Following the money for sustainable landscape management

19 March 2018

Finance is a major indirect driving force in landscape management. Working towards sustainable management of ecosystems means we have to engage with financial institutions. Not the easiest task, according to many civil society organizations (CSOs). That’s why IUCN NL, WWF NL and VBDO designed the capacity development track ‘Making Finance Work for Us’. Theory and practice provide 140 CSO partners around the world with a solid basis for engaging with the financial sector. 

Landscape management is a matter of coordinating multi-stakeholder processes. Landowners, local communities, local and national governments, businesses, and CSOs giving nature a voice; they are all connected at the landscape level by their use of land and resources, often with differing interests. Money is oftentimes the ‘hidden force’ that determines the outcome of this force field.

“Whether it is government investment in hydropower dams, investment funds investing in mining companies or local banks facilitating the conversion to palm oil plantations, this is what many of our partner organizations around the world experience,” Lucia Helsloot, Programme coordinator at WWF-Netherlands, explains. “While we work with communities, governments and businesses to improve legislation, promote balanced land use planning and strengthen environmental governance, in the end he who has the financial means, calls the shots. So if we want to safeguard healthy ecosystems, we have to follow the money and engage with finance institutions.” Heleen van den Hombergh, Senior Expert Agro-commodities at IUCN NL, adds: “If finance institutions take a proactive and responsible approach towards sustainability principles and legal regulations, this will benefit both society and the long term profitability of banks.”

Bridging the gap between CSOs and finance institutions

In order to do that, CSOs and financial institutions need to connect. “Financial institutions could contribute by incorporating environmental legislation in their financing criteria, but CSOs have to learn the language of money in order to convey their message of sustainability,” Van den Hombergh explains. “That is why this capacity strengthening track is so important,” Helsloot points out. “In a mapping survey of the capacity development needs among our partners, we learned that many CSOs struggle to approach financial institutions. They feel they could use more knowledge on the interests of the financial sector to be confident enough to engage in a serious dialogue.” 

Where sustainability meets finance

This ignited the idea to design a capacity development track on engaging the financial sector, with the help of the Dutch Association of Investors for Sustainable Development (VBDO). “VBDO is firmly rooted in the Dutch playing field, but since finance is a global activity, we also work with CSOs and finance institutions abroad,” Vicky van Heck, Manager Sustainability and Responsible Investment at VBDO, explains. VBDO already provided sustainable finance workshops to CSOs within the program Shared Resources Joint Solutions. “We noticed that CSOs consider these ‘big firms with big money’ as worlds apart from them, but at a closer look, they realize these companies actually consist of people who share the same concerns and are often much more willing to listen than you would think.” The capacity development track helps CSOs to get an understanding of the interest of financial institutions, to place themselves in their shoes and explore their driving forces. “CSOs often have more entree points to start a dialogue with a financial institution than they think,” Van Heck states.

Putting theory into practice

“The capacity development track consists of an interactive e-learning module, where participants learn the basic principles of engagement with the financial sector. This is followed by two real-life cases that accelerate their already ongoing work and put theory into practice,” Diane van Marrewijk, coordinator of the capacity development track at WWF NL, explains. Participants get acquainted with the financial terminology, but they also learn what financial institutions look for, what are the pressure points to influence them, and how to use techniques to convey the message. “Finally, they put this knowledge into practice by getting around the table with Dutch financial institutions during a live workshop in Amsterdam, this April. Participants can bring in concrete cases from their working field and test their strategies in a live setting.”

The capacity development track started in February with almost 140 participants from 22 countries.

For more information on the capacity development track or to join the e-learning module, please contact Danielle Klinge.

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More articles by: Heleen van den Hombergh