Authored by Evans A.K. Miriti

The GEF Small Grants Programme (GEF SGP) supported 265 communities and civil society organizations in 83 countries to avoid or reduce 167,199 tons of waste from entering waterbodies and supported the sustainable management of 164,169 hectares of marine and coastal areas and fishing grounds, and 264,822 hectares of river and lake basins through community interventions. In addition to direct global environmental benefits, SGP has worked to change the attitudes and behaviors of local communities and helped them adopt good practices, influence government policy and catalyze further investment in environment and sustainable development. Such indirect global environmental benefits are often manifested in the process of scaling up, which takes different forms and follows different processes in different project contexts.

International Waters

International waters include oceans and coastal areas, rivers, lakes and underground aquifers. All of these have undergone serious environmental degradation. Up to 90 percent of wastewater in developing countries flows untreated into rivers, lakes and coastal zones, posing a serious threat to public health, food security and access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. Every day, 2 million tons of human waste are disposed of in waterways(1) and every year, more people die from unsafe water than from all forms of violence, including war.(2)

Global problems faced by international waters result from the cumulative actions of individuals, families, small groups, private firms, and local, regional and national governments. Communities who live by these waters and depend on their resources and ecosystem services should be empowered to reverse the trends of environmental degradation by working together with the government, donors and other partners. When local people have a stake in the issue and are empowered to find creative solutions that work well for the community, it is more likely that the actions they take will be sustainable and carried out by a wider audience.

The Small Grants Programme

The Small Grants Programme is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to support local action to address global environmental challenges. By providing financial and technical support to projects that conserve and restore the environment while enhancing people's well-being and livelihoods, SGP demonstrates that community action can maintain the fine balance between human needs and environmental imperatives. SGP provides financial and technical support to communities and civil society organizations for projects that protect the global environment with grants of up to $50,000 per project. The SGP also provides strategic grants of up to $150,000 for exceptional projects that demonstrate potential to be scaled up.3

For communities to address the transboundary challenges that come along with the governance of shared water bodies, it is important for them to work with multiple sectors at multiple levels (local, national, regional and international). To assist with this, SGP supports projects that are informed by regional considerations and help address regional priorities. SGP uses a bottom-up approach and works in partnership with civil society organizations, governments, private companies, academics, international donors and other stakeholders to promote sustainable development. On-the-ground actions by local communities often help propel coordination among actors at various scales and local communities across borders can play a key role in advocating for environmental protection, often generating momentum that leads to policy changes.

SGP also plays a role in sharing and exchange of knowledge and experience on innovative solutions from the ground up. SGP’s global network is a key for promoting exchanges of best practices from one country to another. In addition, SGP provides inputs to regional scientific studies and decision-making at the national and regional level. This is done through collaboration with regional projects or initiatives, and by linking communities among themselves and with regional inter-governmental forums for knowledge sharing and exchange. Through close coordination and exchange of information, SGP supports participation of key local stakeholders to share perspectives and benefit from capacity building activities of larger scale international water projects.

There are two types of environmental benefits that SGP intends to achieve:

  1. direct global environmental benefits which lead to the improvement in environmental state, the reduction of stress to the ecosystems, or reduced rate of environmental degradation
  2. indirect global environmental benefits which contribute methods, mechanisms, and processes that will eventually facilitate the achievement of global environmental benefits. Due to its nature and in line with its mandate, SGP not only contributes to actions that result in direct global environmental benefits, but also promotes innovation, testing and demonstration approaches, modalities, and management processes that, through upscaling, replication, and mainstreaming, will eventually lead to direct global environmental benefits.

The latter aspect is particularly relevant in the international waters focal area because of the vast coverage of a waterbody in comparison with the small scope of individual community projects – as the results achieved by projects can be amplified through the creation of knowledge, demonstration of solutions, and exchange of experience within a larger framework for action.

The SGP International Waters Portfolio

Since 1992, SGP has funded 1,027 community projects with approximately $26 million invested in GEF funding and having generated an additional $38 million in co-financing for the protection of international waters. SGP’s international waters portfolio has focused on addressing issues and priorities identified in SAPs. While the overall level of funding is modest when viewed globally and cumulatively over time, the impact of these SGP projects stretches across many regions and relates to many waterbodies and critical ecosystems. The ten cases in the publication demonstrate that small scale actions by communities, coupled with efforts of governments, the private sector, donors and other key stakeholders, can lead to achievement of results at a greater scale beyond the originally targeted communities. As the different cases will show, these community projects have led to continuing action beyond the time-frame of the initial projects, often to investment of further resources and funding, as well as in some cases to implementation of policy change and mainstreaming of critical environmental management measures.

Scaling Up

The document linked below highlights ten case studies demonstrating that small-scale community actions, together with the efforts of governments, the private sector, donors and other key stakeholders, can lead to the achievement of results at greater scales beyond the originally targeted communities. These case studies show how community projects have led to continuing action and investment of further resources, as well as, in some cases, policy changes and mainstream acceptance of critical environmental management measures.