Dire finances and stunted activity continue to plague Malaysia’s conservation sector because of Covid-19. Macaranga surveys the landscape in our Taking Stock series.
FROM GAPS in research to the loss of funding and conversely, wider outreach, Malaysian conservation organisations of every size have been impacted by Covid-19.
But what exactly are these impacts? How have the organisations adapted to this crisis? And have they strengthened their resilience against future shocks?
(Photo: Educational activities involving volunteers and groups have been disrupted [Malaysian Nature Society Facebook])
Macaranga looked at these questions last May through a survey and interviews of conservation organisations. We ran the exercise about two months after the government imposed the Movement Control Order (MCO) on March 18, 2020.
In October, we proceeded to track the impact of Covid-19 with interviews of selected respondents to the May survey as well as non-respondents.
Here, we report the results.
Results in a nutshell
While the survey was done in May, the findings remained consistent five months later.
There also appeared to be no clear difference in impacts between the size of the organisation, where they were located or what sort of activities they conducted.
To begin with, only 59% of organisations had enough funds to see them through the year. The pandemic flipped this so that 65% did not have enough funds or were unsure if they did.
Looking beyond this year, around 76% of respondents registered a high level of worry about funding and activities.
Almost all organisations had to revise at least half their activities this year. Going online was important both for fund-generating and the carrying out of activities; benefits included a wider target stakeholder reach and cost savings.
To overcome the pandemic’s impacts, corporate funds were felt to be most helpful, but government direction was important too.
This was in terms of the managing of the economy and the pandemic, support for conservation and funds to support operational costs.
Can they survive this?
To the question of whether Covid-19 was a fatal threat to the organisation, the majority said no, but 12% respectively answered yes or did not know.
A majority also said they could access training to cope with the pandemic whereas 12% said they had no such access and 18% did not know if they could.
Macaranga received responses from 17 organisations that operate in part of or throughout Malaysia. Of these, over 75% were outfits comprising 5 or fewer persons.
Around 71% of respondents were NGO/community focused, with the others identifying as research outfits, business/social enterprises and foundations, or a combination thereof.
One respondent focused on working with stateless indigenous communities. Several had ecotourism components.
All respondents practised some element of public and/or targeted outreach.
Results (1) Impact of Covid-19 on funding
Before the MCO, 59% of respondents had enough funds for 2020 while the rest did not.
Two months after the MCO began, only 35% of respondents had enough funds for 2020 and 53% did not; 12% did not know.
About 24% of respondents said more than half of their funding for the year was impacted by Covid-19 while about 24% could not tell.
Looking at just the changes that affected more than half of their funding activities, 26% of respondents postponed their fundraising, 35% cancelled it, and 41% moved it online.
Level of concern
On a scale of 1—10, respondents were asked to rate their levels of concern about Covid-19’s impact on funding. About 53% of respondents rated 7 and above.
When asked how they felt beyond this year, 76% rated concern levels of 7 and above.
One respondent shared an anecdote of another organisation having their corporate sponsor terminate their funding more than a year sooner.
“They asked us to take in their interns because they couldn’t afford to keep them. Luckily, we could do so.”
Implementing action plans
Another respondent said of global bodies overseeing species conservation that “we are trying to implement objectives you set out at the international level, based on action plans.
“All the experts have said all these things need to be done. But it’s very frustrating because no one wants to fund it.”
Results (2) Impact of Covid-19 on activities
Looking at just the changes that affected more than half of their activities, 59% of respondents postponed their activities, 29% cancelled them, and 41% moved them online.
On a scale of 1—10, respondents were asked to rate their levels of concern about Covid-19’s impact on their activities. About 71% of respondents rated 7 and above.
When asked how they felt beyond this year, 76% rated concern levels of 7 and above.
All types of activities were impacted by the pandemic.
Organisations rated the severity of Covid-19’s impact on different activities on a scale of 1—5.
About 53% of respondents reported the most severe impact for community-based activities, 29% for meetings, 18% for engagement with government, 17% for outreach, and 7% for research.
Several organisations noted operational issues as another area that was affected by the pandemic, including project development.
“Environmental education, environmental monitoring and reporting (were impacted),” listed one respondent.
Another shared the experience of how “international and local volunteers needed to be sent back during the MCO. Some were stuck in other states and (experienced) anxiety as they could not return to where they were supposed to be.”
Results (3) Solutions to Covid-19 impacts
We asked organisations what would help most in dealing with the pandemic and gave them a list of factors to rate on a scale of 1—5.
Corporate funding was rated “most useful” by 53% of respondents, government economic interventions by 44%, public funding (e.g., donations) by 38%, government actions to counter Covid-19 by 38%, and government funding by 36%.
One respondent said in interviews that “in the past 16—17 years, government has not worked in my favour. At this point in my life, I want to focus on what I can change.”
This respondent added though, that they have received donations and funding pledges from local politicians.
Another respondent was of the mind that government aid was available.
“For example, our organisation actually received some relief funds from the Social Security Organisation (SOCSO) this year because we’ve continued to employ our staff with full benefits despite the pandemic.”
Respondents also offered other ways in which government could help. Among them are policies and support for research and conservation, clear direction and guidelines for being in protected areas, empowering rangers, and protocols for regional travel.
Specific needs were outlined. One respondent said they needed help “to move most of our education, awareness and advocacy activities to the online IT platform”.
Another stated that what would help would be “funds to pay for managing NGOs as many grants (especially now) don’t support office costs”.
Results (4) Silver lining
On the plus side, organisations shared many positives arising from the crisis.
Operationally, the forced downtime enabled respondents to regroup to move forward. One organisation said that this period allowed them to “clarify .. their mission and objectives, and identify team strengths and weaknesses.”
Another stated they now had “more time for project revision outside the field”.
Several respondents listed the benefits of going online including reaching wider audiences and cost-savings from not having to meet physically.
Said one: “Non-profits can actually work from home! So we don’t really need to rent the office now!”
Yet another said the experience is forcing them to come up with “creative and innovative ways to achieve conservation goals”.
Another agreed: “It is making us think outside the box. The outcomes, we may see later in the year or next year”.
More open environment
Contrary to difficulty in getting funding, one respondent stated that they were able to harness more donations to help communities in need.
Another said that distributing aid provided the opportunity to collect otherwise difficult-to-obtain data about communities.
Next: “The Pandemic Killed Everything We Had Planned” — conservationists share their struggles in the second of our 2-parter on the impact of Covid-19 on conservation. We thank all survey respondents and interviewees for their contributions to this Insight.
This is part of Macaranga‘s series, ‘Taking Stock’, where we examine how environmental sectors in Malaysia are responding to Covid-19 and a new federal government.