Central to the Net-Works model are the local community banks it helps to set up. These Village Savings and Loan Associations, locally known as CoMSCAs, are run by community members. For many, they provide access to finance for the first time in a way that is convenient and local. They enable people to save the money they earn from selling used nets, and to take out small loans to do things like invest in a new business or pay for a family member to go to college. In a new innovation introduced by the Net-Works Philippines team, CoMSCAs are also proving to be effective conservation partners.
In 2015 the team started introducing the concept of an Environment Fund (EF) as a way to create a sustainable source of financing for local conservation work. With an EF, members of the CoMSCA agree to contribute a small amount of money into a dedicated fund on a regular basis. They then invest this money in local conservation projects such as the management of marine protected areas (MPAs), or the rehabilitation of mangrove forests.
Almost all of the CoMSCAs in the Northern Iloilo region, where EFs have been piloted, have set up funds. Community members are very motivated to establish EFs. They recognise that the marine environment they rely on so heavily, both for food and for their livelihoods, is under threat and that it’s in their interest to try and do something about this. Traditionally, local conservation efforts have been heavily dependent on external funding from NGOs, local governments and national governments. As the external funding fades out, conservation efforts often do too. EFs are helping to provide a solution to this, by creating a sustainable way for communities to do self-financed conservation.
The amount of money generated through EFs is small compared to the amount required to fund projects like MPA management or mangrove rehabilitation. But EF savings can be used to leverage additional funding from local government or other sources. Perhaps the biggest positive impact of all, however, is the sense of empowerment the communities feel. As Rosemarie Apurado, Sustainable Business Operations Coordinator at ZSL Philippines comments:
“Many people don’t believe that poor communities living in remote areas, who have not had access to banking before, could be capable of managing something like an Environment Fund. But our experience with Net-Works is that when people are united they get a new sense of empowerment and then there is no stopping them. The communities we’re working with are taking control of their own futures. In money terms the EF may be small, but in every other way, it’s huge.”