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The Unexpected Benefits of Closing

By Lynda Mansson, MAVA Foundation, 20th July 2018

The MAVA Foundation is a Swiss-based family philanthropic foundation focusing on biodiversity conservation and natural resources. Through its four programmes – The Mediterranean Basin, Coastal West Africa, Switzerland, and Sustainable Economy – it conserves biodiversity for the benefit of people and nature by funding, mobilising and strengthening partners and the conservation community. Its grant-making budget is around £60 million per year.

When you first heard the news that MAVA would stop grant-making in 2022, what was your reaction? As we have steadily informed our stakeholders of our closure, we see all kinds of reactions: shock, disbelief, tears, indignation, worry, interest and more rarely congratulations. Even rarer still is an understanding of the unexpected benefits of closing, of which there are many. I’d like to highlight three key ones below:

We focus on what is truly important

There is nothing like knowing there is an end-date to sharpen discussions. Although there has always been a finite amount of funding to provide to partners, when there is a finite amount of years for that funding, suddenly things change. Trade-offs become more apparent and the choices we make are more critical. This allows us to turn our minds to what is truly important and decline all the rest. Focus is more important than ever when you are faced with a hard stop in 2022.

Sustainability is built in

More than ever before we are focused on the sustainability of the work we have supported over the years. We support key partners in their organizational development to ensure they are well-placed to deliver effective conservation for many years beyond our closure. We are developing conservation leaders via our Leaders for Nature Academy, to ensure we have a cadre of young professionals to lead the conservation movement in years to come. And we work hand in hand with our partners to implement sustainable finance mechanisms, finding solutions to generate income beyond philanthropy. All this adds up to better opportunities for our partners to shine in the long-term.

There is a sense of urgency

We plan to go out with a bang to celebrate huge advances in conservation. Our ambitions are high – quite the opposite of fading off quietly into the sunset. This means we have to work as fast as possible with our partners to achieve milestones and objectives. Slow starts and issues with delivery cannot be accommodated within the fixed time-frame we have. A delay in hiring key staff means lowering ambitions, not extending the contract period. This creates a sense of urgency which is much needed.

Though there are elements to manage carefully in relation to our exit – such as ensuring that our partners and our staff thrive post-2022 – we should stop and recognize the unexpected benefits that go along with that. These 3 elements together ensure that we meet the most important priorities. And that we will have amazing achievements to celebrate together with our partners!

Lynda Mansson joined MAVA as Director General in August 2010. She is responsible for implementing the strategy of the foundation and leading the secretariat team. She also ensures the impact of the foundation’s investments, and is committed to increasing its level of transparency and accountability.

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