Interview with Sjef Langeveld

‘You can only solve the great issues in the world together with the people directly involved in them’

Sjef Langeveld in 2020

Sjef Langeveld was the director of Both ENDS from the end of 1999 to the end of May 2008. He looks back on an eventful decade, in which Both ENDS slowly came of age. Start from the strengths that are already there, that was and is Sjef Langeveld’s motto: ‘I took the gold in the organisation as my starting point.’

Sjef, you came straight into Both ENDS as director, and were also new at that time in the sector of international cooperation. What did you know about Both ENDS and what appealed to you about the job?

That’s right, I had a background as landscape architect, urban and rural planner, ecologist and researcher within the Netherlands. I had always had the ambition and motivation to work internationally. I didn’t become involved in international projects until I went to work at Wageningen University.

I didn’t know Both ENDS, but when I heard that they were looking for a director, I contacted them and they asked me to come in to talk about it. Then I knew immediately that the job fitted me like a glove.

It was what I really wanted to do. I wanted to work on issues relating to water and land for the people – farmers, citizens and local residents – who use them every day. That was exactly what Both ENDS did, and still does. You can only solve the great issues in the world together with the people directly involved in them. You have to take their rights and their energy as your starting point.

What kind of organisation was Both ENDS when you started as director? What did you need to start working on straight off?

I wanted Both ENDS to be recognised as an organisation that mattered, that legitimation was very important to me. That appreciation was already there, of course. I saw that as soon as I walked in the door. I call that ‘the gold of Both ENDS’, but there was no certainty. So that’s where I started: securing the basic funding with the help of Cordaid, paying people a decent salary, and generating recognition from the outside world.

When were asked in 2002 whether we wanted to take over Inzet, the international organisation of the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA), that was confirmation for me that we were on the right track. Both ENDS was appreciated for its work and that brought financial security. We obtained more funding from the Ministries of Environment and Foreign Affairs.

Besides that recognition for Both ENDS within the Netherlands, what was for you the most interesting aspect of the organisation’s work in your period as director? Where was that ‘gold’?

I found the Drynet programme very interesting. We started it back then, first in the Sahel and then expanding it to other regions. Is that still going?

Yes, it’s now a CSO network, with the secretariat in South Africa.

So that was a success, excellent! It was a fundamental response to degradation: stopping degradation by reforestation, using the land differently, starting with local residents themselves. I thought the Negotiated Approach was very exciting, too, but that was already in place. Drynet was really new.

What I also found very interesting was forest garden products. That was a joint programme with Cordaid that enabled the products of ‘forest dwellers’ to be marketed in Europe. And the Joke Waller-Hunter Initiative, set up with Joke’s estate, is also very special. I never met her myself but she was very important to Both ENDS from the beginning.

After Joke’s death, the executor of her will asked me to take responsibility for her estate. She had left instructions for the money to be devoted to develop international leadership among young people working for NGOs. I immediately told Irene Dankelman [who was a board member at that time, ed.] and, when I got back to the office, she was there with all our colleagues. I told everyone about Joke’s wishes, and they were all very moved. For a moment, it seemd like Joke was there is the room with us. It was very special.

Langeveld pauses, lost in though. Then:

If you look at the varied patchwork of Both ENDS’ work, you wonder where the consistency comes from. But if you have a patchwork, you have all the stitches that hold it together. Those stitches are our basic values. Human rights and the environment, linked, joined together.

But if you ask me what the most important parts of our work were from that period… I want you to mention, besides Drynet, the Negotiated Approach.

What is so special about the Negotiated Approach?

It’s about the value of water, the involvement of local residents in how that water is managed, and the guarantee that they are in control. But that is extremely difficult! It is their water and their concern and their resource but it is distributed, with dams and irrigation, to the benefit of those in power.

We had a project with seven river basins around the world, and everywhere they were trying to give people control over their water. After everything I had experienced in the Netherlands, with how water was managed and the changes in the Dutch water sector, the mergers of the small water authorities into a few very large ones, I found that very strange. With all my water experience in the Netherlands, I couldn’t understand why we were increasing the distance between residents and their water here, while in the seven regions in the project the movement was in the opposite direction.

To conclude the project, all the partners came to the Netherlands and I arranged a visit to the water authority and dyke warden at Alblasserwaard. When our bus arrived at the water authority offices, the dyke warden opened the doors and told us that the offices were empty. The authority had been incorporated into a larger one. The water authority that I wanted to show the visitors, how it was set up, with an entrance for the local residents and so on – it was all gone!

On the way back, Vijay Paranjpye [from India, one of the founders of the Negotiated Approach, ed.] said ‘We have made a big mistake in this project. We should have included the Rhine basin in it. The management has been handed over to a large bureaucratic body. You could have learned a lot from us!’ He had a good point there.

Working together with the people who are directly involved: that’s how you approached your work at Both ENDS, but it also applies to Markdal, where you live and have been involved in for a number of years now. I see a close similarity there to the Negotiated Approach.

Yes, there is, isn’t there? And that’s very necessary in this country. Degradation is just as bad here as everywhere else. The soil is over-fertilised and depleted, biodiversity has decreased alarmingly. That overloading of the original system is apparent all around the world. In the Markdal, we want to create a natural environment, allow the river to flow freely and lush vegetation to return, so that biodiversity increases again.

Sjef Langeveld with the project manager of the municipality in Markdal. Still from video by OMOOC, 2017

You have seen solutions all around the world for degraded catchment basins and to combat soil degradation. Did you learn lessons at Both ENDS that you can now apply in Markdal?

Yes, the solution lies with those who are responsible for the land, who use it and extract water from it. At Markdal, we’ve made a deal with the provincial authorities: let us, as residents and land-owners, strengthen the natural environment ourselves and get the river flowing freely again, within the limits set by your administrative aims. We discovered that local farmers wanted the same. Then you’ll find a solution together on how to do that. There are no standard ways of approaching it. It’s a matter of trial and error, and the Negotiated Approach is a good guiding framework.

The strategy you choose can then be repeated over and again: people trust each other, give each other space. But there can still be problems, such as language. The farmers are tired of the way they are spoken to and about. The provincial authorities say ‘bottom up’ instead of ‘from within’, and an ‘area-based process’ rather than ‘a society-based process’. If you speak of ‘bottom up’, that means that the farmers and residents are at the bottom of the ladder. And in our work, society is the base, we start from the original value that that area has. From within.

You still follow Both ENDS closely. Where do you feel our legitimacy lies? Where is our gold these days?

That you show solidarity, that you provide a strong helping hand for others that need it. Standing shoulder to shoulder is important. We have the advantage of a good social context here. That gives us a responsibility to show solidarity with people in other parts of the world who are grappling with the same challenges that we face. Then you’ll see that they do the same for us. That reciprocity is at the core of the fight for human rights and for the environment.

“I want to be part of a generation that is more responsible”

Julius Mbatia

Julius Mbatia is one of the more than 300 young environmental leaders from Asia, Africa and Latin America that received support from the Joke Waller Hunter Initiative (JWHI). For our 30 year anniversary, we talked to this inspiring young Kenyan about the present and future of local and international climate policy, environmental policy and human rights.

At just 27 years old, Mbatia’s accomplishments include co-founding the Youth for Sustainable Development Goals Kenya, coordinating the climate finance work of the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) and leading the establishment of devolved climate finance institutions at local community level. He has represented African CSOs in numerous Green Climate Fund (GCF) meetings, serves on the Steering Committee of GCF Watch and represents developing country civil society organizations as an Alternate Active Observer to the GCF. In addition, he works as a policy advocacy officer at an African think tank based in Kenya. He is now using his grant to obtain a Master’s degree in Environmental Planning and Management at the University of Nairobi, where he plans to conduct research on climate change governance that supports action at the local level.

Another leadership needed for structural transformation

As Mbatia sees it, the grim realities facing the world call upon us to rethink leadership and governance. Countries in the global South continue to barrel down a development pathway that replicates the trajectory of the global North and doesn’t serve the majority of the population: ‘If you look at Kenya, only a small proportion of the population benefits from our economic growth and our natural resources,’ says Mbatia. ‘Just about 10% of the population controls the wealth of the nation, so you can imagine what is happening to the 90%. Our systems and structures are not speaking to the present challenge of inclusive and sustainable development. We need to ask ourselves what kind of leadership can bring about the structural transformation we need.’

Mbatia sees the need to forge connections and better decision-making across economic, social and environmental spheres in Kenya. He points out that ‘most of the damage to the environment is made as a result of decisions outside the environmental sector’. Addressing this discrepancy is one of the motivations behind his academic work. He hopes to come out of his master’s programme with increased knowledge for analysing the politics of development and for centrally placing the environment within that politics.

Julius Mbatia in action during youth consultation on National Climate Change Action Plan development in Nairobi

Julius Mbatia at the Fridays for Future Climate March in Germany, June 2019, during the UNFCCC SB 50

The youth climate movement

When asked about the importance of young leadership, Mbatia underscores the importance of inclusive decision-making generally. He highlights the fact that he speaks not just as a young person, but as someone who has ‘done his homework’ and formed his own analysis. That said, he does think that young people are more aware of – and more interested in – the shifts that are already happening and those that need to happen. ‘I have the ambition of being part of a generation that is more responsible, more inspired and more fulfilled. That is the change that I want to bring to the table.’

In recent years, young people’s climate activism has received significant political and public attention, including from world leaders. For Mbatia, the challenge ahead is to ensure that young people get a role in decision-making. ‘At COP 25, the 2019 UN climate talks, we had youth movements from around the globe calling for a different world. We showed the power young people have,’ says Mbatia. ‘But it’s not enough for policymakers to mention young people or give them a stage. They have to pull back and create processes to allow young people – those who are demanding climate justice and climate action – to be part of the solution. That would mean, for example, giving young people access to climate finance to deliver tangible and practical action with transformational potential. There are more spaces being created for youth, such as in UN committees, but it is important to give them the technical support for that role.’

Both ENDS: connecting young leaders for “crazy potential”

Mbatia applauds the work of Both ENDS and the Joke Waller Hunter Initiative to that end. ‘Joke Waller Hunter had a vision of young people who are not just supported, but who make a difference in the world. Providing influential young people with practical support and investing resources in them is really important.’

With an eye to the future, Mbatia hopes to see Both ENDS step up its support for young people’s movements. Daan Robben, who coordinates the Joke Waller Hunter Initiative, shares this aim. Robben is working on developing a community platform for past and present JWHI grantees. Recent activities include webinars with experts. ‘We know youth are important but they are often in that back of our minds. We have a beautiful young leadership programme, but I think we can do a much better job connecting it to our other programmes.’

Julius Mbatia sees a role for Both ENDS that goes beyond supporting young leaders’ education and other immediate capacity building needs. ‘Through the Joke Waller Hunter Initiative, Both ENDS has a big opportunity to strengthen connections among the world’s young environmental leaders. Together, we have crazy potential to make a difference.’


About Joke Waller-Hunter

The legacy of Joke Waller-Hunter is colossal. She was not only a key figure in the founding of Both ENDS, but a world leader in sustainable development. Following her important work at the Dutch Ministry of Environment, she became the first UN Director for the UN Commission on Sustainable Development in 1994. She went on to become Director of the OECD Environment Directorate and subsequently Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), where she oversaw the coming into force of the Kyoto Protocol. Waller-Hunter died prematurely in 2005, but not before arranging to pass the torch of sustainable development to a younger generation. She bequeathed her estate to Both ENDS for the purpose of fostering leadership development, education and expertise among tomorrow’s environmental activists.

Since 2007 the Joke Waller Hunter Initiative (JWHI) has supported more than 300 young environmental leaders form the global South to pursue academic studies, internships and trainings that advance their professional goals.


Joke Waller-Hunter (center), UNFCCC’s Executive Secretary at COP10 in 2004. Photo by IISD




Oil spill, Ogoniland, Nigeria. Photo by Luka Tomac/Friends of the Earth International on Flickr

30 years of struggle in the Niger Delta

In January 2021, in a Dutch courtroom, an enormous breakthrough was achieved for all the people of the Niger Delta, who have suffered many decades of destructive pollution of their environment. The ruling of the Dutch judge in the legal proceedings brought against Shell by four Nigerian farmers and Dutch environmental organisation Milieudefensie is the first time that a Dutch court has called on the oil giant’s mother company to take responsibility for the consequences of its activities outside the Netherlands. The judge recognised the suffering of the four farmers and their families and communities, giving them the real prospect of compensation. The ruling, the outcome of thirteen years of legal proceedings, is also important for many other people who bear the impact of investments and activities by companies with their head offices registered in the Netherlands. The case shows that multinationals registered in the Netherlands must take responsibility for the decisions taken by their subsidiaries.

This case, entirely the initiative of the Nigerian plaintiffs and Milieudefensie, is the result of three decades of suffering, work and frustration. It has put the problem back on the agenda.

International attention

This struggle of the local people, the Ogoni, against Shell has actually been going on since 1990, when the they protested against pollution caused by oil extraction and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa set up the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). In 1995, the protests in Nigeria became world news when Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists were executed by hanging. Saro-Wiwa and others who had fought the pollution from their villages knew better than anyone that they could expect no help from their own government. So they conducted their campaign by challenging international companies like Shell to take on their responsibilities. The executions were the sad cause of a wave of international attention for the Niger Delta. Nigerian activists and the international environmental movement took the opportunity with both hands to create an international stage for their cause. Within the environmental movement, it soon became clear that the situation in Nigeria was also causing concern in other countries.

At that time, Both ENDS had just been set up to strengthen the environmental movement in the South. In response to the horrors in Nigeria, Both ENDS started a campaign together with Milieudefensie and IUCN-NL to draw attention to the work of the Nigerian activists, partly by supporting the ‘Lawyers on the defense team for the Ogoni leader Ken Saro Wiwa’, Oronto Douglas and Uche Onyeagucha. In England and the Netherlands, they called for attention for the disaster that had taken place in their villages. In 1996, together with activists from other countries who were dealing with similar disasters, we set up the international Oilwatch network to get this problem on the radar of companies, governments and financiers.

Protest in Quito in 1996, when Oilwatch was established in Ecuador. With Both ENDS-employee Tamara Mohr on the right.

Children in the Niger Delta demand clean air and water

Call to Divest

Besides the legal proceedings, the Nigerians fighting for justice have since the very beginning called for investors to stop investing in oil companies. “They drill and they kill!” said Oronto during a visit to the US. He appealed to people to invest with their hearts and minds. The divestment movement has only really gained momentum in the past decade or so. In the Netherlands, too, the call for fossil-free pension funds is increasingly loud and the climate movement is asking the government to stop funding the fossil industry. The Paris Agreement is also very clear on this issue; one of its three main goals is to make financial flows fossil-free. It really matters where we invest our money and what we spend our taxpayers’ money on.

Women join the fight

In the meantime, the pollution of the Niger Delta continues. Both ENDS remains involved in the local people’s struggle against the consequences of oil extraction. For a number of years, we have also been working mainly together with women’s groups. Women are hit hardest by the scarcity of water and food and by health problems (e.g. miscarriages and ovarian cancer) caused by the pollution. This is because the traditional gender division of labour places the responsibility of household water management on women, and they also manage many family gardens. Yet their voices are not taken into account when addressing solutions. Community women often do not have the opportunities to participate and speak in International Forums and platforms, to engage with governments and corporations and to speak though advocacy platforms and media.

Every year on December 19th, local womens groups organise the Niger Delta Womens Day of Action for Environmental Justice. This is a panel at the 2019 event.

Oil spills have severely damaged the environment of the Niger Delta. Clean up is progressing only slowly. Photo by Sosialistisk Ungdom on Flickr

Within the Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action, women’s organisations from Port Harcourt and Ogoniland are campaigning and raising their voices to demand a thorough clean-up of the Delta, and an end to gas flaring. In 2020, decades after the fight against Shell began, a representative of local communities spoke at Shell’s Annual Shareholder Meeting. Members of the women’s organisations are also in dialogue with Dutch pension funds to share their concerns about their continued investments in Shell, thus echoing the call of lawyer Oronto in the 1990 to divest.

From local to global

The history of the Niger Delta shows what Both ENDS’s work is all about: connecting local struggles to larger systems, multiplying local messages to global audiences, and connecting those local activists to the international decision-making platforms where they deserve a seat at the table. That is what Both ENDS did in the 1990s, it is what we do now and what we will keep on doing as long as it is necessary.


*header image: Oil spill, Ogoniland, Nigeria. Photo by Luka Tomac/Friends of the Earth International on Flickr

Messages from around the world

We’ve asked you, our partners, friends, allies from around the world to share with us your dearest memories of our cooperation, and your wishes for the years to come. Below you find a selection of responses. Thank you all for your contributions! Without you, our network, we wouldn’t be able to reach our goals.

Solange Ikeda, Brazil
GAIA Institute:

In 2012, Both ENDS got to know our fight and they are always on our side. In 2014, we were together at an event of the Pantanal Network and at the Day of the River Paraguay in Caceres, Brazil. During an expedition of the Pantanal Network through the waters of the Paraguay River to the Taiamã Ecological Station in 2014, we discussed the need to join efforts for the conservation of the Pantanal. 
Both ENDS people have gained our friendship and trust. Currently we work together in the Wetlands without Borders Program. We at the Gaia Institute hope to always be together in defense of the Pantanal and the wetlands!”

Tamara Mohr of Both ENDS, speaking at the Ecological Station of Taiamã, Pantanal, Brazil

Ana di Pangracio, Argentina
Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN):

I personally have been collaborating with Both ENDS for 10 years for my work at the Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN). What I value the most about Both ENDS is their great ability to listen, to respect our work and work history, to speak to us in our language, and help our organizations to continue developing our tasks and strengthening them. And I especially highlight not only the professional but also the human quality of all of its staff, it is something that all employees of Both ENDS have in common.”

Thanks to Both ENDS’s support through the Wetlands without Borders program, Ana participated in the CBD Women Caucus in with the aim to integrate a gender perspective into global and national biodiversity policies. Photo by Ana di Pangracio.

Ron Rosenhart and Wout Albers, the Netherlands
Global Justice Association:

We think that Both ENDS has a lot of added value! Thank you for working with us in the Berta Caceres case.”


Annemarie Schaapveld, the Netherlands
Former employee of Both ENDS:

I have been working at Both ENDS in 2011 and my dearest memories consist of learning so much about your amazing work, organizing teambuilding activities in Haarlem and diners with “friends of Both ENDS”. The reason for this was celebrating the 20th anniversary of Both ENDS, so its already 10 years ago! I have also spend many hours in the archive room, to sort things out :-). Worked together closely with Anne-Roos, who supported me in many ways.”


Bianca Nijhof, the Netherlands
Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP):

Both ENDS is a very active and passionate organisation in the water sector. They are a highly valued member of the Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP). Their participation is visible in many ways, their director is representing the NGO’s in the NWP Board. And as part of the NGO Platform of NWP, Both ENDS not only discusses on the cutting edge, but is also reaching out to other NWP members as well. In other words, they can be critical, but in a more and more constructive way.

Each and every one of the staff members of Both ENDS NWP has worked and is working with, is really devoted. It is impressive and inspiring to see this devotion. And this devotion is needed, as we are in many ways not there yet.

Congratulations Both ENDS with your 30th anniversary. Looking forward to our continued collaboration.”


Lydia Mkandawire, Malawi
Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation:

Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation has been in partnership with Both ENDS since 2019. Our partnership was based on a solar power project in Malawi, being funded by FMO and MIGA. Both ENDS has given CHRR both technical and financial support, in terms of organizing affected community members, gathering information from community members and building capacity of community members on human rights, human rights violations, human rights monitoring, Gender Based Violence, international financial institutions and advocacy.

Our most profound memories with the support from Both ENDS, is the strength that affected communities have acquired through our engagement with them. This has enabled the communities to have constructive dialogue with the implementing agency JCM power and various government officials, involved in the solar project. Community members were also able to mobilize themselves and put together a community letter on the concerns that they had with the solar project.

However, more work needs to be done in order for community members to be meaningfully involved in the project and for their concerns to be addressed. We hope for continued support from Both ENDS to help the communities on engaging with the implementing agency, government officials and project financiers. We also note the challenge of most communities in Malawi not being aware of their right to be involved in development projects happening in their communities. Hence we would like more support from Both ENDS to scale up our efforts to other communities, by building their capacity on human rights and also community involvement in development projects.”

Meeting of community volunteers that help with disseminating information to community members and also document community concerns. Salima district, Malawi 2020. Photo by CHRR

Gemma Betsema, the Netherlands
Rijksdienst voor Ondernemend Nederland (RVO):

When I think of Both ENDS, I think of all the work they are doing to create more equal and sustainable land governance around the world. From the support to numerous grassroots organizations fighting for land rights in their countries, to initiating policy dialogues in the Netherlands. One specific activity I am proud to have been part of are a series of brainstorm sessions we organized between Dutch policy makers and Dutch academics and civil society on the importance of women’s land rights. The sessions led to concrete ideas on how to integrate women’s land rights in policies and practices at the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”


Lorena Gamboa, Ecuador/Costa Rica
International Analog Forestry Network (IAFN):

In 1995, I used to work with Accion Ecológica in Ecuador and was leading a campaign to save the forests, working with Indigenous peoples and Farmers to protect their forest threatened by extractivist companies. Tamara Mohr from Both ENDS was my first contact and supported our work in many ways. After a couple of years I moved to work promoting Analog Forestry as a way of ecosystem restoration and Both ENDS has been part and supporter of the International Analog Forestry Network, until now.”


Paul Osborn, the Netherlands
Former board member of Both ENDS:

Happy birthday sweet Both ENDS!

The oldest memory is the winter of 1985, when I lent office space in our building in the gardens behind the Tropen Instituut in Amsterdam to a young lad, Harry van der Wulp. He needed to do a feasibility study for IUCN. Some visionaries needed space to free their ideas, and marshalling ideas and options, the seeds were sown for something which was to become Both ENDS.

There is always someone who lends office space for a bird to learn to fly. We all know that. I just wonder which birds will be given such space at Both ENDS 2021 and encouraged to fly, fly, fly, a new flight.

The Joke Waller Hunter-Initiative is a splendid incubatory aviary. But ecotopes are screaming for more.”


The new paradigm of sustainable development

Pieter Lammers with his family in 2019

Pieter Lammers was development cooperation policy officer in the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the time Both ENDS was founded. He has been one of those people that was crucial for the development of Both ENDS during ‘the early years’, as he supported our view on equal partnerships with Southern actors and on the importance of sustainability. For Both ENDS’s anniversary, he looks back on the context of development cooperation in those early years.

‘At that time environment was not at all an issue in the development conversation,’ explains Lammers. ‘There was a very small unit on energy, with two of us, but not much happened for the first couple of years. The Ministry was not really interested in environmental issues. There was one ecologist in the whole Ministry.’

Environment and development

Yet awareness was growing. Lammers describes two emerging trends, both of which were critical to the founding of Both ENDS and ultimately reshaped the field: increased recognition of the need for sustainable development and the autonomous power of Southern civil society. In October of 1987, the UN published Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland Report, which helped introduce environmental issues into the global development agenda. From Lammers’s vantage point, the parliamentary election of 1989 and the appointment of Jan Pronk as Minister for Development Co-operation marked the turning point. Pronk proclaimed sustainable development a top priority, and gave Lammers and his environmentally-minded colleagues a key role in developing Ministry policy. Lammers was responsible for writing the sustainable development chapter of the Ministry’s new policy paper, where he brought the economic, social and environmental issues together into one conceptual framework.

The policy paper, Een Wereld van Verschil (A World of Difference), was finalised in 1990. ‘The Minister wanted to stress that things were going to be very, very different,’ says Lammers. At the global level, the Netherlands and a handful of other countries played a major role in pushing forward the sustainable development and climate agenda. ‘We had very good cooperation with the Ministry of Environment,’ says Lammers. ‘Fritz Schlingeman, Joke Waller [who later left her legacy to Both ENDS to found the JWH initiative, ed.] and a few other people – we closely cooperated in bringing the sustainable development agenda forward.’

The new policy led to a reorganisation of the Ministry and the creation of a new – and very well-funded – programme on environment and development. With palpable delight, Lammers recalls: ‘We went from being a very small unit with nearly nothing to being a very large organisation with lots of resources.’ It was during these same years that IUCN staff came to the Ministry with a proposal for Both ENDS, which was first funded by the Ministry as an IUCN project and subsequently as an independent organisation.

Strong civil society

Alongside the new focus on sustainable development was a shift in understanding about the role of civil society in the South. ‘There was a growing understanding that there could be no sustainable development, there could be no development at all, if you don’t have a strong civil society. There was a growing realisation that the classical, top-down model of development aid was not really the way to work together,’ Lammers explains. ‘NGOs in the South really came into the picture – not as before, not as ‘implementers’ of Dutch development aid policy – but as independent, autonomous NGOs. You need equality and a certain amount of reciprocity in order to be sustainable and effective. That’s where Both ENDS came in. The name says it: linking organisations in North and South that are working on the same issues and see how they can help each other.’

Sustainability agreements: reciprocity, equality and participation

Lammers played a leading role, along with Both ENDS and many others, in a groundbreaking initiative that tied together the new approaches to development and Southern civil society. Following the landmark UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio in 1992, more than 175 countries signed on to the Rio Declaration, which laid out the principles and path for sustainable development. Lammers and colleagues in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Environment were eager to put the Declaration in practice: ‘We wanted to find a way and a scale to make the Rio Declaration work.’ With the backing of both Ministers, an innovative cooperative process to develop reciprocal, sustainable agreements was launched. The process involved the Netherlands and three similarly small and environmentally-committed countries in each region of the South: Costa Rica, Benin and Bhutan.

‘The principles of the relationship were reciprocity, equality and participation. The participation part was very important. That’s where Both ENDS played a major role.’ The initiative began by inverting the traditional North to South approach to development aid: a Bhutanese delegation visited the Netherlands to reflect and comment on sustainability issues in the Netherlands. More exchanges followed, with Both ENDS playing a key role in ensuring participation by a wide range of civil society actors in the participating countries. The idea was to bring together a variety of people and perspectives, including government representatives, NGOs, labour unions, police, commercial organisations.

‘The approach was a complete departure from the classical development paradigm, which essentially promoted replication of the Netherlands’ historical path to development’, explains Lammers. The sustainable development paradigm, which defined the collaboration, was built on the understanding that the Netherlands, no less than Costa Rica, Benin and Bhutan, had to follow its own unique path in order to reach a common place of sustainable development. ‘The Netherlands is extremely ecologically unsustainable, while Bhutan is one of the only countries in the world that absorbs more carbon than it emits. You can’t copy each other, which means you needs a lot of dialogue and discussion. And that’s what we did.’


Pieter Lammers with his colleague Chris Enthoven, the Bhutan coordinator at Ecooperation, the agency responsible for the Sustainability Agreements. They are visiting the king of Bhutan, who has been cut off the picture because it’s inapproriate to spread his image. Bhutan, 1994. Photo: Pieter Lammers

Women on their way to a festival, Bhutan, date unknown. Photo: Pieter Lammers


Lammers describes Both ENDS as ‘instrumental in forging bonds with organisations’ in the countries involved. Both ENDS took part in all the visits and a staff person was assigned as a contact in each of the countries. ‘Twenty years later I still meet people in Bhutan who talk about how much the sustainable development agreements meant to them and to their organisations. It was an exciting time,’ states Lammers. Ultimately, the political winds shifted and when the agreements were formalised into treaties, complications arose. Decision-making was shifted to the embassies and, in Lammers’s analysis, created a heavy layer of bureaucracy that had not previously existed. ‘Instead of being a description of our relationship, it became a prescription. It became so solidified and we needed to keep things fluid.’

Southern civil society should play an independent role

Both ENDS’s approach – based on equality and respect for partners’ autonomy and expertise – was unique at the time. Most Dutch development aid was channelled through a handful of Dutch organisations with offices in Southern countries. In 2001, Lammers authored another influential report, ‘Civil Society and Structural Poverty Reduction’ which emphasised the importance of equality and independence of civil society organisations in the South. ‘The idea was that if you want civil society in, for example, Africa, to play their independent role, just like civil society in the Netherlands does, then they should be independent and equal partners to Dutch development organisations and the Dutch government. They should be able to pursue their own agendas.’ The report’s conclusions, which were strongly supported by Both ENDS, further articulated the new vision for international cooperation. Soon after, in 2004, Lammers left the Ministry. He was disappointed that the report’s recommendations weren’t taken up by the time he departed. ‘Everyone agreed, but nothing happened,’ he says with a chuckle.

Fortunately, the story does not end there. In 2015 all United Nations Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, ‘the shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future’. Sustainability and development are solidly fused together. Likewise, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs now invests significant resources in strengthening the lobbying and advocacy capacity of civil society in the South. Its current funding framework places particular emphasis on local ownership and equality in relationships between organisations in North and South. Both ENDS participates in two consortia, the Fair, Green and Global Alliance (FGG) and the Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action (GAGGA) respectively, which were selected by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs as strategic partners for the coming five years. Where Both ENDS is the leading organisation in the FGG Alliance, GAGGA is being led by a southern organisation, the Fondo Centroamericano de Mujeres (FCAM, Central-American Women’s Fund), based in Nicaragua.

Pieter Lammers can only appreciate this shift of power. “Civil Society Organisations anywhere should be able to act independently and autonomously from governments, and relationships between CSO’s in North and South should become ever more horizontal, equal and reciprocal. Both ENDS is an important actor in this development.”

Pieter Lammers speeching at a Milieudefensie protest, between 1975-1980

About Pieter Lammers

Pieter Lammers began his career in international development cooperation at the FAO in Rome, where he worked in the early 1970s in lieu of military service. When he returned to the Netherlands in 1975, he worked on energy issues at Milieudefensie. In the 1980s he worked as campaign manager on acid rain for Friends of the Earth International and staffed its International Secretariat. In his spare time, Lammers was active in the movement against nuclear power. In 1987 Lammers became a development cooperation policy officer in the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a position he held during the founding of Both ENDS. He left the Ministry in 2004 to become an independent consultant and later a tour guide in Bhutan and other Asian countries.

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.