Water governance from the ground up: “It’s about giving people a voice”

The urgent need for a socially just and ecologically sustainable approach to water governance became evident early on in the history of Both ENDS. In the 1990s, Both ENDS was supporting people’s movements against huge, destructive hydroelectric dam projects, like the Narmada dam, in India. While campaigning against such top-down approaches to water management, Both ENDS and partners realised that the widely accepted concept of ‘Integrated Water Resources Management’ (IWRM) was not delivering on its promises of inclusiveness and sustainability.

As a response to the controversial Narmada Sardar Sarovar dam and irrigation projects in neighbouring states, local NGO’s Gangotree and Econet prepared a comprehensive river basin development plan for the Banas river, integrating dozens of old and modern techniques for local water management into one ingenious scheme. The variety of methods and solutions tested made the approach relevant for other areas too.

At the same time, partner organisations around the globe were similarly engaged in successful, people-centered water management initiatives. They were working in other river basins and embedded in different societal and environmental contexts. Yet all of the initiatives used a bottom-up approach that put local communities’ realities, knowledge and aspirations at the core of water management.

Cotahuasi Valley where AEDES worked on river basin management. Peru, around 2003

Continuous Contour Trenching, a way of soil and water conservation on slopes. Gogalwadi, India, around 2004

The evidence collected by all of these initiatives challenged the “classic” concept of IWRM and demonstrated the importance of a people-centred approach to managing water and the environment.

Guiding principles for the negotiated approach

In 2005 Both ENDS, Gomukh Environmental Trust for Sustainable Development in India, and seven partner organisations (from Bolivia, Peru, Vietnam-Cambodja, Thailand, India, South Africa en Bangladesh) working on river basin management joined forces to document their strategies and experiences. Based on these different cases, the groups presented the concept of ‘the Negotiated Approach’ to IWRM. In 2011 Both ENDS and Gomukh followed up with the booklet ‘Involving Communities: A Guide to the Negotiated Approach in Integrated Water Resources Management’, which described the ten guiding principles behind the approach.

The booklet is blue, but it was not meant to be a blueprint,’ quips Melvin van der Veen, who specialises in inclusive water governance at Both ENDS. ‘An important element of the negotiated approach is that it is flexible, taking socio-political and cultural factors into account.’ Other key elements that distinguish the Negotiated Approach from Integrated Water Resources Management more generally are prioritisation of self-motivated local action and empowerment of local communities to assert their rights to water. ‘The negotiation must be meaningful’, says van der Veen. ‘It’s not enough that local communities are seated at the table. They must be equipped with negotiation skills and have the power to assert their rights.’ At the same time, those with traditionally more powerful positions shouldn’t be allowed to dominate the process. It only works when all stakeholders can engage equally.

Local irrigators meeting, Nan river, thailand, 2003

Community map of Se San river in Cambodia, 2003

Both ENDS now prefers to call the approach ‘Inclusive Water Governance’. Van der Veen explains: ‘It was not immediately clear to people what we meant by the term Negotiated Approach. Negotiation may sound as if communities are giving something away; the new term shows precisely what is crucial: inclusiveness. We haven’t changed anything about the approach itself, but we learned how to communicate about it more effectively.’ Both ENDS has worked to inspire donors and other organisations to support inclusive water governance, spreading the message alongside partners in key forums like the annual World Water Week conference in Stockholm.

Strategically adapting to a changing context

What has changed in the ten years since the blue booklet was published? Although in most cases the technical aspects of water governance are still dominant above the socio-political aspects, the importance of an inclusive approach to water management is more widely acknowledged. Van der Veen points to some important developments in the right direction, like in Kenya where the role for communities in natural resource management has been formalised in Water Resource Use Associations for each sub-catchment in the country’s six major river basins.

There is also more attention in the water sector to the importance of women’s rights to water and their role in water management. A gender-responsive approach is already part and parcel in the work of Both ENDS’s partner organisations, like Ecoton in Indonesia, where women leaders are organising and advocating for clean water, and Uttaran in Bangladesh, which is supporting a new generation of women leaders to be part of gender-balanced water committees in the country’s southwest.

The Dutch link to Both ENDS’s work on water has become more prominent in recent years. Dutch businesses and the Dutch government increasingly present themselves as experts in climate adaptation for coastal and delta areas and play an active role in water projects around the world, including coastal development projects, like those for Jakarta and Manila. In 2016, when partners in Indonesia signalled serious flaws in the consultation process and social and environmental threats posed by the Jakarta plan, Both ENDS echoed their concerns to key (Dutch) actors involved in the projects, and facilitated dialogues between partners and different stakeholders.

More recently, Both ENDS has been collaborating with partners in the Philippines. Joint research has shown that the master planning process for Manila Bay and proposed projects do not show regard for human rights and hardly consider local communities’ needs, concerns and existing initiatives. ‘It was not developed with the meaningful participation of the people who are currently most affected and most vulnerable to future climate change impacts. We’re translating these findings into advocacy activities. Local partner organisations are also planning to develop a holistic People’s Plan by and for the people living in Manila Bay and its related ecosystem, as an alternative proposal for the protection and development of Manila Bay,’ says van der Veen.

Fishing communities protest against the Jakarta Bay plans which include a large seawall and land reclamation

In Manila Bay, coastal communities fear to lose their livelihood strategies when the large-scale land reclamation plans are being realized

Both ENDS and partners have been moving with the tide, adapting their strategies to promote inclusive water governance as climate change accelerates. Typhoons, hurricanes, flooding, droughts, rising sea levels – all are increasingly threatening the existence of communities and landscapes around the world. Coasts are eroding. Sea levels are rising. Lagoons are disappearing. Climate refugees are putting pressure on cities that are often already struggling with rapid urbanisation, while those who stay behind are exposed in an increasingly vulnerable situation.

Looking for new allies

The urgency and complexity of the problem pushes us to look for new partnerships,’ says Van der Veen. ‘We won’t and don’t need to compromise our principles. Yet we need to look for new allies that are complementary to achieving the change we envision.’ To that end, Both ENDS has stepped up engagement in the Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP), a network of some 180 Dutch companies, NGOs, knowledge institutes and governmental organisations in the water sector. In 2018, Daniëlle Hirsch, Director of Both ENDS, became chair of the NWP’s NGO Platform and consequently also a member of the NWP Board. Having learned from cases like Jakarta and Manila, members of the NWP are increasingly engaging in conversations with Both ENDS.

Furthermore, Both ENDS together with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the RVO (Netherlands Enterprise Agency, a government entity that supports Dutch businesses) is looking how water projects can be financed in such a way that they strengthen the position of local water users. ‘The issue is not just about water,’ says Van Der Veen. ‘It’s about giving people a voice – decision-making power – over their environment.’

Community workshop in the Athi river basin, Kenya, 2019

Indonesian women measure the water quality, 2018


“The thinking was: let’s not waste our time with gender”

Irene Dankelman

Irene Dankelman was Both ENDS’s first project coordinator when Both ENDS started as a project of IUCN NL. She is now a member of the Advisory board of our JWH Initiative. Irene told us about those early days when she started researching and writing about women and the environment, and about how Both ENDS put this topic on the agenda.

Both ENDS originated from a book you wrote in 1988 called ‘Women and the Environment in the Third World: Alliance for the Future.’ How did a book give birth to an organisation?

In the early 1980s, I was working as the coordinator of IUCN Netherlands in Amsterdam. We had many working groups on international issues in which the Netherlands played a role, such as Tropical Forests, World Conservation Strategy, Antarctica, and North Sea.

In 1985 the Chair of IUCN-NL suggested I work for a while at the Environment Liaison Centre International, in Nairobi, in order to help them organise a series of workshops on women and the environment at the UN Women’s Conference that was being planned there. It was really my first encounter with the work and role of women in the context of the environment. Although, as one of the only women working on environment and development issues in the Netherlands, I had personally experienced how difficult it is in a male dominated sector to have your voice heard and respected.

You didn’t have a background in women and the environment?

I was trained as an ecologist. Up until the late 1970s, it was unusual to link the issues of environment and development, let alone gender and the environment. The issues were all in separate silos. However, there was some eagerness to learn about the links from a professional and policy perspective. The Environment and Development Working Group, in which I participated, worked to push the relationships between environment and development issues to the fore. But the workshop series at the 1985 UN Women’s Conference was really the first time that we took a serious look at the intersection of environment, women’s positions and international development, and brought it into the agenda of the conference.

Irene (far right) at the UN Women’s Conference in Nairobi, 1985. © Irene Dankelman

The 1985 UN Women’s Conference was really the first time that we took a serious look at the intersection of environment, women’s positions and international development. © Irene Dankelman

What did you do at the Conference?

We brought together young women leaders from all regions of the world who were putting the role of women in environmental management and resource use at the forefront. It was amazing. The participants included women like Vandana Shiva and Wangari Maathai. At that time they were just starting their work. Only later were they really recognised as global environmental leaders.

I knew we had to collect and share the life stories and work stories of these women and the movements behind them. With support from the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I teamed up with Joan Davidson to write and publish the book, under the auspices of an IUCN-Netherlands project. That’s one half of the story leading up to the founding of Both ENDS.

The other half is that IUCN-NL was asked to find out what environmental organisations in the global South were doing and to see how their work could be supported. The research, done by my colleague Harry van der Wulp, was an inventory of organisations in the South working on environmental issues. In the process of writing the book and the report, we had built a great network and identified priorities and needs from our colleagues around the world. We thought: let’s bring it together into a special project to support organisations in the global South when they need information or funding or support for their advocacy and lobbying.

Eventually the project became an independent organisation, with support from both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of the Environment. People like Joke Waller-Hunter,* who worked in the Ministry of Environment at the time, really saw the importance of this work and an organisation dedicated to it. Support for women and their efforts was an explicit part of the project. It was part of Both ENDS’s original mandate.

In your book, you say that ‘to restore and conserve the environment a worldwide reorientation of development towards sustainability is needed at all levels of society’ and that ‘women are among the most important and best experienced actors’ in this regard. It seems this should be obvious by now. Yet we still have to say it today. What do you think has changed since you wrote these words?

Well, at the time, the voices of women weren’t so loud yet. They were there at the local level very strongly, but ignored or invisible at national, regional and international levels. With the book, Joan and I wanted to show that women are actors and have expertise. They are affected by environmental issues in different ways. But they are not just vulnerable, they are not just victims. This is still very relevant. We still tend to start with women’s vulnerabilities, instead of their capabilities.

At that time there was no podium and few voices saying this. Nowadays, there are thousands of voices telling us we have to look at the grassroots, at women. You have to look at the reality of people’s lives, where policies impact them. There is much more noise around these issues, many more words and policies. But still, making it happen on the ground is a challenge.

Another thing that is different now from the 70s and 80s is the level of analysis. Now, we look much more into the context. We’re asking questions like why is there more violence against women when environmental justice is at stake. And there is much more attention to the systems in which and with which we live. The call for transformational change is much stronger.

There is also more focus on an intersectional approach. That was completely absent in those days. We were happy if we could even focus on the role of women and men! What I’ve learned is that working with a gender lens also allows you to look into other social dimensions that are relevant in people’s lives – class, age and ethnicity, for example.

And another thing that’s different: there are millions of women and men, especially young people, calling for environmental justice and women’s rights. There is far more knowledge and expertise. There are now libraries full of information on these issues.

Irene working on her book in the IUCN NL office, around 1988. © Irene Dankelman

Was there resistance along the way?

I felt that, especially in the Netherlands, there was not much willingness among environmental organisations to bring the gender aspect to the forefront. It was not seen as relevant. The thinking was: we have too much work to do on the environment, let’s not waste our time with gender. That has also changed a lot. Now almost every environmental and development organisation has taken up gender and social issues.

In 2005, you supported Both ENDS in developing its first gender policy. What led up to that?

I was a board member around that time. It seemed that the issue of gender had become a bit side-lined within Both ENDS. Even though good work on gender was being done – there were some great people working on it and there was collaboration with women’s organisations – it was not so well defined or explicit in the organisation. Maybe it lacked some coherence and attention.

One lesson we’ve learned is that organisations really need a clear mandate to embed gender justice in their work, and they need people to drive the work. For a period of time that was perhaps a bit lacking at Both ENDS. The gender policy helped make the work more systematic.

It seems that the next big milestone in Both ENDS’s history on ‘women and the environment’ was the inception of the Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action (GAGGA), in 2015.

Yes, Both ENDS’s participation in GAGGA brought all these lines together. I am now involved in the external review of the final evaluation of GAGGA. It’s clear that the programme has strengthened the work on the intersection of women’s rights and environmental justice on many different levels. There are so many lessons on the ground from the GAGGA programme. And Both ENDS and the other GAGGA organisations, FCAM and Mama Cash and their partners, have learned so much from each other.

There is also clearer recognition of how important resources are – both information and financial resources –for women’s and other grassroots organisations to be able to do their work. GAGGA really underscores the importance of an intersectional approach. I see this first GAGGA programme as a starting point and I am so happy that it will continue.**

We are in the midst of a global environmental crisis and a global pandemic. We know that the lives of women are being severely impacted. What is the role of Both ENDS in facing these challenges and looking to the future?

Both ENDS must continue being a critical watchdog and supporter of environmental justice and human rights…for at least thirty more years! It is essential that the lobbying and advocacy work with partners in the global South continues. That’s why GAGGA is so important. It is so important to continue bringing people’s voices – women’s voices – to the forefront, and ensure that they are being heard.

Village meeting on local water management in Gogalwadi, Maharashtra state, India. Women and men held their meeting seperately. Date unknown

Sengwer women discuss the building of the Cultural Centre, Embobut, Kenya. Also in the 20th century, it is still necessary to organise women-only spaces.*** © Milka Chepkorir


*In 1994 Joke Waller-Hunter became the first UN Director for the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development. She eventually became Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Waller-Hunter passed away in 2005, leaving her estate to Both ENDS. With her legacy, Both ENDS created the Joke Waller-Hunter Initiative, which supports education, experience and training for young environmental leaders in developing countries.

**The GAGGA Alliance was recently awarded a second five-year strategic partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2021-2025.

***Also see the publication “Embedding gender justice in environmental action: where to start?“, Both ENDS 2020.

The Narmada River and global financial flows

The history of Both ENDS’s work on financial flows can be traced back to social movements of the 1980s and 1990s. At the time, activists around the globe converged during the Annual Meetings and Conferences of the world’s most powerful international financial institutions (IFIs), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, to condemn their harmful lending practices and policies of forced austerity. IFIs, both then and now, typically invest huge amounts of public funding in large infrastructure projects, like hydroelectric dams, which cause severe social and environmental devastation.

A key focus of Both ENDS’s attention at the time was the Save the Narmada Movement, co-founded by social activist Medha Patkar. The movement aimed to protect the people and ecosystems of the Narmada River, in central India, from a massive World Bank-financed dam project. The dam project threatened to displace some one million people while causing devastating and irreversible ecological impacts. The project was emblematic of the unsustainable development model.

Pressure for change

Hunger strikes and mass demonstrations drew the world’s attention to the movement’s cause. Both ENDS joined the voices of those demanding that the World Bank review the Narmada dam project and fundamentally rethink its lending policies. Both ENDS raised public awareness in the Netherlands about the issue and advocated for action by the Dutch member of the World Bank’s Board of Directors. Despite being a small country, the Netherlands plays an outsized role in World Bank decision-making: it is the designated representative of 13 countries and, as a relatively significant shareholder, has significant voting power.


Letters from Both ENDS to dutch Minister Pronk and from Both ENDS’s partner Mr. Paranjepye to the Dutch representative at the World Bank, Mrs. Herfkens

Local protests against the Narmada dams in India. Date and place unknown.

In response to concerns raised in the early 1980s, the Bank had already adopted some social and environmental safeguards. But projects like the Narmada dam made evident that such policies were not being implemented. Yet there was no recourse for communities whose rights had been violated. Multilateral financial institutions were considered above the law and there was no alternative mechanism – beyond the courts – for people to pursue their grievances and ensure the World Bank’s accountability.

The Save the Narmada Movement and allies like Both ENDS succeeded in generating the pressure needed for change. In 1991, for the first time ever, the World Bank commissioned an independent review to examine the impact of the Narmada dam project. The subsequent report confirmed serious flaws in the project, including lack of compliance with both the World Bank’s and India’s human rights and environmental standards.

Accountability mechanism

The report buoyed the cause of the Save the Narmada Movement and eventually led the World Bank to discontinue its support for the dam. In 1993, on the heels of the Narmada divestment decision, the World Bank Inspection Panel was established. The Inspection Panel offered a way for people and communities who feel they will be or have been adversely affected by a World Bank-funded project to file a complaint.

While by no means perfect, the Inspection Panel served as an important model. In the years that followed, Both ENDS and allies worldwide pushed for establishment of similar, yet stronger, independent accountability mechanisms among all development finance institutions. The work of Both ENDS contributed to establishment of accountability mechanisms by the Dutch development bank FMO, the European Investment Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank‎, among others.

Of course, prevention is better than cure. The Narmada dam case exposed the World Bank’s failure to implement its own social and environmental safeguards. Strong implementation of safeguards should have prevented the lending decision in the first place. For Both ENDS, changing IFI lending policies and ensuring implementation of strong safeguards was always the main objective. Both ENDS pressed banks to follow the lead of the frontrunners and commit to ‘upward harmonisation’ of safeguards. Safeguards for women’s rights is a good example. Both ENDS drew attention to this often-neglected issue, helping ensure that women’s rights were explicitly addressed in the safeguard policies of several IFIs. While policy work is often abstract, for Both ENDS it always comes down to the impact on the ground, to the effect on the lives of real people. That principle can be seen in the recent work of partners Lumière Synergie pour le Développement and WoMin. With support of Both ENDS, the organisations have had some success in holding the African Development Bank accountable for its gender policy, thereby preserving access of some 1,000 fisherwomen in Senegal to their fish drying grounds.

Foundations in place

Both ENDS is one of few organisations in Europe with thirty years’ of continual experience on international financial flows. Its support and expertise has been unmissable in regional and global networks dedicated to the issue, including the NGO Forum on ADB, ECA Watch, the Coalition of African Civil Society Organisations on the African Development Bank, the European Counterbalance network and the International Accountability Working Group. Both ENDS has co-founded, financially supported or served in leadership positions in all of these networks.

The imbalance of power between affected people and international financial institutions remains enormous. Despite years of effort, the number of major successes – harmful projects prevented or compensation for complainants – have been rare. Yet thanks to thirty years of effort, the groundwork has been laid. The basic foundation to ensure accountability of international financial institutions is in place. The infrastructure for civil society cooperation is solid. As the Covid-19 pandemic reminds the world of the value and importance of public institutions and finance, positive change could be on the horizon. When the political and public will coincide in democratic decision-making over public finance – a goal toward which Both ENDS will continue to work – inclusive, sustainable development will be within reach.


Community members of Rio Blanco, Honduras, protest against a dam partly financed by Dutch development bank FMO. Indigenous leader Berta Cáceres was murdered in the conflict. After a lot of pressure and dialogue FMO divested from the project and adapted its safeguards.

Women dry fish on the beach against the background of the coal plant near Sendou. © Aly Sagne


The foundations of Both ENDS

In 1986, representatives from 15 Dutch environmental organisations met to discuss the daily reality that thousands of nature- and environmental organisations in developing countries have to cope with. All these organisations contribute to the wellbeing of people and their natural environment in their own way: preventing roads from being built in endangered rain forests or protecting coral reefs in valuable fishing waters. These organisations often operate within a context of political repression and lack information, contacts and financial, political and moral support.

In reaction to this serious issue, Dutch environmental organisations created Both ENDS: Environment and Development Service. The former IUCN-ledencontact (now IUCN Netherlands) adopted Both ENDS as a project. The project’s goal was to offer support and guidance to organisations around the world. It also wanted to find a way to bring the worlds of development cooperation and environmental protection together. By 1990 Both ENDS was strong enough to continue its mission as an independent foundation. We were registered officially on December 20, 1990.

Supporting civil society

Since 1986, Both ENDS has supported many hundreds of environmental organisations in Africa, Asia, Latin America and countries in Central- and Eastern Europe. We have offered help in fundraising, in creating networks in and outside the Netherlands and in collecting relevant information. We also brought concerns of groups of people in developing countries to the attention of policymakers and the corporate world on a local, national and international level.

Together with local organisations we have initiated programs that were specifically focused on the sustainable management and protection of river basins, forests, wetlands and dry areas.

Dialogue with decision makers

In its efforts to connect people for change Both ENDS’ experience confirmed that sustainable and inclusive development is only possible within an economic system that takes social and environmental values into account. So next to supporting civil society and promoting sustainable practices, civil society participation in policy dialogue is important as well.

To that end Both ENDS regularly organized seminars, expert meetings and ‘political cafes’ with members of the Dutch Parliament, decision makers in public institutions and companies, scientists and other civil society organisations. Both ENDS became a trusted dialogue partner to many institutions in both the Netherlands and at the international level.

Both ENDS in the 2020s

Developments in information technology over the past decades have changed our way of working with partners. Partners have access to a lot more information than they had in the 1990’s, so their asks to Both ENDS have changed accordingly. We are no longer a “service desk” for civil society organisations in the Global South, but rather a sparring partner and information broker in a wide range of formal and informal networks. Together we defend civic space, advocate for fair and sustainable international economic relations and encourage transformative practices that reinforce the livelihoods of local communities.

Reflecting on thirty years with Theo van Koolwijk and Daniëlle Hirsch

Theo at work in the Both ENDS office around 1992. © Theo van Koolwijk

Theo van Koolwijk coordinated the IUCN project that became Both ENDS. He was the organisation’s first Director, a position he held from 1991-1998. During his tenure, Daniëlle Hirsch became involved with Both ENDS as a volunteer and consultant. In 2003 she became policy advisor on water management. Since 2008 she has served as Director.

Theo, you were with Both ENDS from the beginning, when it started as a project. How were you involved and what inspired the project?

Theo: In the years prior to the founding of Both ENDS, I had been working on a series of projects aimed at curbing trade in endangered species. I had been asked by the Dutch government to advise them about which species to propose for inclusion under CITES, the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. I corresponded with many NGO people and scientists around the globe to provide input to the scientific working group, which decided on a list of about 30 species to propose.

I did the project under the auspices of the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network, which was led by IUCN and WWF, so I was sitting at the IUCN-NL office at the time. There were three parallel studies being done by IUCN at the time, all of which entailed making contact with NGOs around the world. This was back in the days when contact meant mailing letters back and forth. We realised that with these different projects we were building a network of environmental organisations in developing countries.

There was growing awareness about the importance of sustainable development. Joke Waller-Hunter was an important advocate in the Ministry of Environment at the time and saw the importance of supporting environmental NGOs in developing countries, but didn’t have the resources. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Development Cooperation had the resources, but didn’t yet see the importance. They had just one person with an environmental focus, someone working on forestry. All development aid was channelled to the big four development organisations, Novib, Cordaid [then known as Cebemo], ICCO and Hivos. These organisations were aimed at poverty reduction and considered environmental protection a luxury that would come after food, water, safety and shelter were provided. They were not eager to change that approach.

So Both ENDS started as a new project within IUCN-NL, with a budget of some 70,000 guilders. The idea was to create a focal point for environmental organisations in developing countries. It was 1987, the same year of the Brundtland Report, which really solidified the whole concept of sustainable development. And then in 1990 the Both ENDS foundation was established.

What was behind the decision to become an independent organisation?

I think there was some sense within the IUCN constituency that we were not focused enough on conservation and nature. We were also growing.

What did the organisation aim to do?

Theo: The ‘ENDS’ in the name stands for Environment and Development Service. We saw that environmental NGOs needed money, contacts and exposure. We wanted to support them, but we didn’t want to be a donor, to handle money. We wanted relationships based on equality, sharing and learning. We knew we needed to learn from each other. We also knew that development policy needed to change, that barriers – specifically those related to economies and lifestyles – needed to be removed.

Daniëlle: What you describe is both new and familiar. It strikes me that Both ENDS is very consistent as an organisation. Everything around us has changed and how we present ourselves externally has changed. But the things you mention as the core values of the organisation – equality, the mutual need to learn and to influence policymakers and donors – these are still the core of what we do. I couldn’t say it more succinctly.

What were some of the highlights of the early years?

Theo: We built a very impressive international network. We had a lot of successes and results in service delivery to hundreds of organisations. We engaged in successful awareness-raising and agenda-setting about the social and environmental impact of dams, forestry and food production. These were some of the most striking effects of our work back then.

We put a lot of energy into organising and bringing our partners to international conferences. It was the time before internet and it was through such conferences that you got to know people. There were something like 20-30 each year. In the run-up to the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, there were a number of important preparatory NGO conferences. There was an NGO Conference in Paris, initiated by President Mitterrand. It involved some 1,000 NGOs and the Working Group on Poverty and Affluence came out of it, and continued until well after the Rio conference. The group was co-hosted by Both ENDS and the Canadian Council for International Cooperation. There was the Fate and Hope of the World Conference in Nicaragua (see picture below).

Our financing depended a lot on commissioned work which contributed to bringing people together and building the knowledge base. Both ENDS is an idealistic organisation. But in order to be effective and efficient, I felt it should be organised as a service organisation, so it is clear for whom we are intervening and who is paying for the intervention. For instance, the Ministry of the Environment commissioned a feasibility study of a Dutch-Indian NGO fund, which entailed a lot of outreach to Indian organisations. The Ministry of Development Cooperation gave us some 80,000 guilders to bring a delegation of Indigenous People’s organisations to Rio (see picture below). They gave us another pot of money to bring African NGOs to Nicaragua.

Another highlight was our involvement in the Vision from the South and Balancing the Future projects, which were supported by the embassies and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There was a very progressive policy back then. The Minister, Jan Pronk, putting a team of young civil servants to the task of helping develop Dutch foreign policy. The idea was to bring together the Netherlands Costa Rica, Benin and Bhutan, all countries of a comparable size, to jointly develop sustainability agreements based on equality, reciprocity and sustainability.

Daniëlle: It’s interesting to be reminded of that project now, when everyone is talking about shifting the power to the South. The sustainability agreements ultimately failed because many actors on the Dutch side were made uncomfortable by the observations and recommendations. It might be an interesting idea to see if we could get them back. It might be a blueprint for opening up a much-needed conversation.

It’s also an example of another thing that we’ve consistently done: Both ENDS has always pushed an agenda by identifying allies within organisational structures. We achieve what we achieve because there are always people in relevant Ministries and international organisations that are open to a conversation, and willing to stick out their necks by opening up discussions internally. Likewise, it has been important that management within these same institutions have been willing to reward those that call for innovation.

Jan Pronk (in grey suit sitting on the ground), the Dutch Minister of Development Cooperation, visits the Indigenous delegations in Rio, 1992

At the Fate and Hope of the Earth Conference, Nicaragua 1989. © Theo van Koolwijk

You mentioned the lack of funding for local NGOs working on environmental challenges in the South. What is Both ENDS’s strategy for addressing this? Has it changed over the years?

Theo: We always said we were not a donor organisation and didn’t want to be. We didn’t want to handle money. Our role was to connect environmental organisations in the South with mainstream donor organisations.

We started by creating a donor database and we took the opportunity to expose various development donors to the work of these organisations, which we internally sometimes called ‘donor education’. Right away we developed a relationship with the Global Greengrants Fund in the U.S. and the Environmental Grantmakers Association. Our objective was to meet with funders on behalf of organisations in the South. We organised workshops to raise awareness about the value of small grants funds that can support grassroots environmental organisations.

Daniëlle: What you describe is what we only recently started calling ‘Donor Influencing’. It’s one of the strategies of the Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action (GAGGA), which is led by the Central American Women’s Fund (FCAM) and includes Mama Cash. Only now I realise we have actually been doing this all along! We are still making the case to funders for a different model of funding. Our discourse and the way we think about the ‘donor’ role has shifted a bit within Both ENDS. We have started to take seriously our infrastructure and role in channelling money, since the money is here. We channel the money and guarantee formal control, and we make sure that partners decide how to use it. GAGGA shows clearly this can work the way we once could only envision this. GAGGA is a €40 million partnership with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and it is led by FCAM, which is based in Nicaragua. We are their partner.

So developing and pushing for a different funding model – one in which locally rooted, small grants funds play a role – has been an objective throughout Both ENDS’s thirty years. What’s the situation today?

Daniëlle: There is still very little money for grassroots environmental action. But support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for GAGGA, which involves women’s funds and environmental funds around the world, is an important success. Other donors are more likely to follow suit now that they see frontrunners like the Netherlands doing it. We’ve also partnered with a private foundation, DOB Ecology, to build evidence about the impact of small grants funds.

What are some key differences from thirty years ago?

Daniëlle: The early issues we worked on are now part of everyday conversation. We’ve succeeded in raising awareness on the relation between poverty, environmental degradation and the way many groups of people are excluded from decision-making processes. We have succeeded in putting issues on the agenda – sustainable development, the need to shift power to the South, to advance gender justice, to be inclusive.

Both ENDS has always been good at being a step ahead. The task before us is changing the way things are done. That’s one of the reasons we focus on financial flows. We chose this as one of our main areas of expertise and influence, because money is a key driver of change.

When I hear Theo talk about the early years, what strikes me is how far we have come. We don’t have to convince or explain to people why we’re doing what we’re doing. In the past few years we have brought a lot of young people on staff and they are totally committed to the Both ENDS vision. There is something to that. It proves that we’re doing the right thing in the right way, as part of a much larger movement that will change the world.


Connecting people

Both ENDS is proud to engage with a wide and diverse group of partners and allies – from NGOs to community-based organisations, from small grants funds to social movements, from water experts to women’s rights activists. Each and every day, we learn from our partners and channel that learning back into the work we do and the way we do it.

This year was an important moment for reflection as we initiated the development of a new five-year strategy to take us beyond 2020. To start the process, we turned to our partners. We asked for honest feedback about our record until now. We asked what they expect and need from us. We asked what themes we should be working on, with whom and how.

What we heard was quite consistent. Partners told us they value the link Both ENDS makes between the local and the global, particularly our expertise in connecting key elements of the global economic system to local impacts. Partners affirmed the critical role Both ENDS plays for them in generating both access to funding and access to key policy spaces.

Partners also said they appreciated our role as an ‘activist negotiator’ that engages in formal dialogues with key decision-makers, while maintaining close connections to organisations and movements that exert pressure ‘outside’ the negotiation room. Finally, we heard that we are seen as an equal and ‘ego-less’ partner, a wonderful compliment not only to Both ENDS as an organisation but also to our dedicated staff. In sum, we heard that ‘Connecting people for change’ remains an apt description of Both ENDS’s added value in our collective effort with partners to create a more sustainable, fair and inclusive world.

In recent years, Both ENDS has intensified its connections with people’s movements, particularly climate justice and women’s rights movements. We have learned to be sensitive to power dynamics in these relationships. It is our role to understand the rhythm of people’s movements and learn how to follow their lead. The first step entails showing that we are ‘with them’. The second step is asking if and how we can contribute.

As you’ll read in the cases that follow, our contribution may be in the form of technical expertise, like the workshop we gave on International Finance Institutions at the request of women environmental activists in El Salvador. Or it may be bringing diverse groups together, as we did in Indonesia in a new project that weaves together women’s rights, water quality, and corporate accountability in the palm oil sector. Or it may be in building new relationships with donors to ensure that partners have the funding they need to build their movements, like the movement of local communities that are working together, and making great strides, in regreening the Sahel.

In all of these efforts, our task has been to listen, to see where the energy is, and offer our resources and knowledge in ways that are needed and appreciated. Our work on financial flows is a good example. People’s movements sometimes don’t think of economic actors as central to their agendas. But they know that in order for transformative practices to take hold and grow, we must shift financial flows in their direction. We’re pleased to have made some important progress on that front.

Thanks to our collaboration with women’s funds in the Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action (GAGGA), we’ve acquired a new language to describe our longstanding strategy of supporting small grants funds, which are critical for channelling resources to grassroots groups and communities. We’ve gained new insights into fundraising and the funding world that have enhanced our success in securing financial support for partners. We have also developed partnerships with funders that go well beyond the typical donor-recipient relationship. In collaboration with DOB Ecology, for example, we published research and organised a conference for key donors, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to highlight the importance of small grants funds for advancing environmental justice. Together with the Dutch Postcode Lottery, we inspired a farsighted group of private investors in the Netherlands to sign the DivestInvest pledge. We are pleased to have been selected by the Dutch Postcode Lottery as a new five-year beneficiary. We plan to use the funding to develop our expertise on the investment side of the DivestInvest equation. We want to gather the tools needed to connect economic enablers with those who are doing the hard work of social and economic transformation.

For many movements and communities, that work is not only difficult, but dangerous. In Brazil, Nicaragua, Burkina Faso, the Philippines and many other countries, space for civil society is shrinking. The lives of environmental defenders are at risk, as is everything they and we are trying to achieve. Increased violence against indigenous peoples and the burning of the Amazon rainforest ­in Brazil – more than 200 million hectares were lost in 2019 – show how the human rights and climate change agendas are one and the same. As a major trading partner of Brazil, and one of the world’s largest economies, the Netherlands can have a huge impact on this problem if we take bold action, like putting an end to public financing of dirty and dangerous energy projects abroad. In public events like the ‘Forgotten Climate Roundtable’ and in dialogues with a variety of Dutch policymakers, we have conveyed this urgent message, and will continue to do so. We also joined Friends of the Earth NL in the lawsuit against Shell, challenging the company to bring their activities in line with the Paris agreement.


All the experiences and lessons we’ve learned – about movements, civic space, financial flows, investment – has fed into the development of a new five-year strategy and new programmes. In the coming year, we will look at what Both ENDS needs to successfully implement our objectives. We will develop a new communications strategy, which, given the diversity of our audiences, is something we have struggled with. Next year will also be an important year for fundraising, as we apply to renew our strategic partnerships with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Fair, Green and Global Alliance and the Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action. We are confident that we have the right formula to succeed. As our partners confirmed, and as the stories included here confirm, connecting people truly does lead to change.

Danielle Hirsch, Director
Paul Engel, Chair of the Board


All projects in 2019


Both ENDS takes part in two ‘Dialogue and Dissent’ strategic partnerships (2016-2020) with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

Fair, Green and Global (FGG) Alliance

FINANCED BY: Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs
ALLIANCE MEMBERS: ActionAid Netherlands • Clean Clothes Campaign Netherlands • Friends of the Earth Netherlands • Stichting Onderzoek Multinationale Ondernemingen (SOMO, the Netherlands) • Transnational Institute (TNI, the Netherlands)
PROJECT PARTNERS: ACD (Panama) • Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (Malawi) • CLEAN (Bangladesh) • ELSAM (Indonesia) • EMG (South Africa) • Emrys Initiative (Malaysia) • FECONAU (Peru) • Fórum Suape (Brazil) • GRAIN Fundació privada (Philippines) • IGJ (Indonesia) • Institut Dayakologi (Indonesia) • JKPP (Indonesia) • Kalikasan (Philippines) • Keystone (India) • KNTI (Indonesia) • Link-AR Borneo (Indonesia) • Lumière Synergie pour le Développement (LSD, Senegal) • MCDI (Kenya) • PELUM (Kenya) • PPK (Indonesia) • Riak Bumi (Indonesia) • SEATINI (Uganda) • SPNKK (Philippines) • TuK (Indonesia) • UPC (Mozambique) • Uttaran (Bangladesh) • WALHI Sulawesi Selatan (Indonesia) • WEP (Burkina Faso) •  Zambia Institute for Environmental Management (ZIEM) • Zambia Land Alliance (ZLA, Zambia)


Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action (GAGGA)

FINANCED BY: Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs
ALLIANCE MEMBERS: Fondo Centroamericano de Mujeres (FCAM, Nicaragua) • Mama Cash (the Netherlands)
PROJECT PARTNERS: ADECRU (Mozambique) • AIDA (Mexico) • Aksi (Indonesia) • APIL (Burkina Faso) • CCIMCAT (Bolivia) • CEE Bankwatch (Czech Republic) • Centro Terra Viva (Mozambique) • Colectivo CASA (Bolivia) •  Development Institute (Ghana) • Economic Justice Network (South Africa) • Ecoton (Indonesia) • ELSAM (Indonesia) • Fondo Tierra Viva (Central America) • Fundo Socioambiental CASA (Brazil) • Gemawan (Indonesia)  Global Greengrants Fund (USA) • Green Alternative (Georgia) • IAFN (Costa Rica) • Kalimantan Women’s Alliance (Indonesia) • Kebetkache (Nigeria)  Keystone (India) • Lilak (Philippines)  Lumière Synergie pour le Développement (LSD, Senegal) • Madre Selva (Guatemala) • NAPE (Uganda) • NGO Forum on ADB (Philippines) • NTFP-EP (Philippines) • ORCADE (Burkina Faso) • OFRANEH (Honduras) • OT Watch (Mongolia) • Plataforma Sauce (Paraguay) • Plurales (Argentina) • POPOL NA (Nicaragua) • Prakriti (Nepal) • Sengwer (Kenya) • Solidaritas (Indonesia)  Southern African Rural Women’s Assembly (South Africa) ​  SPNKK (Philippines) • Tindzila Fund (Tanzania)  Ulu Foundation (USA) • Utz-Che (Guatemala) • WATED (Tanzania) • Women Environmental Program (Nigeria)  WOMIN (South Africa) • Yanling Zhu (China) • Zambia Land Alliance (ZLA, Zambia)

Other projects:


Aligning European Pension Divestment and Finance
FINANCED BY: KR Foundation (through Sustainable Energy)

All Eyes on the Amazon
FINANCED BY: Nationale Postcode Loterij (through Hivos) 
PROJECT PARTNERS: Article 19 (United Kingdom) • COICA (Ecuador) • Digital Democracy (USA) • Global Forest Watch (USA) • Greenpeace Netherlands • Hivos (the Netherlands) • International Institute of Social Studies (ISS, the Netherlands) • Interpol (France) • University of Maryland (USA) • Witness (USA)

Amplifying the Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action
FINANCED BY: Dietel & Partners (through Mama Cash)
PROJECT PARTNERS: Global Greengrants Fund (USA)

Climate Justice in the Green Climate Fund
FINANCED BY: New Venture Fund
PROJECT PARTNERS: Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL, USA) • Tebtebba Foundation (The Philippines)

Communications, youth and awareness climate change
FINANCED BY: private funder

Communities regreen the Sahel
PROJECT PARTNERS: CARI (France) • CRESA (Niger) • IED Afrique (Senegal) • IMC Sarl (Burkina Faso) • SPONG (Burkina Faso)

Community Tiger Conservation
FINANCED BY: private funder

Demanding climate action emergency from EU pension funds
FINANCED BY: Wallace Global Fund

DivestInvest Familiefondsen en Goede Doelen

Duurzaam bosbeheer
FINANCED BY: RVO Netherlands Enterprise Agency (through CNV International)

Eco-cultural restoration
FINANCED BY: Stichting Otterfonds

Emergency Fund – Environmental defenders in the Brazilian Amazone
FINANCED BY: WWF Netherlands
PROJECT PARTNERS: Fundo Socioambiental CASA (Brazil)

FINANCED BY: University of Amsterdam

Green Deal Voedselbossen
FINANCED BY: Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (through Royal Haskoning DHV)

International Cooperation to Decarbonize Export Credit Agencies
FINANCED BY: KR Foundation
PROJECT PARTNERS: CAN-Europe (Belgium) • CEE Bankwatch (Czech Republic) • ECA Watch (international) • Oil Change International (USA) • União Provincial dos Camponeses de Cabo Delgado (Mozambique)

International Financial Institutions Program
FINANCED BY: Charles Stewart Mott Foundation 




ISQAPER – Interactive Soil Quality Assessment in Europe and China for Agricultural Productivity and Environmental Resilience
FINANCED BY: The EU’s Horizon 2020 Programme for research & innovation (through Wageningen University)
PROJECT PARTNERS: Wageningen University (The Netherlands) and many universities, private sector and think expertise organisations from Europe and China

Kick starting CSOs on Paris Proofing ECAs
FINANCED BY: Wallace Global Fund
PROJECT PARTNERS: Above Ground (Canada) • Centrum pro dopravu a energetiku (CDE, Czech Republic) • Perspectives Climate Group (Germany) • The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation​ (SSNC, Sweden)

Making European Export Credit Agencies accountable
FINANCED BY: Open Society Institute Foundation
PROJECT PARTNERS: CEE Bankwatch (Czech Republic) • ECA Watch (international) • The Big Shift Global (international)

New corporate social responsibility policies for ECAs to phase out fossil fuel finance
FINANCED BY: KR Foundation 
PROJECT PARTNERS: CAN-Europe (Belgium) • Fórum Suape Espaço Socioambiental (Brazil) • ECA Watch (international) • Oil Change International (USA)

Participation is Power: Ensuring women’s access to climate finance
FINANCED BY: Wallace Global Fund 
PROJECT PARTNERS: Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO, USA) • African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF, Ghana)

Rich Forests
FINANCED BY: Anton Jurgens Foundation • Stichting Otterfonds

Shifting Grounds
FINANCED BY: NWO-UDW (through TU Delft)

Small Grants Funds Study

Strengthening Grassroots Pension Fund Divest Invest Campaigns
FINANCED BY: Wallace Global Fund

Strengthening Livelihoods of Communities affected by Oil Palm Plantations to Save Forests, Liberia
FINANCED BY: Turing Foundation
PROJECT PARTNERS: Sustainable Development Institute (SDI, Liberia) • CENDEP (Cameroon)

Support for Asian NGOs
FINANCED BY:  Private funder

Supporting Asian CSOs 3
FINANCED BY: Private funder

Towards resilient agriculture systems and biodiversity conservation; Non-timber forest products for sustainable income in Southern Mali
FINANCED BY: Anton Jurgens Fonds
PROJECT PARTNERS: Omadeza (Mali) • FairMatch Support (Burkina Faso)

Wetlands without Borders
PROJECT PARTNERS: Casa Río Arte y Ambiente (Argentina) • CAUCE (Argentina) • CEDIB (Bolivia) • CODES (Paraguay) • Escola de Ativismo (Brazil) • FARN (Argentina) • FIRE (Paraguay) • FONASC (Brazil) • Fundación HUGO (Paraguay) • IBIF (Bolivia) • Instituto Caracol (Brazil) • Instituto GAIA (Brazil) • Probioma (Bolivia) • Rede Pantaneiras (Brazil) • Sobrevivencia (Paraguay) • Sociedade Fé e Vida (Brazil) • Taller Ecologista (Argentina)

Both ENDS manages two small grants funds:


The Koningsschool Fund
FINANCED BY: Stichting School van Z.M. Koning Willem III en H.M. Koningin Emma der Nederlanden

Young Environmental Leadership
FINANCED BY: Stichting Joke Waller-Hunter Initiative