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COVID-19: The view from MAVA

By Lynda Mansson, Director General, MAVA Foundation, 15th June 2020

Across the world, life as we know it was turned on its head these past few months. Unforeseen and previously unimaginable changes were required of us and by and large, we demonstrated our tremendous capacity to adapt.

The tragedy is global and profound, and we will continue to feel its aftereffects for some time to come. However, the situation also provided the impetus for some profound rethinking and I have seen some positive outcomes. At the same time, we need to rethink our relationship with nature and come to an understanding of the linkages between health and nature.

This blog talks about the rethinking we are seeing, MAVA’s response to the crisis, and what we need to do to ensure a healthier relationship with nature.

Rethinking Philanthropy

The philanthropic community reacted swiftly and supportively to the crisis. I saw a massive shift towards increased flexibility, more rapid and decentralised decision-making, greater trust in partners to define what they need, and a conversion of ongoing project funding to unrestricted support. Multiple foundations put up extra funding for urgent support and in many cases dipped into their previously ‘untouchable’ capital to increase urgent funding. While I understand that not 100% of foundations did this, I personally am not familiar with any that did not react with understanding, compassion and speed.

MAVA joined many other foundations in declarations of positive action and support in the face of Covid-19 from the European Foundations Center and SwissFoundations, both alliances of philanthropic foundations.

I have witnessed a deep rethink of how foundations should fund and a willingness to reform deeply. Time will tell if these good intentions take hold and continue in the future, but the groundwork is laid for better practices.

MAVA’s Response

I like to think of our response in three phases:  immediate crisis, rebuilding for resilience, and recreating the future.

Immediate crisis

Like many of our peers, MAVA has put in place extended support mechanisms for our partners. This includes urgent funding to cover unexpected costs or lost revenue, discussion fora for peer learning on leadership challenges linked to the crisis, more flexibility in some grant requirements, and additional support on specific topics such as communicating in the crisis, or planning in the face of uncertainty.

We have attempted to listen carefully to our partners and respond to their needs rather than charging in with our own solutions which may not be the right ones.

Our main emphasis has been on ensuring the continued payment of salaries to avoid massive layoffs during the crisis. I would be unable to count how many salaries we contribute to, but it is a fair statement to say that this approach helped hundreds if not thousands of families avoid hardship.

Rebuilding for resilience

This phase could last for an unknown period of time. We will continue to offer funding for urgent needs and as time goes by those needs may become clearer for our partners.

Starting even before the crisis, but even more relevant now, we have been working with Acumen Academy to build an on-line course on fundraising which will be offered free of charge to all of our partners. The first course will be launched on 23 June 2020. A follow-up call for proposals for additional fundraising support has also been launched to allow some partners to work more deeply on their fundraising needs.

We will also offer the possibility to take part in a simple training on Scenario Planning in times of Covid, with some follow-up support for some partners to be accompanied in rethinking their positioning for the future.

And we continue our programme of organizational development support to partners.

 Recreating the future

We are working with selected partners and fellow funders to help ensure that we do not boomerang back to business as usual once the crisis passes. In particular our work within MAVA’s Sustainable Economy programme and the donor collaborative Partners for a New Economy are more relevant than ever. This work includes trying to green the stimulus packages, creating a new narrative for what we should value in our economy and underlining the key message that we need intact nature to stay healthy.

On this latter point, this crisis is a reminder not only that our health is intimately interconnected with animal and environmental health but also that our relationship with nature is recklessly unbalanced and broken.

We are disrupting natural systems, and people, wildlife, and domestic animals come into close contact, creating conditions in which new infectious diseases emerge.

We cannot go back to business as usual. We must repair our relationship with nature, investing in nature-based solutions that restore ecosystems, enhance human health and safety, and tackle the converging crises of climate breakdown and nature loss.

In recovering, we must adopt an integrated ‘One Health’ approach for resilience and regeneration, recognising the complex interconnections between our health, and that of animals and our shared environment.

And we must also reimagine conservation, redesigning food, infrastructure, and economic systems for health and sustainability.

A different future is possible – one that realises the promise of the SDGs and prosperity for all on a healthy planet. Creating it relies on increased cooperation between government, business, and civil society.

Nature is our shield. If together, we protect and restore it, it will help and protect us. Let’s let that be a key lesson from these difficult times.

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.  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. Blog published at:

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