Grant-making for locally-led action: views from the national champions

National champions from Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Cameroon reflect on how their leadership in the People and Conservation Learning Group (PCLG) small grants initiative impacted local actors’ access to funding as we call on other funders to adopt this approach to channel more funding to the local level.

Article, 20 March 2024
A man standing next to a group of women.

Timothée Emini, PCLG Cameroon national champion, with 'Femmes et filles dynamiques', an association of women and girls implementing a PCLG small grant in Haut-Nyong, Echiembor village, Cameroon (Photo: copyright Femmes et filles dynamiques)

With locally-led approaches increasingly recognised as vital for delivering outcomes for nature, climate and people, pressure is mounting on funders and intermediaries to deliver funding to the local level that is designed, implemented and monitored by Indigenous Peoples and local communities. This issue will take centre stage at this year’s international biodiversity and climate negotiations, which will both focus on finance, resource mobilisation and supporting locally-led action. 

Current funding to support climate and nature is notoriously difficult for local communities to access, and research indicates that only 10% of global climate finance reaches local actors. Onerous application and reporting requirements, strict financial due diligence procedures and lengthy accreditation requirements do not consider the realities of the local communities on the frontline of the nature and climate crises. 

As a result, many are excluded from accessing funding: without a bank account, easy access to the internet, or English as their first language, they often fail to meet basic funders’ criteria. 

PCLG small grants initiative

In 2023, through the People and Conservation Learning Group (PCLG), supported by Arcus Foundation, IIED designed and delivered a small grants initiative to fund conservation and development activities in the great ape range states of Uganda, DRC and Cameroon. The initiative trialled a different way of delivering grants to better respond to local needs and put local actors at the centre of decision making and ownership around how money is spent. 

As one of over 120 organisations endorsing the principles for locally led adaptation (LLA), we recognised our own responsibility to embed the principles into our work and apply them practically to the PCLG grant-making process.

Working with national ‘champions’ in each country was central to this work. Local representatives who understand local priorities relating to great ape conservation, these champions took the lead in publicising the initiative, reviewing applications, deciding with IIED which organisations to fund and communicating directly with grantees. Here, we share some of their feedback on the grant-making approach.

Head and shoulders photo of Brian Atuheire.

Brian Atuheire, Uganda national champion 

“Being appointed as PCLG national champion meant I could support and supervise the organisations that received funding in Uganda. This was a brilliant innovation, since I could easily make calls to grantees, there were no time zone differences and I could navigate local challenges directly with them. My role enabled local voices to be heard and I was able to make decisions with local community priorities in mind.

“In my view, the main challenge remaining for the grantees in Uganda is that the grants disbursed were small and could only last a short time. There is no repeat funding, so positive impacts from the funded activities are shortlived. I hope that in the future we can find more continuous funding to have a greater impact and reach more local organisations doing worthy work to protect great apes.”

Head and shoulders photo of Timothée Emini.

Timothée Emini, Cameroon national champion

“I was delighted to take on the role of PCLG national champion in Cameroon. The approach piloted this year funded local organisations directly, and made the process simpler and the grants relevant to the local context. It was a light and easy procedure and constituted a paradigm shift in which community aspirations were put at the forefront of project implementation. 

“This experience shows that it is possible to simplify grant processes and make grants more accessible to community-based organisations, which do significant work and need financial support. International funding eligibility criteria should go further to recognise local knowledge and skills.

“The main challenge we experienced in Cameroon were delays in payments reaching grantees. None of the organisations had a bank account, so I acted as a fiscal sponsor, enabling us to transfer funds to them. Nonetheless, this led to several delays, which caused grantees to lose faith in the process, and they missed the best time to implement some of their activities.”

Head and shoulders photo of Dominique Bikaba.

Dominique Bikaba, DRC national champion

“The complexities of accessing funds from big donors have not made it easy for initiatives driven from local levels to access funding. IIED has made it possible for community-based organisations to access direct funding and achieve their locally-designed activities and objectives. 

“As PCLG national champion in DRC, I facilitated four community-based organisations around Kahuzi-Biega National Park and Itombwe Nature Reserve to access direct funding. The achievements they have reached in a short time and the impact they have had on local wellbeing and engagement for great ape conservation would have taken several months otherwise due to donors’ bureaucracy. From Batwa Indigenous Peoples in Nyamukubi to forest community members in Oku through local communities in Mwenga, their enthusiasm and engagement to achieve their objectives was fascinating. 

“Unfortunately, such great grant initiatives do not always last long. I hope more initiatives like this can take place in future over a longer term.”

Calls to action

The champions’ reflections show that these changes had a significant impact on access to funding. Their leadership was crucial for delivering this initiative, and we recommend this model to other funders thinking of changing their processes to channel more funding to the local level.

But several challenges remain. One-off small grants cannot fulfil the need for patient, continuous funding – which is central to the LLA principles – and more long-term funding is needed at the local level. The international banking system also needs to cater for the world’s unbanked population and offer quick, easy and inclusive ways to transfer money to all.

We encourage all organisations to join us in endorsing the LLA principles and embed them into your ways of working. We challenge other funders and intermediaries to push the boundaries of your grant-making to enable locally-led action. 

Whether you are already getting funding to the local level, would like to find out more, or simply want to stay connected on these issues, please get in touch ([email protected]) and share your experiences with us.


Head and shoulders photo of Nicola Sorsby.

Nicola Sorsby ([email protected]) is a researcher in IIED’s Natural Resources and Climate Change research groups