CBA14: Same great conference, entirely new environment

The 2020 international conference on community-based adaptation will be digital – but it will still have community at the centre.

Heather McGray's pictureChris Henderson's picture
Guest blog by
7 July 2020

Heather McGray is director of the Climate Justice Resilience Fund; Chris Henderson is head of agriculture at Practical Action

sandbags holding back river water

Repairing flood damage in northern Thailand (Photo: François Molle via FlickrCC BY 2.0)

The community-based adaptation (CBA) conference series has established itself as the leading global, practitioner-focused climate adaptation conference. Now in its 14th year, the event prides itself on a commitment to creating space for grassroots and local perspectives to be heard through interactive workshop sessions shaped and facilitated by the participants themselves. 

This year, we will be holding the conference online so that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, grassroots perspectives are not lost at a pivotal moment for climate justice and global development.

To make the conference as accessible and inclusive as possible, CBA14 will feature a range of ways to interact, network, hold dialogues, and build skills and knowledge. It will be accessible through mobile phones and computers, using several different online platforms and tools.

Committed to sharing knowledge and new skills

As long-time funders and contributors, we know how CBA conference participants value the opportunity to discuss new tools and learn approaches that can be modified and applied in their own context.

The opportunity to contribute and shape the sessions builds the confidence of practitioners who don’t often have the chance to join international events – this is very much their space. Participants tell us how much they value being able to interact with their peers and build their networks. 

The discussions surrounding [finance, technology, and policy engagement] were constructive and informative. The conference provided a great opportunity for networking with like-minded practitioners and organisations.

Dragons Den allows participants to develop an important skill that will not only improve local livelihoods but enhance ecosystem adaptation whilst making money. Genius idea! 

Talking with peers can also flag skills gaps: for example participants reported that CBA discussions helped them recognise that they needed to do more to incorporate gender difference into their programmes, and improve their skills for proposal development. 

Taking the conference online allows us to reinforce our commitment to capacity building and community networking. The ‘Dragon’s Den’ theme will offer a step-by-step course in proposal development, while 'skill share' sessions delivered by attendees will offer peer-to-peer learning in specific, practical skills. As all the sessions are online, we can record them to provide participants with a rich downloadable resource that can be viewed later. 

Bringing people together online also creates new opportunities for networking and community building. The conference platform will make it easy for participants to identify people with similar backgrounds, skills and interests, or working in similar locations. Attendees will be able to create informal discussion groups around a topic, idea or region with just a few clicks – and could open the door to transformative new connections. 

The value of local solutions

The COVID-19 pandemic makes the discussions at CBA even more important. We have seen the success of community-level responses to the pandemic. Across the world, social movements and 'mutual aid' groups have shown the value of local knowledge and commitment in supporting their communities through crisis, and this same knowledge is essential in responding to climate risks.

Yet practitioners and grassroots community representatives from the global South are still not given enough opportunities to share their perspective at high levels.

The CBA conference creates a space for the lived experiences and opinions of people facing climate change impacts daily to be clearly articulated and expressed. 

For example, the adaptation technology theme at CBA13 was particularly revealing for us both as funders and practitioners. Our discussions revealed that some new digital tools intended to support adaptation are reinforcing top-down flows of information on climate hazards and solutions.

Such approaches leave local people few opportunities to report their real-time experiences or proposed solutions to policymakers. The message to those working with digital communication tools – particularly in the private sector – was clear: work with communities to identify how their knowledge can be more effectively communicated through technology to shape appropriate responses.

Our aim is to ensure that our first digital CBA conference leads by example: our programme will offer maximum opportunity for inclusive dialogues and creative conversations.

From local to global

The messages from the CBA community matter, because they have the power to influence the policy environment, and indeed the direction of funding around how adaptation takes place – on technology, but also on nature-based solutions or the future of climate finance.

The rich exchanges at CBA have in the past shaped the programmes of host partners and attendees such as ourselves, and also have the potential to influence initiatives such as the Global Commission on Adaptation and the LDC Initiative for Effective Adaptation and Resilience. 

As we prepare for the UN Secretary-General's Summit on Biodiversity, the Climate Adaptation Summit and start on the long road to COP26, ensuring that local perspectives are out in public early and forcefully will help set the right focus and tone for these coming events.

Our ask for those joining is this… bring as much as you can to CBA online – put the week in your calendar, and see it as a week reserved to share your expertise, strengthen your skills and make connections. This won’t be a simple webinar, it will be a thriving, active and changing online space, depending on and growing with your interaction.

About the author

Heather McGray is director of the Climate Justice Resilience Fund, which makes grants to support adaptation by women, youth and indigenous peoples. 

Chris Henderson is head of agriculture at Practical Action, an international development organisation with community-based work in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

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