Enduring Arches: Building Conservation Finance Projects for Impact

Report developed by Gordian Knot Strategies in collaboration with The Conservation Finance Network with the generous support from the Walton Family Foundation.

Lessons from an assessment of USDA Conservation Innovation Grants

Conservation finance is reshaping conservation, but has yet to fulfil its full potential. Since 2015 the USDA Conservation Innovation Grants program has supported some of the most pioneering conservation finance projects in the U.S. A recent assessment of the experiences and outcomes of 25 of these projects offers insights and lessons for impact investors, funders, and project proponents. It points towards key considerations when developing innovative conservation finance models, which impact investors and funders should be aware of as they evaluate their investment decisions and work with project proponents to move conservation finance forward. We found that in order to perform well as projects and as investments, these efforts must: 1) address a clear and significant problem; and 2) identify payors who are willing and able to pay for the solution. Five other elements were also found to correlate with positive outcomes. Impact investors should ensure these elements are in-place, if they seek to achieve measurable impact as well as a return on capital. Those five elements are: 1) the use of effective and implementable practices; 2) co-creation with target constituents; 3) alignment with legal, policy, and regulatory conditions; 4) a viable strategy for data management and measurement; and 5) the right set of partners to carry the work forward from concept through pilot and on to scale. Stakeholders entering the realm of innovative conservation finance may want to consider these elements and think of them as an arch: with problems and payors as the “springers” on which the arch rests; practices, co-creation, legal, policy, and regulatory conditions, and data strategy as four “vouissoirs” (blocks) in the arch; and partners as the keystone that holds the whole construct together.


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