Lessons from Adaptation Leaders: A Grassroots-Donor Dialogue on Locally Led Action

The dialogue provided the opportunity for over 50 practitioners to share perspectives and examples of good practice to support adaptation financing and decision-making at the local level in Africa.

Only 10% of climate funding currently reaches the local level. How can more funding reach there and support grassroots communities? On top of that, how can we ensure a continued and sustained momentum on climate action in the immediate context of COVID-19 and its aftermath? A dialogue on this topic, originally to be part of the UNFCCC Africa Regional Climate Week, was held virtually on 21 May between grassroots’ organisations, development partners, and donor representatives. This was set to inform a broader discourse on the importance of supporting local institutions and grassroots movement in light of COVID-19.

“No one is safe until everyone is safe,” remarked Wanjira Mathai, the Vice President and Regional Director for Africa at WRI in her opening, adding that “when communities most affected by climate change have ownership over the interventions, then we are recognizing and elevating local knowledge and promoting more inclusive and relevant solutions.”

The dialogue provided the opportunity for over 50 practitioners to share perspectives and examples of good practice to support adaptation financing and decision-making at the local level in Africa. Highlighting the need to “challenge the constructs that for generations have not served the most vulnerable,” Sheela Patel, Chair of Slum/Shack Dwellers International and one of the Commissioners for the Global Commission for Adaptation, called for a need to “create circular instead of vertical decision-making.” Indeed, eliminating top-down and linear mechanisms in favor of more equitable and adaptive structures that benefit from reciprocity of knowledge sharing, transparency and co-development has been a red line running throughout the entire discussion.

The subsequent discussion focused around four vital elements: (1) effective planning and coordination across levels; (2) keys to transparent local-to-global partnerships; (3) mechanisms for successful funding flow; and (4) learning and knowledge sharing across scales. The outcomes of these discussions are available here.

Some of the highlights from the dialogue are presented below: 

1. Need for flexible funding and a shift away from project-bound mentality. Financial systems need to approach adaptation and resilience investments as part of a complex system, not as disjointed, piece-meal solutions that, in some cases, can create unintended impacts elsewhere. Currently, Adaptation Fund and Green Climate Finance offer dedicated funding windows to support locally led actions including the enhanced direct access modality and small and large grants for innovation. But more work needs to be undertaken at the global scale to move from short-term, project-based interventions to sustained planned finance that is part of national budgets.

2. Building mutual trust and accountability. Transition into a more flexible funding requires building trust. Trust is a two-way street. Unfortunately, “in most situations it is demanded of grassroots organisations, but not from global institutions where there is no transparency about how choices are made, how much money is allocated and where. The duality of these expectations is a serious concern,” stressed Sheela Patel. Creating a trusting partnership will take time, and may cause frustrations and delays, but the consensus among the participants about the need to establish two-way transparency and trust was unequivocal.

3. Need for including local actors from inception to implementation to ensure more inclusive, successful, and community-prioritized adaptation solutions. The traditional donor-grantee relations are rife with power dynamics. “What do we refer to as meaningful partnerships?” questioned Comfort Hajra Mukasa, the founder of Uganda Women in Water Initiative. “Are we seeing [communities] just as recipients or do we ever view them as partners? A meaningful partnership leads to ownership and thriving beyond all odds, which, in turn, leads to resilience.” Establishing connections leads to a better understanding of local context, needs, and existing local knowledge and solutions. This also means more impactful allocation of funds toward relevant, community-identified and successful solutions.

4. Capacity building is not enough without the agency to act. Knowledgeable local actors too often lack the finance, authority or voice to act effectively. In many cases, capacity building remains a box to “check off” as part of a static requirement in project implementation as opposed to responding to the real needs on the ground. Capacity building should instead be adapted to local reality and community dynamics to ensure that the communities can access and successfully manage resources in the long-run, without creating external dependency.

5. Tracking progress and communicating real stories of adaptation and resilience building. Achieving resilience may not be as sharply defined in terms of metrics as the clear-cut mitigation goal of net zero. But resilience lends itself well to a story-telling narrative that is people-centric. Documenting grassroots successes in the form of compelling stories and establishing strategic communication on adaptation and resilience has the potential to advance transformation actions that address the full complexity of systems. And ultimately, success at global scale depends on the delivery of the ambitions set in 2019 in response to the Call to Action and the Global Commission on Adaptation Year of Action.

The Adaptation Fund, Climate Wise Women, the Global Resilience Partnership, and World Resources Institute working with grassroots organisations help convened the dialogue. It is planned to use the outcomes of the dialogue to inform the work of the Global Commission on Adaptation’s Locally Led Action Track, and the Marrakesh Partnership for Global Climate Action (MPGCA) pathways, and the UK’s work, as COP 26 presidency, on Adaptation and Resilience.

Further dialogues are planned in other regions and on specific issues. Grassroots organisations, networks and federations are invited to help lead these regional dialogues aimed at identifying present gaps to advance local-level action and help get money to where it matters. If your organisation is interested in shaping these dialogues, please get in touch with us at