Feature Story

'Well beyond an introduction'

February 26, 2021

Mosaic of participants from the 2021 GEF Introduction Seminar
Over 600 members of the Global Environment Facility family connected to the 2021 Introduction Seminar. Image: GEF

What happens when you welcome more than 10 times the typical number of people to your organization’s orientation? A GEF Introduction Seminar like none other.

GEF CEO and Chairperson Carlos Manuel Rodriguez and the multilateral trust fund’s leadership team and technical specialists engaged with hundreds of participants from around the world throughout the seminar, which was held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was a great learning opportunity,” said Thelma Munhequete of the Africa Sustainable Development Foundation, who joined the four-day event from Mozambique. She described the sessions as “informative, inclusive, and interactive.”

The seminar’s online format made it possible for far more people to join the discussions than is typical when the session is held in-person in Washington, DC.

Françoise Clottes, the GEF’s Director of Strategy and Operations, welcomed the collaborative participation of senior government officials, including GEF Council members and operational focal points, as well as colleagues from implementing agencies and civil society over the week.

“I don’t know that 600 members of the GEF family have ever gotten together in the way we have in the past four days. This encounter happened at a time when the GEF has ambitious objectives and an authentic opportunity to rethink, upgrade, and leverage better what we are trying to get done together as a partnership,” she said. “There was learning in both directions here: clearly it went well beyond an introduction. Somehow, the virtual format did not get in the way of lively and warm interactions."

Connecting from Niue, a small island country in the South Pacific, Haden Talagi shared his country’s experience advancing priorities in environmental governance, biodiversity, climate change, and waste management with support from the GEF.

“There is so much work to do to protect our environment and natural resources, so we need to work together with different stakeholders here in Niue, in the region, and at the international level,” said Talagi, who is Director of Niue’s Department of Environment and his country’s Operational Focal Point to the GEF.

He said that it was very helpful for him and his team to learn about GEF systems and policies, especially around gender and social safeguards, and to hear from representatives of other countries about their experiences working on projects across environmental boundaries. “Without the resources from the GEF and donor countries, we would not be able to undertake many activities in-country, especially within communities,” he said.

Karla Espinoza, a climate change and sustainable development specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank, said that connecting with other agency and in-country partners through the seminar was “inspiring and thought-provoking.”

The IDB-implemented project Espinoza works to coordinate relates to climate technology transfer in Latin America, an initiative supported by the GEF as well as the GEF-managed Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) and Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF). Reflecting on the seminar, she said: “I felt proud to be part of a team collaborating on regional technical cooperation executed by the IDB and financed by the GEF.”

While the gathering was set up as an orientation to Global Environment Facility processes and priorities, many participants with extensive experience with the GEF said the hands-on learning it offered was valuable as they seek to develop and manage projects that relate to overlapping environmental challenges, many of which were worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This seminar came at the right time as it touches almost all areas of the GEF,” said Amidou Goita, Mali’s Operational Focal Point to the GEF and Head of Environmental Data at his government’s Agency for Environment and Sustainable Development. “This capacity building will allow me to be more operational by contributing to the mobilization of resources for the restoration, protection and conservation of our environment which is so vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change,” he said.

Senad Oprašić, Head of the Environmental Protection Department of Bosnia and Herzegovina's Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations, said although he has served as his country's focal point to the GEF and is currently an alternate GEF Council member, the seminar provided an opportunity to learn and stay current on best practices and new trends.

"The GEF is working to include all stakeholders in to environmental and climate change issues. And they do it very well,” he said.

Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, who joined the GEF in August after decades of engaging with the trust fund from government roles in Costa Rica, encouraged operational focal points and other partners to work together in new ways to support breakthroughs this decade on biodiversity, climate change, chemicals and waste, and other global pressures.

“We have a lot to do to ensure the global recovery from this pandemic is green, blue, clean, and resilient,” he said, stressing that the need for linkages between efforts to combat deforestation, end illegal wildlife trafficking, and prioritize human health would be major themes of the GEF’s eighth replenishment cycle which starts next year. “Together, we can get there.”

Full event video and materials can be found on the 2021 GEF Introduction Seminar event page