28th February 2023
Written by Sophie O’Loghlen-Vidot, Impact Funding Manager, Bonsucro
The Bonsucro Impact Fund (BIF) was launched in February 2022, with our first deadline for applications in May 2022. What a year it has been: We received 28 applications for projects across 15 countries! In total, 12 full proposals were considered! We awarded five grants and have projects up and running across six countries in Latin America and Asia. So far, we have awarded £132,000 of BIF funding. You can read about the projects here.
It’s been a busy but very interesting first year and I’m really pleased to be managing the fund. The project selection committee has been vital in enabling a smooth selection and decision-making process, especially as it is staffed with perceptive and passionate individuals who each bring a unique experience and viewpoint to the group.
Learning how to award grants
Our focused calls for proposals meant that the applications we received were aligned to our strategic plan and contributed towards our strategic objectives. In addition, overall our applications were strong and reflected the diversity of challenges the BIF aspires to address as well as the diversity of our membership.
However, some projects straddled the themes of supporting smallholders and tackling climate change and water use. Consequently, we will consider smallholders as a cross-cutting theme for all calls in year two to reflect its priority and cross-applicability.
The project applications we received were extremely varied and of high quality, particularly for the last set in the human rights category which were for £150,000. To encourage the high standard of submissions in year two, we have decided to offer smaller, innovation grants and larger impact grants available for all themes. We are also increasing the amount available for small grants from £30,000 to £50,000 but keeping the large grant funding at £150,000. We believe this will boost the quality of applications and encourage innovative concepts.
Bonsucro membership reflected in applicants
The projects submitted to the Bonsucro Impact Fund reflected Bonsucro’s membership. Both the number of applications received and grants awarded proportionally reflects our membership – for example there were fewer applicants from Africa and Asia Pacific. We will actively engage with members and provide guidance to encourage and promote applications from these regions.
Unfortunately, we had a small number of applications that did not meet the eligibility requirements. To ensure the BIF is accessible, we plan to host question and answer webinars in April 2023 to support our members in submitting robust applications that meet all minimum requirements.
The challenges of project selection
With such a diverse selection of projects to choose from – how did we choose the best? It was actually really difficult. The project selection committee (PSC) members each scored each project individually before having meetings to argue their case – and it was fascinating to see the difference in the scores and hear everyone’s perspectives.
We created a Project Selection Committee comprised of representatives from the Members’ Council, reflecting the spectrum of our membership including a farmer, sustainability leaders from mills, intermediaries and end-users. We also appointed Michelle Morton as Independent Chair. Michelle worked at Shell for 31 years and was a committed member of Bonsucro during her time there. Talking about taking the role, she said, “I have always had a soft spot for Bonsucro and the other sustainability standards that aim to improve the sustainability of agricultural products. So when this opportunity to chair the Project Selection Committee for Bonsucro’s brand new Impact Fund, I jumped at it.”
The Project Selection Committee
We want to learn from our first pilot year. So, as we move into the second year, we have decided to publish more refined calls for proposals with clear criteria of challenges that should be addressed. We hope that this will make the selection process for the committee a little easier. The committee members bring a wealth and diversity of perspectives which has been vital for the smooth running of the process. In addition, we are looking to fine tune the process making it easier to rank the projects, and only requesting essential information from the applicants.
Creating a space for learning
We really want to facilitate learning through the Bonsucro Impact Fund. In year two, we will create opportunities for grantees and the whole Bonsucro membership to learn from the projects that we’re funding. Ideas to support this include running webinars, publishing research results and project findings, and creating a virtual space for the grantees to learn from one another. The BIF can help change the sector for the better and help Bonsucro achieve its strategy as well as contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.
We will soon reveal who was awarded the first grants for the human rights call for proposals. We are also busy preparing for the second set of grants focused on climate adaptation, water stewardship and human rights and decent work – these will be available from April.
Overall, I would encourage more members to get involved – keep an eye out for project updates on the website and through Bonsucro’s LinkedIn page.
We are also accepting new members to the project selection committee from the Members’ Council to provide more perspectives, improve the process and share the workload. Please register your interest by emailing me at email@example.com.