Great Lakes Region-Wide Grant Guidelines

MacArthur’s Conservation and Sustainable Development (CSD) program is launching a 10-year grant program in the Great Lakes region of Africa.

Download a pdf (8 pg) of this grant guideline.

Five adjacent watersheds within the Great Lakes region comprise the focus of our interest: Lake Victoria Basin, Upper Nile Basin, Lake Tanganyika Basin, Lake Malawi/Nyasa Basin, and Turkana/Omo Basin (see map).

The foundation is inviting Letters of Interest (LOIs) in 2012 that have a region-wide focus and will make grants in the Rift Valley lake basins (Turkana/Omo, Tanganyika, Malawi/Nyasa) in 2013 and in the Nile River Basin (Lake Victoria, Upper Nile) in 2014. The scope of this request LOIs is for region-wide initiatives that cut across three or more of the five focal lake basins mentioned above.

The foundation’s overall goal for the Great Lakes region is to prevent or reduce biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, and to sustain ecosystem benefits for human well-being. Our Theory of Change is that an understanding of the benefits ecosystems provide to humans is necessary, but insufficient to spur effective conservation responses at the appropriate scales. To close the gap that exists between concern and effective action, sufficient incentives must be created for societies to slow current trends of ecosystem degradation and service loss and eventually reverse them.

Four major assumptions underpin this hypothesis:

  • Ecosystems and the ecological processes that produce benefits for society can be understood sufficiently to value and then manage for them.
  • Some ecosystem benefits – both economic and non-economic – are sufficiently valuable to be prioritized by society in resource use decisions.
  • Sustainable management of natural resources contributes to preventing, mitigating, and/or resolving environmental and social conflicts.
  • Some drivers of ecosystem loss are linked to global trends and responses to them are best addressed at a global scale.

We will test the theory and assumptions by supporting region-wide initiatives that will:

  • Describe the importance of ecosystems to sustainable economic growth persuasively to key decision makers
  • Illustrate ways to generate positive incentives for environmental stewardship
  • Strengthen resource use rights of local communities and Indigenous Peoples who manage many of the ecosystems that provide benefits to others in society
  • Contribute to testing and evaluating policies that distribute the costs and benefits of ecosystem management efficiently and more equitably among the users and providers of ecosystem services
  • Monitor the status / trends in the health of ecosystems and pressures on them with scientific rigor and share this information with a broad audience.

Grant making in the Great Lakes region is informed by extensive consultations with a range of stakeholders, including civil society organizations and government representatives, in a process led by BirdLife International over the period September 2011 to March 2012. In areas of geographical overlap, the strategy also draws on consultations conducted by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) in 2011 during the development of the Ecosystem Profile for the Eastern Afromontane Biodiversity Hotspot.

Priorities for region-wide grant making in 2012

Grant making for 2012 will support initiatives that cut across three or more of the following five watersheds: 

Lake Victoria Basin

Lake Victoria is the largest lake in Africa in terms of surface area, the second largest in the world and a major source of the Nile River. It is bordered by three countries (Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya), with Rwanda and Burundi lying within its catchment area. It hosts the largest freshwater fisheries on the continent and supports an important transport system in the East African region. The Nile River supports hydropower dams and extensive irrigated agriculture and tourism ventures in Egypt. The basin hosts numerous Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) including important wetlands such as Rugezi marsh and the Winam Gulf; forest reserves such as Kakamega forest and Mau Forest complex; Lakes Bulera and Luhondo; and national parks such as Volcanoes, Mt. Elgon, and the Serengeti.

Upper Nile Basin

The upper Nile Basin comprises a series of floodplains, rivers and wetland complexes which include the White Nile River and its tributaries, the Semliki River, Lake Albert and the swamps of the Sudd. The Basin hosts a number of parks, including the gorilla parks which generate significant revenues from eco-tourism. KBAs in this basin include catchment areas of the Semiliki Rivers, lake Albert, Lake George, the Sudd, Imatong Mountains, Rwenzori Mountains, and Lake George catchment.

Lake Tanganyika Basin

Lake Tanganyika is the second deepest and second largest in volume of all the world’s lakes. It is long and narrow and bordered by four countries (Tanzania, Burundi, Zambia and the DRC). Lake Tanganyika’s fisheries provide employment to an estimated 1 million people in the basin and the Lake provides an important transport system within the region. The basin hosts KBAs such as the Itombwe Mountains, Kahuzi-Biega National Park (NP), and Kibira NP as well as globally important primate habitats such as Nyungwe, Gombe and Greater Mahale parks. Important wetlands include the Malagarasi River system, Lake Kivu, and Rusizi River.

Turkana/Omo Basin

Lake Turkana, which is located in northern Kenya, is the largest desert lake in the world and the most saline of Africa’s large lakes. The Omo River in southwestern Ethiopia provides 90 percent of the lake’s inflow. The lake has a thriving fish population and fisheries are increasingly becoming an important alternative livelihood providing a valuable source of protein to people in the Turkana area. The Omo River hosts hydropower dams and its annual flood cycles support agricultural activities in its banks. The Turkana/Omo basin encompasses KBAs in three countries, including the Gughe Mountains and the Omo, Nechisar and Mago National Parks in Ethiopia; Mounts Nyiru, Kulal, and Elgon, the Mau-Narok grasslands and Cherangani Hills, Lakes Baringo and Bogoria in Kenya; and Mounts Kadam, Moroto and Elgon on the Ugandan side.

Lake Malawi/Nyasa

Lake Malawi/Nyasa is the world’s fourth deepest lake in the world and is bordered by Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi. The lake’s fisheries provide a major contribution to the protein needs of the surrounding population and its outflows support the generation of electricity in Malawi. The lake also supports domestic and international tourism in Malawi. KBAs in the basin include Nyika National Park, Mount Rungwe, Ruhuhu and Lufiro regions, Zomba and Umalila Mountains. The Foundation will prioritize proposals that target initiatives that demonstrate a number of values at the national and regional level, including biodiversity and ecosystem services such as provisioning of water, food, energy, and carbon sequestration. Special attention will be paid to agricultural, fisheries, and livestock production landscapes around important lakes, rivers, wetlands, and water catchment areas.

Within these areas, the Foundation will prioritize proposals that address the following objectives;

Understand and respond to increased environmental pressures from development and climate change impacts:

  • Monitor impacts of major agricultural initiatives on biodiversity and ecosystem services and pilot or expand incentives for environmental stewardship.  
  • Implement initiatives that promote analysis and sharing of lessons learned between practitioners and policy makers and advocates for the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services across the Great Lakes region; incorporate a focus on unsustainable biological resource use; agricultural activities; energy production and mining; and climate change, and engage civil society and policy makers working at different levels within relevant sectors.

    The following two themes are developed in collaboration with other program areas within the foundation’s International Programs and LOIs are accepted on an invitation only basis:
  • Monitor impacts of oil/gas exploration and production; secure oversight of extractive industries and monitor the implementation of relevant laws and policies; increase transparency and accurate information in relation to revenue management and environmental “tradeoffs”.
  • Develop policy and practical interventions that mitigate the impact of human migration on critical ecosystems. 

Assist the rural poor in managing their resources for multiple benefits:

  • Implement gender sensitive capacity building programs that strengthen the role of women in rural areas as natural resource managers in ways that conserve ecosystems and sustain the multiple benefits they provide.
  • Strengthen the voice of affected communities in approval processes for agro-industrial plantations, hydropower dams and other large-scale developments. The Foundation will prioritize proposals that demonstrate strategic partnerships that can leverage impact at appropriate scales.


Letters of Inquiry should address these geographic and thematic priorities. CSD typically makes three year grants with the possibility of renewal based on performance and continued relevance of the project. 

Please note that the Foundation does not support political activities or attempts to influence action on specific legislation. We do not provide inpidual scholarships or tuition assistance for undergraduate, graduate, or postgraduate studies; nor do we support annual fundraising drives, institutional benefits, honorary functions, or similar projects.

As is now the case with most charities in the United States who make grants to organizations based outside the United States, the Foundation checks the names of foreign based grantees, and the principal officers and directors of such grantees, against one or more lists maintained by the U.S. government, the European Union, and the United Nations, which contain the names determined by such entities to be terrorist organizations or inpidual terrorists. This process is a result of legislation passed by the U.S. Congress, Executive Orders issued by the President, and suggested guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. A memorandum on this topic is available upon request.

Review Process

All eligible Letters of Inquiry will be evaluated by the Foundation. The Foundation may ask outside experts or persons with relevant professional experience to review LOIs and/or proposals. Decisions to invite full proposals based on the submitted LOIs and/or award grants will be made by the Foundation. All material submitted becomes the property of the MacArthur Foundation.


LOIs should be submitted no later than April 20th by e-mail to: [email protected]. Please review a suggested LOI format before submitting.


This map shows the priority watersheds for the MacArthur Foundation's Conservation & Sustainable Development grantmaking in Central and East Africa. Grantmaking targets freshwater and terrestrial key biodiversity areas (KBAs) within the identified priority watersheds.

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