Grassroots climate action projects play a vital role in the global fight against climate change. These projects operate at the local level, addressing environmental challenges that are often specific to their region. They are significant because they help to mobilise communities and raise awareness of the impact of climate change on local environments and livelihoods, writes Winnie Chiche.
Grassroots initiatives face a significant challenge in terms of scalability. Achieving scalability is crucial for the success of any project, but it can be particularly difficult for grassroots climate action projects. This includes a lack of modern knowledge and skills, dependency on short-term grants, limited networking, inadequate tools and technology, poor recording and reporting, leadership challenges, and the perception of being non-bankable by potential funders.
Grant dependency and short-term vision
Grassroots climate action projects often face difficulties in scaling up due to their dependence on small grants. These grants provide short-term financial support, which makes sustainability dependent on the limited nature of the funding received. As a result, it becomes challenging to bring about long-term change in the fight against climate change. To overcome this challenge, grassroots projects need to diversify their funding sources and adopt a more sustainable financial model.
The Kenya Environmental Action Network (KEAN) has emerged as a remarkable example of innovation and resilience in the domain of grassroots climate action. Initially dependent on small grants and personal donations, KEAN underwent a transformative journey to ensure the sustainability of its initiatives. The organisation strategically shifted its focus towards securing grants that not only sustained ongoing projects but also facilitated long-term impact, enabling it to navigate the challenges associated with grant dependency.
This shift in approach has proven to be a game-changer for KEAN, as it has been able to initiate groundbreaking efforts like the Afrikan Youth Caravan. By securing larger grants, KEAN has been able to send a considerable number of youth representatives to participate in the Conference of the Parties (COP) meetings, amplifying the voices of young climate activists on the global stage. This initiative not only serves as a platform for youth engagement but also as a model for how grassroots organisations can evolve beyond the constraints of short-term funding.
KEAN’s success story highlights the importance of adaptability and strategic planning in the face of scalability challenges. By reimagining its approach to funding, KEAN has demonstrated that grassroots organisations can transcend the limitations imposed by small grants, paving the way for a more sustainable and impactful future in the realm of climate action.
Leadership void and skills deficits
Grassroots projects often struggle to scale effectively due to a lack of organizational sophistication in their leadership structures. This lack of specialization obstructs the project’s ability to reach its full potential. Therefore, it is crucial for grassroots projects to establish efficient leadership structures that can manage the project’s growth and expansion effectively.
The Young Muslim Association’s Going Green Initiative provides a compelling case study of adaptability and transformative impact in grassroots climate action. The NGO, focused primarily on charitable endeavours for orphans, faced a challenge where environmental activities were neglected and lacked attention. The environmental activities struggled to gain sufficient visibility and recognition due to the primary focus on orphan support.
To address this challenge, the establishment of the Going Green Initiative emerged as a strategic response. The initiative marked a paradigm shift, creating a distinct space for green initiatives and breathing new life into the environmental endeavours of the Young Muslim Association. The NGO gained increased visibility and witnessed a surge in volunteer participation, who became a driving force behind the initiative’s progress, armed with specialized training in environmental issues.
What’s particularly noteworthy is the ripple effect of the Going Green Initiative within the orphan community. As the initiative gained momentum, orphans associated with the Young Muslim Association developed a profound passion for environmental issues. This unexpected outcome not only enriched the lives of the orphans but also contributed to the broader recognition of the NGO for its transformative efforts in greening Garissa—an arid and semi-arid land (ASAL) area facing unique environmental challenges.
The success of the Going Green Initiative highlights the importance of creating dedicated leadership for environmental action within the broader framework of grassroots organizations. It exemplifies how adaptability and strategic planning can propel environmental initiatives to the forefront, even in unexpected settings. This nuanced approach can lead to not only increased coverage but also sustainable progress in conservation efforts, ultimately leaving a lasting impact on communities facing environmental challenges.
The scale of the challenge
In addition, grassroots organisations face a range of other problems that limit their ability to meet the scale of the challenge presented by global climate change.
An incomplete tapestry of knowledge:
Grassroots initiatives often rely on traditional and indigenous knowledge, which may not be enough to ensure sustainability in the face of evolving environmental challenges. This can result in the exclusion of modern knowledge, making these initiatives less resilient and adaptable. However, by incorporating modern knowledge into grassroots climate action projects, we can create a more sustainable approach that is better equipped to tackle the challenges of climate change.
Limited networking impact:
Grassroots projects face a significant challenge of limited networking and poor visibility, which hampers their impact and growth. To overcome this challenge, these projects need to improve their networking capabilities and enhance their visibility through effective communication and outreach initiatives.
Grassroots initiatives in rural areas often face challenges in adopting innovative solutions that could contribute significantly to climate action efforts due to the lack of access to advanced tools and technology. To overcome this challenge, grassroots projects need to utilize technology and tools appropriate to their specific needs.
Recording and reporting discrepancies:
Many grassroots projects struggle with evaluating their strategies, identifying areas for improvement, and sharing success stories with data due to poor recording and reporting practices. To overcome this challenge, it is crucial for such projects to improve their recording and reporting practices. This will enable them to monitor and evaluate their progress, learn from their successes and failures, and communicate their achievements with concrete data.
The un-bankable perception:
Grassroots climate action projects are often seen as non-bankable by potential funders due to their financial instability, limited scalability, and lack of robust reporting mechanisms. This perception makes it challenging for these projects to attract sustained financial support, which is necessary for their growth and long-term impact. To overcome this, grassroots projects need to establish a sustainable financial model, improve their recording and reporting practices, and enhance their networking capabilities to build stronger relationships with potential funders.
Grassroots climate action projects play a crucial role in combating climate change. However, to ensure their long-term success and impact, a multifaceted approach is necessary. This approach includes integrating modern knowledge, diversifying funding sources, improving networking capabilities, leveraging suitable technology, enhancing recording and reporting practices, and establishing effective leadership structures. These steps are vital to ensure the scalability and sustainability of these initiatives.
Photo credit: Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT used with permission CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED