Indigenous Peoples Fellowship Initiative

The GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP), implemented by the United Nations Development Programme, launched the global component of the Indigenous Peoples Fellowship Initiative in November 2016 at the UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakech, Morocco and at the Convention on Biological Diversity Conference of the Parties in Cancun, Mexico in December 2016. Four indigenous women were selected through a competitive process to become GEF SGP's first-ever global fellows. These women will carry out work in the areas of biodiversity conservation and climate change adaptation.

The fellowship initiative responds to a need expressed by indigenous peoples during consultations for targeted capacity development. The aim of the global fellowship initiative is to develop higher-level skills and capacity of emerging indigenous leaders by supporting their advocacy work on global environmental and sustainable development issues, while also advancing the work of their communities, organizations and networks at national, regional and global levels.

The application process was open from May 23 to July 31, 2016.  A selection panel of IP leader representatives, composed of both men and women from all regions, reviewed, and assessed the more than 500 applications received and selected four fellows. A national fellowship component to be implemented in eight countries in four regions will be launched in 2018.

Meet the Global Fellows

Edna Kaptoyo, Kenya


Edna Kaptoyo is an indigenous Pokot woman from Kenya, and is the Executive Secretary of the International Alliance of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the Tropical Forests. Edna is a social development specialist, human and women’s rights advocate, and is actively engaged in UN and related international processes focusing on advancing the issues and concerns of indigenous peoples in Africa. Edna is a member of the advisory council to the International Indigenous Women’s Forum and its Global Leadership School of Indigenous Women. Currently, she is a member of the Kenya UN-REDD Forest Carbon Partnership Facility REDD Readiness Taskforce.

As a fellow Edna hopes to influence decision-making on climate change and gender with a special focus on indigenous women and their role in natural resource management in Africa. She seeks to enhance her capacity in better documenting indigenous women’s experiences and knowledge in environmental management, while ensuring their rights are protected.

Edna’s activities in 2018 will include a month-long exchange visit with the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact in Chiang Mai, Thailand to facilitate knowledge sharing on advocacy strategies, fundraising and research on climate change. She also plans to participate in the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change and work with the gender and women constituencies during the climate change inter-sessions and Conference of the Parties. 

Edith Bastidas, Colombia


Community leader Edith Bastidas is an indigenous woman from the Pastos community of Nariño in southern Colombia.  Edith is a lawyer specializing in constitutional and parliamentarian law. She has held various high-level positions in Colombia including manager of the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs of Antioquia, and researcher and director of CECOIN, the Center for Indigenous Cooperation. Edith is also the focal point in Colombia for the International Indigenous Women’s Network on Biodiversity.

Edith will focus her fellowship on developing the capacity of Latin American indigenous peoples’ communities, particularly indigenous women on the CBD and the Nagoya Protocol to ensure the protection of indigenous knowledge and its associated genetic resources. She seeks to strengthen her advocacy skills to promote indigenous concerns and issues both internationally and nationally at the policy level- of interest is the ratification of the Nagoya Protocol in Colombia.

In 2018, Edith will work on strengthening and promoting Latin American indigenous women’s engagement in international processes related to biodiversity conservation such as the CBD, IPBES, The Intergovernmental science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. She will also be taking an intensive English language course at New York University.

Thingreiphi (Athing) Lungharwo, India


Thingreiphi (Athing) Lungharwo is a member of the Naga Women’s Union in Northeast, India, and belongs to the Tangkhul Naga community of Ukhrul, Manipur, India. Athing has coordinated the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)’s environment programme at the regional level, and has worked closely with the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity. Athing began her career as a natural resource management organizer and a project technical officer for the Northeastern Region Community Resource Management Project in India funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

Athing will use her fellowship to further her advocacy for indigenous peoples’ rights and environmental protection at the international level. She will focus on bringing greater attention to the value of biodiversity in addressing solutions to poverty reduction, and enhancing sustainable development and well-being. She hopes to meet the needs of her community as a strong indigenous woman leader.

In 2018 Athing will focus on the development of traditional knowledge indicators. She will contribute to the AIPP project on culture and biodiversity in Northeast India, and work on organizational strengthening for a Naga women’s organization.Through an Integrated Mountain Initiative (IMI) project she plans to work on building a consortium of young tribal researchers to undertake studies on mountain peoples, approaches, and practices to combating climate change in the Indian Himalayan region.

Zahra Ouhssain, Morocco


Zahra Ouhssain, is from Rissani, southeast Morocco.  She is a journalist with the Amazigh national radio and is a producer and host of several programmes in Amazigh. Zahra also works for various community radios, such as climate radio and has covered the 22nd United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties, COP22.

In 2016, she received a prize from the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture in communications because of her radio programme on the conservation of the oasis in the context of climate change.  Zahra coordinates the women’s committee of the Amazigh Network for Citizenship that fights against the discrimination of the Amazigh people in Morocco.

Given her background in communications, Zahra’s main objective with the fellowship is to raise awareness with the public on the importance of conserving natural resources. A key component of her fellowship will be to develop the capacity of journalists on the Amazigh use of traditional knowledge and practices to adapt to climate change.

Among her plans for 2018, Zahra will produce a documentary on the traditional management of water resources. She will hold a workshop with youth on the importance of conserving water resources. She also looks forward to participating in the UNFCCC COP24 to share the traditional knowledge practices of the Amazigh in water management. Moreover, Zahra plans exchange visits to Tunisia and Algeria on community management of oases and seeks to develop a community network in the North African region.

GEF SGP National Indigenous Peoples’ Fellowship Initiative


In 2018 the GEF Small Grants Programme developed a national fellowship initiative to increase its support to indigenous peoples in eight countries. The aim of the initiative is to develop a higher-level capacity of existing and potential indigenous leaders to advance the work of their communities, organizations and networks at the national level.

The national indigenous peoples’ fellowship initiative supports strengthening higher level skills for project development, management and implementation, and for better utilization of new technologies to: (a) increase the portfolio of projects by indigenous peoples within the SGP and other similar grant-making programmes; (b) increase appropriate resource flows from donors, development agencies, and governments; and (c) demonstrate modalities for grant-making which are governed with the direct involvement of indigenous peoples.

Each of the seven national IP fellows is expected to complete a one-year fellowship including: a practical placement working alongside the SGP country programme in support of national grant-making in target countries; and a regional or global skill-building exercise. As part of the practical placement, each of the national IP fellows is assisting the SGP country programme to: (i) engage with representative indigenous peoples’ networks at the national level; (ii) enhance grant-making modalities, formats and techniques; and (iii) assist with the implementation of at least one SGP-funded project with a specific community, including a field visit. Regarding skill building, fellows will be encouraged to take part and contribute to identified indigenous peoples-government dialogues and platforms at the national level, as well as to develop their skills in relation to knowledge exchange and advocacy.

Meet the National Fellows

Bo Liu  CHINA IPChina: Dr. Bo Liu is currently a Lecturer of Biology at the Minzu University of China (MUC). Bo is Mongolian Chinese, born in the autonomous region, Inner Mongolia, China, and specializes in biodiversity conservation and ethnobotany. As a specialist of the IUCN/Species Survival Commission, he participated in the development of the China Plant Red List Book. He has recorded the traditional knowledge of Tibetans, Hani, Dai, Zhuang -ethnic peoples in China, also the traditional management of local rare species. Bo has completed 17 scientific projects and published nine books and more than 30 papers.

Since he began his fellowship, Bo has carried out eight trainings with local communities and staff from nature reserves focusing on the identification and conservation of protected species, and plant cultivation. Bo has undertaken field investigations to collect plant specimens and medicinal plants for on-going inventories and has engaged in environmental education activities in elementary schools, in addition to the design of booklets to develop capacity on the prevention of forest fires and the production/cultivation of medicinal plants. He is also participating in SGP’s capacity building exercises related to ICCAs.

Barsha Lekhi Nepal IPNepal: Ms. Barsha Lekhi has a Masters’ in Environmental Science from Jawaharlal Nehru University, India and is the awardee of the Silver Jubilee Scholarship. Barsha is passionate about research and advocacy for environment protection as well as the rights of indigenous peoples and women. She has worked with the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities Climate Change Partnership Program (NEFIN CC PP) and was a Program Assistant for the project entitled Capacity building of women in the field of climate change. In 2015 she also worked as a consultant for NEFIN CC PP conducting a Forest Carbon Inventory. In the same year she worked with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) as a research assistant for a project titled Urban Transport Improvement in Kathmandu Valley. Barsha was also a research assistant for the Diesel Generator Survey and a Volunteer Site Coordinator for the Clean Up Nepal Campaign. In 2016 she was nominated as a Good Will Ambassador for the Clean Up Nepal Campaign.

As part of her fellowship Barsha is undertaking a review of projects led by different institutions working with indigenous peoples in Nepal to ensure greater information sharing and communication among organizations. Barsha will be working with indigenous organizations to better access additional resources. She will also be collaborating with the SGP on their overall engagement with indigenous peoples in Nepal, while also developing her skillset in various national and international workshops and trainings.

Javier Villalba   Argentina IP 2Argentina: Mr. Javier Villalba is from the Northeastern province of Misiones, Argentina where he lives with his community that manages 600 hectares of community property. His community is composed of 158 families who engage in agricultural production, the breeding of small animals and the production of yerba mate. Javier works with Aty Ñeychyro a traditional organization that brings together more than 60 Mbya Guaraní communities in Misiones. Javier’s role is to provide advice on agricultural production, and guidance when conflicts arise regarding land and the violation of the community members’ rights. Javier’s role in the organization is to disseminate the issues discussed during its assemblies, implement the work related to environmental conservation. In 2017-2018 Javier worked with SGP projects on improving communities’ access to safe water and electricity in eight Mbya Guarani communities. He has worked on building the communities’ trust in understanding the importance of the projects and activities, so they can benefit from them. Javier created spaces for the transmission of knowledge, and to strengthen culture and spirituality. Javier is carrying out his fellowship from Misiones.

As part of his fellowship Javier continues to work on developing trust between the communities and SGP. He is an integral part of the implementation of the Global Support Initiative for Indigenous Peoples and Community Conserved Areas (ICCA-GSI) in Argentina. He is actively involved with the SGP office organizing workshops in the Northeast and Northwest of the country and is focusing on SGP’s outreach with indigenous communities.

Edy Alexander Caniz  Guatemala IPGuatemala: Mr. Edy Alexander Caniz is an indigenous Maya Kiche, Edy has been the community authority of the organization of the Kiche people of Totonicapán in addition to the representative of the Board of Directors of Assets and Natural Resources of the 48 cantons - located in western Guatemala. Edy’s community service has focused on the conservation, protection, and management of the communal forest of San Miguel Totonicapán at approximately 3,500 meters above sea level. For 14 months he was involved in the community’ s accompaniment of the municipal environmental policy on the elimination of plastic bags and disposable products, and the reforestation of at least 16,404 hectares. He has coordinated forums, national panels on biodiversity, and the exchange of experiences with indigenous authorities, universities, and national organizations such as INAB, CONAP, MARN, ECOLOGIC, SERJUS, SOTZI.
Since receiving the fellowship Edy has participated in a symposium in Cuba on climate change, ecology, society and environment and other workshops in Guatemala on ranging from environmental management to racism and discrimination. Edy is focusing his work on the implementation of SGP projects and working with the beneficiary communities to monitor their learning. He is actively involved in the implementation of the Global Support Initiative for Indigenous Peoples and Community Conserved Areas (ICCA-GSI) in Guatemala, participating in capacity development workshops, trainings and contributing to network building. He is developing a community guide on the governance of ICCAs and the inclusion of youth. Through the fellowship he plans to strengthen his technical and professional skills.

Aliou Mustafa  Cameroon IPCameroon: Mr. Aliou Mustafa is from the Mbororo-Fulani pastoralist community of the Northwest Region of Cameroon. He is a solar energy technician and works with Solaire du Cameroon in the Adamawa region of Cameroon to provide electricity and potable drinking water in communities through the use of clean energy technology. Aliou has been working for the protection and promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples in Cameroon for six years. He focuses on environmental protection, climate change adaptation, food security and conflict management in pastoralist communities. Aliou is the training facilitator of Sura-Barka indigenous dairy and the focal point of this organization in the Network for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities for Sustainable Management of Forest Ecosystems in Central Africa (REPALEAC Cameroon). Aliou is a 2017 Mandela Washington Fellow, (the Young African Leadership Initiative, a flagship program under former US President Obama) where he was trained by the US Department of State in business entrepreneurship and supply chain management at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Since starting his fellowship, Aliou participated in the Convention on Biodiversity Conference of the Parties meeting in Egypt in November 2018, and in the pre-conference indigenous strategic planning meetings. In Cameroon, he has led a training of indigenous women and girls from pastoralist communities on milk post-harvest techniques, and a workshop focused on knowledge sharing of plants with ethno-veterinary properties. He plans to develop a booklet of plants and their functions to transmit traditional practices on curing animal diseases using plants. He is also sensitizing forest indigenous communities on clean energy and training youth in solar electrification.

Seraphin Longala Ilonga  DR CONGO IPDemocratic Republic of Congo: Mr. Seraphin Longala Ilonga was born in Boyeka village, in the Province of Equateur in the Democratic Republic Congo. He is an indigenous community member. Ilonga studied political science and administration in his home city of Mbandaka. He has led informal trainings in forest utilization. Given his secondary school studies in veterinary studies, he has worked as a veterinarian on the farms near his village. He is well versed with the world of NGOs and indigenous peoples’ communities as he’s been involved in activities undertaken by donors working in the field.

Ilonga is carrying out his fellowship from the province of Equateur in DRC and supporting SGP in the identification and implementation of projects in the province. He is also working with the project beneficiaries on the use of local resources. He will participate in SGP’s project selection processes to develop his capacity in selection criteria and consensus building. Regarding his personal development, Ilonga will work on strengthening his computer skills during the fellowship and will participate in national and international forums. Ilonga attended the Convention on Biodiversity Conference of the Parties meeting in Egypt in November 2018.

Ben Ruli  Papua Guinea IP FellowPapua New Guinea: Mr. Ben Ruli is from Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. His academic background is in education and in indigenous environment and development studies and his primary professional interest is in environmental anthropology. Ben was awarded a biocultural scholarship with a local Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in 2011 and undertook terrestrial and marine ecology training courses.Ben worked as a research assistant with Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS PNG) and collected information on the Traditional Knowledge Systems of the Ankave people. He also contributed to a Teaching Resource Book – Cultural Connections - Ikundi-Way. Ben has worked with several conservation NGOsincluding New Guinea Binatang Research Center and Live and Learn Environmental Education. He has also rrepresented PNG at workshops organized by the Inter-governmental Platform of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) on Indigenous Local Knowledge Systems firstly in Thailand (Chiang Mai) for the Asia Pacific Regional Assessment and again in New Zealand (Whangarei) for the Sub-Regional assessment. He also was part of the walking workshop organized by the International Network of Indigenous Ecological Farmers (INIEF) in Taiwan.

Ben’s fellowship objectives are to increase the portfolio of projects led by indigenous peoples, both within the SGP as well as with other similar international grant-making programmes; and to increase the portfolio of projects led by indigenous peoples, both within the SGP as well as with other similar international grant-making programs. He also plans to demonstrate modalities for grant-making which are governed with the direct involvement of indigenous peoples. Regarding community development, Ben will focus on developing the capacity and skillset of existing and potential indigenous leaders to advance the work of their communities, organizations and network at national, regional and global levels.

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