Reforestation Series ~ How do we select our Beneficiary Projects?

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We are pleased to present our first in a series of posts that will share inspiring and vital information about our 2016 Reforestation Strategy. Nicole Schwab is leading our reforestation efforts and is a member of our Board of Trustees.
Now that TreeSisters is gently stretching its tender shoots into the sky and getting ready to start funding more beneficiary projects, we wanted to share with you how we choose these projects. On our reforestation page, I explain that we plan to fund two different types of projects. First, projects that focus on reforestation in areas where planting trees will help control soil erosion, restore top soil, and maintain watersheds. Second, projects that protect intact forest landscapes – for example, by creating biodiversity corridors or buffers around intact forests to prevent further deforestation. In both cases, we want to make sure that local communities are involved and women empowered. I also shared which geographic areas we consider as priority and why.

This is our overall strategy

Now, when it comes to looking at an individual project and deciding whether to take them on as one of our beneficiaries, we follow a three-step due diligence process.

1. Strategic Alignment

We start by asking whether the project is in line with our overall strategy: Is it a reforestation or forest conservation project with particular emphasis on restoring degraded soil and maintaining watersheds? Does it involve the local community and empower women? Does it lie within the countries we have identified as priority? Let us take Eden reforestation project in Madagascar as an example. It is a stellar case of a forest restoration project focusing on mangroves and dry deciduous forests. Mangroves are trees with many magical properties: they can grow in salt or brackish water, they act as a barrier to mitigate the effects of cyclones; they prevent soil and their nutrients from being washed away into the oceans; and they provide a habitat for a host of marine species. With respect to our geographical focus, Madagascar is one of the countries we have highlighted as a priority because of extensive deforestation (85% of the rainforests have been lost), and ensuing severe soil degradation. When it comes to local community participation, the Eden Project employs local villagers (mainly women) to plant the mangrove propagules, creating a source of income in areas of severe poverty.

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2. Sustainable Reforestation Approach

If the project fits with our overall strategy – as was the case with Eden – we move to the second phase of the due diligence process which entails looking in much more detail at their reforestation process. We ask questions like: What type of trees are they planting and why (are they native species)? How do they take care of them until maturity? What are the survival rates of these trees? Whose land are they planted upon? In the case of Eden, in addition to Mangroves, they plant almost 50 other species. To restore the forests, they start by planting the dominant pioneer species (such as Mahogany) and once the upper canopy provides shade coverage, natural diversity regeneration can take place. The emerging forests belong to the village communities who are actively engaged in preserving them.

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3. Governance and Accountability

Once we are satisfied with all the details of the project, we move to the final step in our due diligence process, which is about looking at the beneficiary’s governance and finances. Here we want to ensure that the organization is sustainable, well-managed and has an absolutely clean track record. We look at their finances, budget, and audited accounts. We ask questions about staffing, monitoring and evaluation. It is also in this phase that we look at the “price per tree” and try to understand what is included in it. In my next blog post, I will go into this topic in more detail to try and explain why there is such a big difference in the cost of planting one tree between one project and another. When the organization has met all of our demands, we sign a memorandum of understanding, we celebrate and start sending them the money from all the TreeSisters contributions! We usually do this on a quarterly basis. And then we review their progress regularly so that we can report to you on the results. We care deeply about each and every one of your contributions and have developed this process with much attention to detail, to make sure that your love will carry through all the way to a seed in the ground, a villager looking after a mangrove propagule, and eventually a mature tree providing shade, clean water, rich top soil, and contributing to local livelihoods.   20140910_5d3_07665-coul2Nicole is an author and social entrepreneur, co-founder of the Forum of Young Global Leaders, and of EDGE Certified – a global scheme certifying organizations for closing the gender gap in the workplace.The Heart of the Labyrinth_cover_front_mini Her book, The Heart of the Labyrinth, gives voice to her engagement on behalf of a world that values and honors the sacred feminine and is rooted in our connection to the Earth as a living being.

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