Supporting Collaboration Among Grantees: Community Based Fisheries Management Initiative

The following story is based on theexperience of a grantmaker working with a diverse group of grantee partnersto develop a community-based resource program in Asia. Grantmakers working in other fields or geographic areas will appreciate insights on issues such as:

  • Developing a shared idea
  • Making connections among grantees
  • Creating a space for candor

This case is based on a transcript of "Supporting Collaboration Among Grantees" in our Reflection on Practice video series.

Doris Capistrano 
Program Officer (1991- present),The Ford Foundation:

I came to Bangladesh in 1991. Fisheries at that time in Bangladesh were just beginning to generate a lot of attention, because of the promise of new technology. There were major issues with that.

One, they were eliminating a lot of the smaller species that poor people had consumed. And two, it meant that water bodies were becoming privatized because they now had greater value. In the process of adopting this new technology, a lot of the poor people were losing out. The foundation’s programs were meant to address a lot of these rural poverty development-related issues. In the context of Bangladesh, you could not talk about rural development without considering fisheries resources available to communities.

Developing an Initiative Concept

I went and talked to a lot of the potential partners, explored the situation within the donor community, then looked at the numbers and basic research. I asked what the foundation would be able to contribute to this whole mix if there were already a lot of institutional players out there. A reality check was also necessary because sometimes it is very easy to imagine problems or issues where perhaps they might not necessarily exist. But the problem did exist, because basically they were missing the major aspect of fisheries management. Although this was most important, nobody was talking about it.

When I first started I didn’t know where it was going to end up. The basic question was always very clear: How do you get this important resource in the hands of poor people who need it most? The considerations were also very clear: considerations of equity, empowerment for this group, and a policy environment that would be more supportive of their management. There were also concerns about the environmental implications of any types of fisheries management strategy. What was not clear was how do you then begin to address all of these issues together.

Of course, program staff has to do a lot of initial thinking. In many cases you have to argue your way so that people eventually consider the idea and then give it serious thought either for or against. In the process of back-and-forth, if you are reasonably open and if people know that you are genuinely interested in the outcomes — not necessarily fully vested — then what you get is a more realistic picture of what is achievable — what is doable — given the context. What you end up with is a germ of an idea that is a shared idea. You approach it systematically. Think about the process one step at a time, identify what areas need to be covered, link them up with a larger process that involves other institutions, and then identify which individuals or institutions share the belief, the direction, and the concerns that the initiative is working towards.

It’s very important to first figure out where institutions are in their own developmental process so that one does not drive them in directions where they are not inclined to go in the first place. Because with the initiative you don’t necessarily have individuals thinking of the same long-term pathway, they would not necessarily have exactly the same vision. But they do go in the same general direction. It’s a self-selection process. Those who stay are those who actually feel that it’s well worth staying.

Identifying and Bringing in Grantees

We worked on various levels. One was at the community level where we were testing alternative ways of bringing the community into the fisheries management process through the introduction of technology through linkages with credit — for example, capacity building, leadership training, and empowerment approaches — and seeing how that would play out in a particular location. We started with a number of well-established NGOs because we did not want to experiment with smaller NGOs that did not have the capacity to bear the risk. But, having gone through the first cycle, we started bringing in new NGOs with small grants and having the expertise or the technical assistance provided by the larger, more experienced institutions in the initiative.

Proshika, for example, starts with a very strong training empowerment component as their entry point. There are others that tend to work more in terms of the asset creation, providing the capacity for these communities to save and invest together. It’s really a matter of emphasis. Some emphasize one more than the other. For instance, the government department of fisheries was a key player because they set the policies for fisheries management in the country. ICLARM — the International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management — is an international research center that was researching aqua-culture technology at the same time they were working on rural development focus. They were a natural partner in terms of excellence. We did not have the legal part covered when we first started. Through a grant from the Ford Foundation we started an organization called the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association. Once they got up and running, we told them about the important issue of fisheries legislation, and asked if they would be interested. Of course, they were and so they got on board. FEMCOM was brought in for the communications part of it. FEMCOM would cover a lot of the major events and highlights in order to get the product out to the television media and reach the middle class consumers of fish, policy makers, and various audiences. We started with these core institutions with the potential for transferring learning elsewhere.

Helping Grantees Work Together

We encouraged these groups to meet regularly as part of the government’s fisheries project. Initially I would call them to convene meetings — it’s actually more social — and suggest that we have lunch together. They liked cookies so it was something that we made into a joke. We said, “Okay, well why don’t we come together and have some cookies?”

Initially the government representative, who’s now our project director, was very defensive. But after that back-and-forth, people begin to know others as committed professionals in the field. Then there’s a greater openness and he’s the one who says, “Well, you know my constraints, I cannot do this because I have to go through several layers before I get an approval. Can you press this through your director, to talk to the minister or secretary?” Pretty soon what we had was a group of people who were naturally consulting each other. 

Eventually they set up their own arrangements for visiting each other’s projects. They would thenrefer their partners or their fisher folk to each other’s organizations, just so they could share information, find out about what was going on, new technologies, and experiences of other fishing groups that had been successful in managing their fisheries. This is a group that continues to this day. So initially, the foundation was involved in calling the meeting, but gradually shifted it over to the Department of Fisheries. 

One of the things that we thought was particularly important was making sure that the message got out to the appropriate level. Every year there is a Fisheries Fortnight in Bangladesh. It’s a government sponsored fair where fisheries-related industries and organizations have a chance to exhibit their work. We institutions involved in this initiative thought that it was a major opportunity to talk about what it was that we did as a group. It was a lot of fun! This was our booth! We had to decide what we would put on the booth, how we would arrange it, etc. They came up with an exhibit and a poster that summarized the purpose of the program, the institutions involved, and what kinds of activities were being undertaken.

Then they said, “Well, why don’t we come up with a fold-out, a one pager that would explain to whoever might be interested?” So we said, “Okay! But for practical purposes what goes into the letterhead, or what goes into the stationery? How do we represent ourselves visually?” We just said “Okay, let’s have a logo.” There was quite a bit of discussion: “What kind of images do we want to convey?” In a spirit of fun we just said, “Let’s all come back after some time with some ideas or some images, and we’ll recognize whoever has the best visual for our group and treat that person to lunch.” That was how the logo came to be. It was adopted as the CBFM logo and went into this one page flyer that we handed out. That has actually helped establish the linkages. Hey, you are one of us! It helps recognize that some are more committed than others are.

That is our famous — by now recognizable — CBFM logo that now routinely appears on Bangladesh television during the Fisheries Fortnight. It’s now on pins and T-shirts. People have an affinity for the program now. One of the strategies of a grantmaker, perhaps, is just developing a shared culture — the concept of developing rituals.

To recognize the creator of our CBFM logo, a good excuse was to get together for lunch, and we said, “We have some more places at the table-why don’t we invite people from the Ministry of Land?” The Ministry of Land is a very powerful ministry which initially was not interested in cooperating, but all the control over the water bodies really rested with them. Then we sorted out who would sit with whom. ICLARM was supposed to sit with the assistant secretary so they could brief him on the project. We made it a point to go around the table to introduce the organization so he would have heard of it. Not too long afterwards, he actually showed interest in visiting the site. Now they had one more ally in the whole bureaucracy. It was still constrained by the bureaucratic process but at least there was one more supportive person.

I also encouraged them to think about excellence. A quality control should be built into the process. For that purpose, we figured that we would have yearly workshops open to the public, but before that, an in-house workshop. We were talking about having CBFM awards of recognition where a pin is awarded to people of outstanding achievement. At the same time I also thought about how the Ford Foundation could gradually disengage. Along the way, other players came in so that eventually, the foundation was able to walk away from an initiative that was healthy, vibrant and self-sufficient.

Now there are institutions and organizations of fisher folk in partnership with some of the NGOs and other facilitating institutions that are able to at least bargain — not on equal terms — but at least on stronger terms than they were able to before. A number of other donors have picked up a lot of the approaches that were tried as part of this initiative. The Bangladesh policy discussion on fisheries management routinely involved the grantee organizations that we worked with. In other words, the agenda that we started out with in ‘93 is now mainstream. So it is no longer just the agenda of this small initiative. You see major changes over the years.

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