The Small Grants Programme’s 30th Anniversary

Reflecting on three decades of local action for people and planet - and looking forward to many more

For the past thirty years, the Small Grants Programme (SGP) has been providing financial and technical support to civil society and community-based organizations on innovative community-driven initiatives that address global environmental issues – such as biodiversity loss, climate change mitigation and adaptation, land degradation, international waters, and chemicals and waste management – while improving livelihoods.

Photo: SGP Afghanistan

Photo: SGP Afghanistan

Throughout its journey, SGP has continuously evolved and has now grown into a unique global delivery mechanism to scale up local actions that can develop and deliver solutions to these multiple challenges.

SGP is the largest and longest standing corporate programme of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), dedicated to supporting civil society and community-based initiatives. It has been implemented by the United Nations Development Programme on behalf of the GEF Partnership since 1992. 

SGP was sparked by the idea that the active participation of local communities in dealing with critical environmental problems holds the key to promoting effective stewardship of the environment and achieving sustainable development.

Customary Forest Mapping in the Ampang Delapan Indigenous Forest, Indonesia. Photo: SGP Indonesia, ICCA-GSI

Customary Forest Mapping in the Ampang Delapan Indigenous Forest, Indonesia. Photo: SGP Indonesia, ICCA-GSI

The programme’s unique approach revolves around the ideals of innovation, inclusion, and impact in achieving global environmental benefits and contributing to sustainable development.

SGP is a social inclusion platform, where traditional knowledge and science meet to solve global and local problems, while empowering and improving the skills of women, Indigenous Peoples, youth and persons with disabilities.

Besides its central role as an incubator and accelerator of community innovations, SGP plays a key role in bringing together civil society, governments, the private sector, and others to promote systemic change from the community level to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Photo: SGP Jordan/ICCA-GSI

Photo: SGP Jordan/ICCA-GSI

It also plays a unique role in meeting the objectives of Multilateral Environmental Agreements and coordinating closely with the Rio Conventions and others to bring the voices of civil society, Indigenous Peoples and local communities to the global fora.

Scroll down to find out how this story began, and where it is heading.

image

Photo by Daniel Seßler on Unsplash

The call came from civil society organizations, who sought a dedicated funding window within the GEF to put local communities in the driver’s seat to address global environmental issues.

At a time before the internet had become a world wide web, SGP managed to kick off its pilot phase as a truly global programme, present in 33 developing countries across five continents.

SGP’s approach has always been characterized by participatory innovation, calculated risks,  and learning as much from failures as from successes.

Mariko Wallen harvests seaweed on her and Louis Godfrey's farm in Placencia, Belize. Photo: Randy Olsen/SGP Belize

Mariko Wallen harvests seaweed on her and Louis Godfrey's farm in Placencia, Belize. Photo: Randy Olsen/SGP Belize

The catchphrase ‘learning by doing’ epitomizes how SGP builds on each successive phase of actual on-the-ground practices in a process of experiential learning.

Jane Jacqz, pictured below, led negotiations to pilot SGP as a decentralized mechanism within the GEF for directly providing small grants to civil society organizations in developing countries.

These Operational Guidelines have enabled global coherence and formed the basis for programme implementation, with  regular updates as it evolved and assimilated lessons learned.

Since its early phases, SGP demonstrated the viability of a decentralized, country-driven, community-based approach for making grants to civil society and community-based organizations.

“There is no comparable mechanism for raising environmental awareness and building capacity across such a broad spectrum of constituencies within the recipient countries. National ownership of the SGP and commitment to its participatory principles is clearly demonstrated by the talented and experienced people attracted to become National Steering Committee members, as well as the enormous voluntary inputs elicited by the programs from all levels of society.”

Images from SGP 10 year report: Hands on Action for Sustainable Development, 1992-2002.

Based on the experiences and lessons learned during its initial decade, SGP adopted a more focused and strategic approach to enhance the impact and sustainability of its interventions by strengthening global frameworks for coherent operation, monitoring and evaluation, and resource mobilization. 

SGP Peru

SGP Peru

The SGP global strategic framework helped country programmes better reconcile local community needs with global environmental priorities. SGP’s resource mobilization framework helped secure funding beyond GEF finance to cover those activities that fall outside of core GEF focal areas, such as  health, education, livelihoods and income generation activities. 

National Coordinators and National Steering Committees ensured decentralized management of the programme in harmony with these global frameworks to enable coherent, aggregated results and knowledge management.

The development of SGP Country Programme Strategies through a multi-stakeholder consultative process at each operational phase allowed global frameworks to be adapted to specific national and local environmental, economic, and social contexts, providing a strategic approach  to grant-making based on national priorities and local needs.

The Community Management of Protected Areas Conservation (COMPACT) methodology was developed and tested by participating SGP country programmes in a range of priority landscapes and seascapes, leading to its mainstreaming into SGP Country Programmes Strategies and adoption by UNESCO as a recommended methodology for the sustainable development of protected areas.

Belize Barrier Reef. Photo: Constanza S. Mora/Unsplash.com

Belize Barrier Reef. Photo: Constanza S. Mora/Unsplash.com

This work also led, years later, to establishing a partnership with the Global Support Initiative for Indigenous and Community-Conserved Territories and Areas (ICCA-GSI), with funding from the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety of the Government of Germany, which has grown to a sum of US$33.5 million delivered through the SGP since 2014.

Cooking classes with Chortí families in the Chiquimula and Zacapa Departments in part of Guatemala's ICCA. Photo: Caroline Trutmann Marconi/SGP Guatemala

Cooking classes with Chortí families in the Chiquimula and Zacapa Departments in part of Guatemala's ICCA. Photo: Caroline Trutmann Marconi/SGP Guatemala

As it continued to rapidly expand during its fourth operational phase, the programme improved its ability to reach the remotest and poorest communities.

Photo: SGP Nepal

Photo: SGP Nepal

The study found that, while SGP nearly doubled in size and launched country programmes in many challenging country contexts, it continued to be:

“a cost-effective way for the GEF to generate global environmental benefits while addressing country priorities and responding to the needs of local populations.”

Community-based adaptation project with the Deaf Flourish Club in the Marshall Islands. Photo: SGP Marshall Islands

Community-based adaptation project with the Deaf Flourish Club in the Marshall Islands. Photo: SGP Marshall Islands

Through COMDEKS, which was launched in 2011 and ongoing with nearly total US$20 million in support from the Japan Biodiversity Fund of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Japanese Ministry of Environment   and other partners , SGP provided small grants to local community organizations to systematically improve the resilience of socio-ecological production landscapes and seascapes.

Also in 2011, SGP started its fifth operational phase with a record amount of resources: nearly US$310 million in total GEF funding.

Photo: SGP Armenia

Photo: SGP Armenia

Greg Tauriape, a potato farmer from Sisivi village, Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. Photo: Nick Turner/UNDP PNG

Greg Tauriape, a potato farmer from Sisivi village, Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. Photo: Nick Turner/UNDP PNG

Members of the organization Indigenous Women for the Biodiversity of Panamá (OMIUBP in spanish), learning to identify jaguars by their markings from camera trap photos. Credit Fundación Yaguara

Members of the organization Indigenous Women for the Biodiversity of Panamá (OMIUBP in spanish), learning to identify jaguars by their markings from camera trap photos. Credit Fundación Yaguara

Photo: SGP Ukraine

Photo: SGP Ukraine

Indigenous women from the target landscape in Ecuador participating in the baseline assessment. Photo: SGP Ecuador

Indigenous women from the target landscape in Ecuador participating in the baseline assessment. Photo: SGP Ecuador

Item 1 of 4

Greg Tauriape, a potato farmer from Sisivi village, Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. Photo: Nick Turner/UNDP PNG

Greg Tauriape, a potato farmer from Sisivi village, Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. Photo: Nick Turner/UNDP PNG

Members of the organization Indigenous Women for the Biodiversity of Panamá (OMIUBP in spanish), learning to identify jaguars by their markings from camera trap photos. Credit Fundación Yaguara

Members of the organization Indigenous Women for the Biodiversity of Panamá (OMIUBP in spanish), learning to identify jaguars by their markings from camera trap photos. Credit Fundación Yaguara

Photo: SGP Ukraine

Photo: SGP Ukraine

Indigenous women from the target landscape in Ecuador participating in the baseline assessment. Photo: SGP Ecuador

Indigenous women from the target landscape in Ecuador participating in the baseline assessment. Photo: SGP Ecuador

Through the Community-based REDD+ partnership, SGP provided grants to Indigenous Peoples and local communities to address the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, improve the formalization of territorial rights, and other related initiatives.

The evaluation also noted that replication, upscaling, and mainstreaming were actively occurring through the programme. 

The four selected global fellows, all Indigenous women, focused on developing the capacity of the next generation of Indigenous leaders to effectively engage in global environmental and sustainable development policy fora to have their voices heard. 

In 2018, SGP also launched National Indigenous Fellowships to support a range of skills development, including project monitoring and implementation,  dialogues on Indigenous youth, and access to climate finance.

Read more about the SGP Indigenous Peoples Fellowship Programme.

In 2017, SGP launched 'The A to Z of the SGP: A Guide to the GEF Small Grants Programme'.

In 2017, SGP launched 'The A to Z of the SGP: A Guide to the GEF Small Grants Programme'.

“Today, SGP’s unique role in supporting civil society and local communities is more relevant than ever. Global environmental issues require integrated, innovative, and inclusive solutions, and this is exactly what SGP delivers through decentralized and scaled up community-led efforts, which in turn contribute to making a systemic change in conserving our planet and improving people’s lives”.
Yoko Watanabe, SGP’s Global Manager

Photo: Africa Arab States Regional Workshop, 2019.

Photo: Africa Arab States Regional Workshop, 2019.

Photo: Asia, Pacific, Europe CIS Regional Workshop, 2019.

Photo: LAC Regional Workshop, 2019.

Photo: Africa Arab States Regional Workshop, 2019.

Photo: Africa Arab States Regional Workshop, 2019.

Photo: Asia, Pacific, Europe CIS Regional Workshop, 2019.

Photo: LAC Regional Workshop, 2019.

The dedication and commitment of past and present SGP National Coordinators, Programme Assistants and thousands of National Steering Committee members has been vital to the success of the Programme over the last 30 years. 

In 2019, SGP coordinated a series of regional workshops to ensure strong and globally coherent implementation of the Seventh Operational Phase.

The second phase of the ICCA-GSI partnership was launched to support the hardest hit Indigenous Peoples and local communities to cope with and recover from the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic.

It also partnered with The Lion’s Share to issue nine grants under the ‘COVID-19 Response: Resilience in Wildlife Communities’ initiative, which addressed COVID’s impact in local communities that were engaged in wildlife tourism. 

Fostering coexistence values between people, bees, crops and elephants, The Lion's Share and SGP team partnered with the Elephants Alive and all-female anti-poaching unit the Black Mambas to support communities dependent on wildlife-based tourism. Photo: 3.D.E.Studios

Fostering coexistence values between people, bees, crops and elephants, The Lion's Share and SGP team partnered with the Elephants Alive and all-female anti-poaching unit the Black Mambas to support communities dependent on wildlife-based tourism. Photo: 3.D.E.Studios

African Elephant, Sabi Sands Game Reserve, Kruger National Park, South Africa. Photo: Gregoire Dubois

African Elephant, Sabi Sands Game Reserve, Kruger National Park, South Africa. Photo: Gregoire Dubois

The evaluation reaffirmed that the programme continues to be highly relevant to evolving environmental priorities at all levels. It also found that SGP shows high levels of alignment  with broader GEF and UNDP frameworks and strategies, and maintains strong internal programmatic coherence.

It also recognized SGP as a unique funding mechanism for civil society organizations that promotes new ways of working that are flexible and adaptable to local circumstances.

Photo: SGP Belarus

Photo: SGP Belarus

For the full report, download Third Joint Evaluation

Currently active in 128 countries, the programme is preparing to expand in scope and scale in its upcoming eighth operational phase, focusing on diversification, innovation, and optimization, as well as on establishing wider partnerships with a diverse range of stakeholders and  enhancing its landscape and seascape approach.

SGP world map coverage in 2022.

SGP world map coverage in 2022.

Text: Ana Paula Canestrelli, Rissa Edoo, Andrea Egan, Yoko Watanabe

Visual layout and design: Andrea Egan, with input from the GEF 30th Anniversary timeline created by Alua Kennedy, Olivier Besson, and Katrina Webster

Videos: SGP Country Programmes around the world

Special thanks to Alua Kennedy and the entire GEF Communications team for sharing their experience, templates and lessons learned in preparing timelines like this.