, we want to do another round of consultation, talking to them explaining more about the project to everyone since it’s not easy in Rwanda to separate people from what you see. You can’t imagine someone who was living in a forest. There’s no identical type of way to identify those who are living in the forest and those who are not. So it’s really how you engage communities as a whole. It’s how you talk to them. It’s how you make sure that there’s a very clear communication and transparency and engagement and participation in the decision making both during the inception phase, but more importantly, during the whole project implementation.

Grant: I guess one of the messages there is that you can never do too much consultation and engagement.

Charles: The other challenge was that the project faced the period of COVID-19, and I remember when we were really in the full swing of development and consultation in 2020 March, that’s when the outbreak of COVID, and we spent nearly five months in a total lockdown. Then they started opening instead of going, then you have restrictions on how many people you can invite. So mostly representatives of communities were really engaged. But of course, I can also say that COVID affected some of those wide meetings at community level but we hope we can still relay the information.

Grant: Okay. Thank you. You mentioned Charles, the power of partnerships, and how this project is a product of that. Could you say a few more words about that?

Charles: Happy to. That’s a very exciting question on partnerships. And I have to say that this project is a very good example of how partnership can bring a  transformative approach to a community. I remember when this program started, the discussion was very much narrow to think of biophysical restoration. But when we started engaging with organizations like World Vision, ICRAF and ICCO, we started now exploring other areas of finance, sustainable finance, access to finance, financing restoration enterprise, etc., which basically was not necessarily the expertise of IUCN  and Enabel. And then we started broadening the project to really bring more impact at a community level. 

So the partnerships within the program bring a diversity of knowledge and experience from different partners. We have government entities with really, really great knowledge on policy, but also a lot of experience around making things happen on the ground. We have partners like Enabel who have been working in supporting sustainable forest management elements in Rwanda, including developing what we call forest management units by smallholder farmers. You have World Vision with really rural livelihoods and community engagement approach, you have ICCO which is a very strong partner on getting finance into communities, working with financial institutions, engaging the private sector. 

Then you have ICRAF on research around the whole component around the seeds, what type of seeds where to plant, what to plant. So that whole knowledge with these partners are part of that transformational potential for this program. And the ISO part, I personally really felt this during the development phase, where there was no problem without a solution. Because by working together, solutions for every problem could easily be found in the discussion, and be able to respond to GCF’s particularly critical questions and comments.

Grant: Yes, I guess you could say that the power of partnership is that it gives you the sort of greater resilience to be able to respond to the challenges along the path of developing such a project.

Charles: That’s correct. So that was really that resilience and working together was quite something you could enjoy in the whole process. GCF projects tend to take longer in the development phase. So if you’re working alone, you risk a lot to get to a point where you feel like, “Oh, this is too much”. So by working jointly, there was that whole resilience and motivation that continued to come out from different partners, and it worked very well.

Grant: Right, thank you. Charles, could you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, how you got started in this sort of work?

Charles: Good question. I have a passion in doing what I do, especially forest landscape restoration. I’ll tell a very brief story, which I put on Forbes a couple of months ago. When I was seven years I was bitten seriously by a wild dog. And that wild dog, I couldn’t connect anything between it and deforestation. Because up the hill, there was a big forest, which was cut progressively, and all the wild animals started going into communities. So when I was going to school, it was early morning, I met a wild dog that just bit me on my left leg. I had to spend three months in the hospital. Then I was like, “Okay, why did I even lose that right to study and continue my studies”. But because I was very young I could not connect it. Another experience I had when I was a child was when I was fetching water from the river source because we could easily fetch very clean water from the source directly which was next to my house. And then, when I was 10 years old, towards eleven, that whole water completely became brown. It was no longer clean. It was no longer good water to drink. So we started to walk about a mile or two to get clean water. And still that time I could not connect actually, the change of that the river source to become more brown and dirty with deforestation and degradation. Because the upstream had been totally transformed into an agricultural area. People starting farming there, massively cutting all the natural habitat, natural trees. So the catchment was degrading. So by starting my career, I started in community health, and also experienced the power of nature in healing people using medicinal plants to treat malaria and other diseases. And then I moved into conservation right after my first degree. 

So that whole connection between my early childhood experience of being bitten by a wild dog, spending three months in the hospital, losing rights to fetch clean water, because deforestation was happening upstream. But also nature itself built a passion and a career aspiration to contribute to restoration efforts. And I was very lucky because when I started working in conservation, I was still working in the three countries of Rwanda, Congo, and Uganda to really restore degraded areas around the protected areas of the Volcanoes National Park in Virunga and Gahinga. My career evolved from that good experience of personal passion but also training. And currently, really, my work focuses on working across the continent to mobilize governments, the private sector, civil society, organizations, and communities to engage in landscape restoration in support of the Africa Land Restoration Initiative, AFR100, in the Bonn Challenge. My role over the last five years has been to build up commitments. At the moment, we have 127 million hectares in commitments from 32 countries in Africa. But also globally, in the Bonn Challenge, of course, more than 200 million hectares under commitments, and the numbers are still coming in. 

So that’s what I do; supporting countries and one in particular, seeing a program from the last four years, building on a pilot program to a current large scale in the East and also the Northern part of the country. It is always inspiring and keeps motivating me to do what I’m doing. Transforming people’s lives through landscape restoration.

Grant: Thanks so much for telling us the stories from your childhood. It’s fascinating how those really formative experiences have influenced the way that you have understood your role and the contribution that you can make. That early work you did in the community health area. Understanding how nature can improve livelihoods as well, that double balance is a fascinating story to hear. Thank you.

Charles: Thank you so much. One of the pieces that I probably missed mentioning is also that over the last years, I’ve been building personal interest and engagement in climate finance, and focusing on forest landscape restoration. I remember, when I took a decision to do my MBA with the African Leadership University School of Business. I wanted to broaden my understanding on how to really link the private sector, private finance, businesses, and conservation, and I was very lucky to work alongside experts and be part of a pan African team that is really passionate about this. And this GCF project is one of many efforts I have been leading across the continent, and currently, I’m leading the private sector and resource mobilization working group for the African 100 initiative where we are aiming at mobilizing 10 billion US dollars by 2030. But at least by 2025, we want to have these resources committed and started flowing to really make things happen on the ground, transform people’s lives, transform landscapes, restore nature, and restore biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Grant: Thank you. Charles, there’s a very impressive impact that you’re having through these types of activities and of course, all those that you are working with. It’s a team activity here in order to bring about this type of transformation. I’m wondering, Charles, what would you recommend to others that want to follow this path related to securing climate finance, to address the challenges to do with landscape? What would you recommend to others?

Charles: Good question. So I just wanted to allude to what you said, the power of teamwork. I think it’s something that is not to be undermined whenever you want to start this kind of process. Having a team that is motivated enough to really unlock funding, because resource mobilization requires patience, and so you need to have people who are willing to work alongside with you to support, to work day and night to make things happen. I was very lucky that the team we were working with, including the very great support from ICCO, was very helpful. But to respond to the question you asked. I think there is always a narrative behind this climate finance. Depending on if you’re looking at public finance, there would be stories around the bankability or the viability of the projects. Then, if you’re looking at private finance, to be more brazen. In grant finance, for example, from the private sector, of course, there will be those big questions as well. Your project is not bankable or not investable, all the extras. But I think something that we need to understand and know is getting the narrative right. 

When we started working on the TREPA, the first narrative was that the eastern province is the food basket of the country. And that’s correct, because that’s where you have a bigger size of farmland. That was actually the whole narrative behind the project. And then that potential of being a food basket for the country, of a growing population, but then bringing all the threats and problems that that region is facing, including deforestation itself, but also the issues around droughts. Then we started digging deeper into understanding all those problems, to be able to continue to bring out that strong climate rationale for GCF. And I have to confess that our climate rationale was always appreciated by GCF from the beginning as being the strong one because it was really linking the climate’S negative impact on economic development. So there’s that whole aspect there. So my key takeaway and what I can share with developers. Number one, getting an understanding. If you are mobilizing climate finance, you need to speak a climate language. This was where we spend very much time talking to scientists looking at data, analyzing them, etc. Then the second is diversity, really getting diversity in partnerships. One of the current motivations for GCF in this project was how  the private sector is going to play a very big role in building resilience, not only of communities but also the resilience of their investments. And that was another area. So I think, for climate finance projects, it’s very important to bring that diversity of not only technical organizations but also private sector who can speak to businesses, to investments, to make them more resilient, because they are all affected together within the particular landscapes. And then finally, I have to say that it takes also patience. 

I mean, it’s not like you’re going to just wake up in a day and the next day, you have already unlocked a 15 million US dollar program in climate finance. It takes some time, patience, and really following up step by step to make sure the program works. But I think it’s possible. There are bankable projects out there. There are great ideas. It’s more of getting the right source of funding. And then making sure the climate rationale is very strong, as well as the diversity in terms of partnerships and engagement and ownership of those who are part of the project.

Grant: Thank you. So the narrative aspect, getting the language, right, diversity so that there are multiple stakeholders involved, especially that aspect of the private sector that you were talking about which is such a high priority for GCF within this particular area, and then patience or perhaps tenacity to keep going through thick and thin to get it done eventually. Those are very useful points. Thank you so much. Charles, it’s been a real pleasure to speak with you. It’s been great to learn a bit about you, and about the project you’re doing, and the work that IUCN is doing across the continent. It’s really humbling to speak to people who have come from these grassroots to bring about such transformative change. I wish you every luck with the project. I hope it goes well. And I would like to keep in touch on this.

Charles: Thank you so much. And bigger thanks to your team that worked alongside us for almost three years to really get this project moving. But also all other partners who were really involved in this and the GCF team for their support to get this program funded. So looking forward to an exciting implementation over the next six years.

Grant: Thank you, Charles.

Charles: Thank you, bye. 

Grant: I’m joined now by Sebastian Delahaye, who is the acting director of the GEF and GCF coordination unit at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the IUCN. Sebastian, it’s great to have this chance to speak with you. Could you tell us a little bit about your role and what you do there within this coordination unit?

Sebastian: Thanks, Grant. It’s a pleasure also for me to join you. I’m the acting director for the GCF and GCF coordination unit, based in IUCN headquarters in Gland, Switzerland. And in our unit, we oversee a portfolio of projects globally where we support our members, as IUCN is a membership organization in accessing GEF and GCF. But instrumentally, the GEF and GCF are critical for supporting our members in achieving their commitments in multilateral environmental agreements, such as the United Nations Convention on biodiversity, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. So, we have developed since 2016, a relatively large portfolio addressing environmental challenges related to forest degradation, non-degradation, the loss of ecosystem in watersheds and marine ecosystems. What we are really looking at is how do we ensure that these landscapes can address environmental problems while continuing to support the livelihood and economic sectors of the countries we are working with.

Grant: Okay, thank you. You mentioned when we were chatting about how you see GCF funding as supporting the mobilizing of partners and such-like. Could you say a few words about that? How that works?

Sebastian: Indeed. The issues we are looking at are so complex that they require a large involvement of stakeholders, from civil society organizations, from governments, but also from the private sector. And IUCN is an incredible platform to do that given our membership basis, our expertise in the Commissions and in all our projects, and the projects we’ll be discussing later on Rwanda is a good example of it. Because it mobilizes communities through the work that farmers and smallholders are doing on the ground, the private sector through financial intermediaries, of course, the government as the main stakeholder in this program through the Rwanda forest authority. But also on the other international organizations such as the international agroforestry center, known as  ICRAF. And but also the Belgium co-operation Enabel, who are all playing critical technical roles, and financing roles in this project. So all our projects are designed and then implemented in a way that they can mobilize a multitude of factors in the landscape. Although not too many, because then it becomes difficult to manage. But it’s about finding the right equilibrium between involving as many stakeholders as possible to provide integrated solutions to the problems we are looking at.

 So in that context, for IUCN, GEF and GCF are incredible instruments to leverage our union, but also to mobilize partnership. We can mobilize bilateral donors, multilateral funders, and also the private sector. Today, it’s critical that we work beyond the community level, the landscape level and that our projects have an influence on the macroeconomic level of the countries, and how nature and conservation matters are embedded in macroeconomic decision making. So that it ensures that what we are proposing in the future will go beyond the project life. And this is why we try to work increasingly with the private sector because the private sector is critical to economic sustainability and livelihood. And therefore it is also critical to managing well on environmental and natural resources.

Grant: This is highly complex, as you said a couple of times, this ecosystem-based approach and going beyond just the landscape aspect of it through to private sector and government interaction and such-like. How do you as an organization manage that complexity?

Sebastian: So IUCN has been created more than 70 years ago, and it was created in order to assess the status of the environment in Europe mainly after the Second World War. And based on this mandate in the creation of IUCN, from governments to civil society, we’ve continued to develop a lot of tools, and instruments that can help us assess the status of ecosystem and biodiversity. You might have heard about the Red List of Threatened Species, which is more than 15 years old now and provide the assessment and rates, the level of risk to species in Fauna and Flora around the world. But based on these, we have also developed a number of other tools that can assess the status of the ecosystem. And here we are, I’m speaking about the Red List of ecosystem or some more specific tools dedicated to specific sectors such as the restoration, assessment, opportunities, methodology; ROAM assessment, which looks at the potential of landscape to be restored.

So first, it assesses the level of degradation, and what are the drivers of degradation, And when we know the drivers of degradation, it looks at the opportunities of restoration. And when we know the opportunities for restoration, and the drivers of the degradation, it helps us to put together some sort of a map that would identify the problems, but also the stakeholders that have to be involved. In Rwanda, this project is also the result of a ROAM assessment that was undertaken by the government of Rwanda and IUCN. And it’s, I think, one of the strengths of IUCN is being able to bring in science methodologies so that we design our restoration or conservation activities based on these and bringing in as many stakeholders as relevant depending on these assessments. So that’s how IUCN does it.

Grant: Okay, thank you. Yeah, I think that fine based approach is something that really resonates with GCF. And the understanding the climate drivers that are being addressed through this project and the activities that really respond to those needs. But putting together projects like this is a complex situation and your project transforming Eastern Province through adaptation, the Trevor Project was approved just in March, but I guess you started developing it quite a long time before then. When were you first involved and what has been your role in putting this project together?

Sebastian: I was first involved after the ROAM assessment was done if I’m correct. This was around 2018. We started convening stakeholders at the demand of the government of Rwanda on what would be one of the most urgent needs for restoration in order to address climate threats. What came up is the issue of droughts in the eastern province. As you may know, the eastern province in Rwanda is the food basket of the country. It provides vegetables, cereals, and it’s critical for food security in Rwanda. And therefore it is critical for the economy. With climate change and increased frequency in droughts, the eastern province’s agricultural sector and consequently, the Rwandan agricultural sector and food security in Rwanda and therefore the overall economy has been put at risk. And that’s what I was saying at the beginning. It’s important for us that projects go beyond their landscape. That’s what we found interesting in the requests we got from the government of Rwanda, which is that this project was justified. Because if we are able to climate-proof the eastern province’s agricultural sector, we will be able to contribute to climate-proofing significantly, the economy of Rwanda, in particular its agricultural sector. This is how it will be highly transformative at the national level, reduce reducing the risk not only for the communities based in the eastern province but for the Rwandan economy as a whole.

Grant: Excellent, thank you. What were you doing when the project was approved? Were you following the board meeting which was discussing this project?

Sebastian: I was indeed with my colleague, Charles Karangwa, who is the head of our country office in Rwanda, who has been liaising very closely over all these years with the government and the partners on the ground. And yes, indeed. I was in front of my computer, as everybody I think, looking at the approval of this project, which in the GCF context, went very fast, hopefully. But it doesn’t show the amount of work that is behind the preparation of such project from the government counterparts, our partners on the ground, the GCF, Secretariat itself and IUCN.

Grant: Sebastian, could you tell us a little bit about your background and what brought you into this type of work? What brought you to IUCN?

Sebastian: I was trained as an economist in a management school in France. At some point, I was working in a big industrial company and I got a job offer. And I thought about really what I wanted to do. And coming from a rural area in France, but just at the border of Switzerland, I am both Swiss and French. I wanted to work on agriculture, but thought about the precursor that started humanitarian aid, and development work in the 50s or in the 60s and I thought that they were really making a difference. So at the time, I had to choose between a good job offer in a stable company. I decided to apply to be a volunteer in an organization in France that sends out young people across the world, and I got selected to work in a non-governmental organization in the southwestern part of Haiti. I went there to build a mechanical workshop for Rural Development and mainly the agricultural sector. I was supposed to stay there for two years. I stayed for four and worked with them for almost eight years. And after that, I worked with the African Development Bank, because I wanted to get on the other side, on the funding side. I had an incredible experience working across Africa. I developed the GEF units in the AfDB. Then I got the chance to come to where I joined the IUCN here in headquarters, which happens to be my native area. So that was a good way to close the circle for now.

Grant: I’m glad to hear the choice of doing something that is developing and bringing around development in the world and in Africa, in particular, when you had the choice of going into industry and making that choice. That is one of those dividing lines where one can go left or one can go right and it’s good to hear your choice of following this type of development and humanitarian perspective there.

Sebastian: And I think what makes it interesting today, is that what we are doing in IUCN, and in many other organizations like this one is that we are trying to bring in the private sector and industrialized, large companies or even the smaller ones, the financial sector, into this sustainable pathway. It’s not about only having bilateral donors providing subsidies or projects, to the countries that are in need of them, but more of finding a way of including all partners into this sustainable pathway, and the private sector is key because this is what will make these activities sustainable. So I think I got back into what caught me first but from another side.

Grant: The other side. Absolutely. And that’s really where it lies, isn’t it? In the engagement of the private sector in activities that bring about sustainable development that allow us to adapt to climate change. It is both a challenge, it’s a puzzle there because it’s challenging. It’s difficult to do this. And yet it’s essential. So people that understand the business and understand the funder, and understand what’s happening there on the ground are essential to bringing about this change. Well, thank you very much. If I may just ask one last question here. I’m a very avid reader and I like to hear a little bit about that. And I wonder, what are you reading at the moment? What’s interesting to you, or perhaps what are you watching?

Sebastian: So for the francophones, but I hope it goes beyond that, Edgar Morin just turned 100 years this year. And he’s a French sociologist or philosopher and I think one of the biggest nine or living nine in Europe, at least, or maybe in the world. And what I really like is that, since the beginning of his career, I don’t know if we can call it a career for someone who thinks like that, but he looked at many different films. I was reading a documentary on him that shows that he studied, of course, the dictatorships across the world, but also looked at the movements, the hippie movement in the 70s. How some villages in France were evolving under this movement. He looked at nowadays, more in-depth into the ecological transition. And it’s incredible how someone in his life has been touching upon so many things that can look different when you look at them individually, but putting them on a 100 years timeframe, you can identify a storyline. That is quite interesting. And I found that the life of Edgar Morin, and what he has written all over his life is quite interesting for the challenges that we are looking at nowadays because he’s, and I think it’s the result of his studies, he’s advocating for the integration of science and problems. Meaning that the engineer shouldn’t be looking at building a vehicle without thinking about the sociologist or the medical persons and I think that’s quite interesting. And it’s telling when today we are fragmenting our approach to some problems. And he has been claiming for some time that everything has to be integrated, even the way we are looking at problems. So Edgar Morin is definitely someone that can help I think.

Grant: Okay, I’ll be sure to look up Edgar Morin. And then exactly as you say, this is what IUCN is trying to do. It’s trying to address these complex problems from all the different necessary aspects and integrated lessons that one can learn about how these factors are all interconnected and it’s a very important one. Thank you very much for your time, Sebastian. It’s been very good to speak with you. Good luck with new initiatives.

Grant: I’m joined now by my colleague, Marijan Gajsak, who is a senior consultant here at Eco. Marijan is a specialist in Project formulation with experience in the energy and agriculture sectors. He has a master’s and bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering from the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Zagreb, and he is a PhD candidate in the same faculty, as well as being a full time staff member here at Eco.
Marijan, welcome. What did you make of that discussion? 

Marijan: Thank you, Grant. I believe that was a very, very interesting discussion. Especially since it’s coming from the perspective of someone who actually worked for so long on developing from the concept to the full fledged project. And that’s especially fascinating since we have to take into account the importance of this type of project. Just taking into account that Rwanda is the single most dependent African country on its natural resources, and taking into account that the East province is actually the food basket of the country, and it’s being hit by the severe climate change impacts already, that’s really fascinating to hear. I like the perspective of hearing how Charles got involved actually from the start, from the early days, from his childhood, how he got interested in this type of work and these topics and to explain all the process afterwards that led in the end to such a project as this one.

Grant: Yeah. Fascinating story of how he got into this work.

Marijan: Absolutely. I’m really glad to hear that people can understand how fragile the ecosystem is and that if we do one thing in that system, it can harm another part of the system very easily and to be able to recognize the factors that leads to it. I think it’s the key, and I believe that many people are still not really aware of this link.

Grant: Any other thoughts on the interview?

Marijan: Yes, absolutely. I really like the fact that the project was actually built on the already ongoing activities or similar activities. So it’s a build-on on a pilot project. And it really shows the importance of taking the idea to the concept and to test the concept. And seeing that that concept can actually be scaled up to something quite as big as the GCF project. That’s really fascinating. I’ve seen a lot of projects that we worked on or reviewed where the actual or the process would stop at some point because there would be no interest for scaling up and such as. But this one really proved that the IUCN and all the stakeholders who are involved in the process had the know-how already present and that they actually, Charles mentioned, that a lot of opportunities came up from the research that they conducted in the area. And having the know-how, and then needing the resources to do it, it’s fascinating. It’s great. 

Grant: And that’s always the strongest foundation of a project, isn’t it? That you’ve started doing it, and now you’re looking to scale it up. We don’t always get to work on those sorts of projects where it’s some idea that has been scaled up. It’s sometimes just some big project coming out of the blue. What’s nice here is that they see GCF as a means to doing that paradigm shift, to bringing about their transformation at a scale now, once they’ve proven the concepts through the piloting activities. It’s a very good approach.

Marijan: Absolutely agree with you. This shows how it’s important and it shows the people that have ideas, that have concepts should not be discouraged even if it has to be tried for some smaller project, you can always get into the more serious implementation process. This is a great example. And as you said, we don’t have many opportunities to work on such a strong foundation, when it comes to the project design. 

Grant: In regards to that ,were you?

Marijan: Yes, absolutely. Also, the importance of stakeholder consultations that were mentioned, that’s also a really great aspect of this project. I really like it. Especially since we have to take into consideration that the project was developed during COVID restrictions and people were not able to meet. But again the stakeholder consultation proved how the project was built from the bottom up, how engaged the community and all the relevant stakeholders were. That’s the only way the project can actually correspond to the needs of beneficiaries. And I really like that approach in this project from the perspective of stakeholder consultations, but also from the perspective of having so many important stakeholders involved in the project development team where I think that the project achieved a great balance with technical knowledge and the government involved and all the other stakeholders, essential for the effective product design.

Grant: And with that extra little caveat there that you can never really have too much consultation. You really got to keep talking with people, getting their insight, their thoughts, building up their ownership in what is planned and what has been done. It’s really important. Thanks very much, Marijan. Really appreciate the insights.

Marijan: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

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