Conserving biodiversity in Chiapas natural protected areas through an innovative financial mechanism

Full Solution

Conservation of natural resources in Mexico is a great challenge, especially since the budget of the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas is reduced every year. This is where finance from private sources becomes crucial for the effective management and operation of protected areas.

This is why El Triunfo Conservation Fund (FONCET) was created: a financial mechanism to support El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, one of the most important protected areas in Mexico.

FONCET was planned with a strong local participation on mind, and to this date is one of its main characteristics. Local citizens really committed with Chiapas’ conservation are part of the board and the financial committee, which have made possible strategic alliances that allow new ways of financing.

Its efficient way of work drew attention of other protected areas that requested support to finance conservation actions. This way FONCET became a regional fund, currently supporting 5 natural protected areas in Chiapas.



Dernière modification 09 Aug 2019
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Challenges addressed
Land and Forest degradation
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Lack of access to long-term funding
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Unemployment / poverty
  • Deforestation due to unsustainable agricultural practices

  • Low awareness in local people about environmental services: local communities need to be aware of the importance of their natural capital and how to manage it sustainably

  • Lack of funding for conservation activities: this solution seeks to fill the gap that exists in government funding to manage protected areas that is generally insufficient and untimely

  • Public policies promote unsustainable practices: influencing public policies so the government promotes sustainable productive activities

  • Contradictory public policies: it is necessary that public policies are aligned so conservation of natural capital is not impaired

  • Uncoordinated inter institutional efforts: coordination of stakeholders and institutions working in the region is a key component of the solution

  • Lack of opportunities for young people: training and supporting young people so they can implement an economic sustainable project is also a key aspect in the solution

Scale of implementation
Tropical evergreen forest
Ecosystem services
Sustainable financing
Sustainable livelihoods
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Watershed management
Chiapas, Mexico
North America
Summary of the process

Main building blocks are:

  1. Strong procedures

  2. Local Financial Committee

  3. Partnerships

  4. Monitoring, Evaluation & Communication Strategies

These blocks are related to each other and allow the solution to be successful. Strong procedures allow FONCET to be transparent and efficient and have a strong influence on every other block. Local financial committee attracts new donors and supervise the activities and expenses of FONCET, and is also ruled by the procedures. Partnerships with local governments, NGO’s, donors, foundations, and local communities help FONCET to have greater impact in conservation as well as interchange knowledge that strengthen the partnerships. Monitoring and evaluation is implemented not just for the activities and results in conservation but also for the partnerships, financial committee, staff and procedures that allow making the necessary adjustments in any of these aspects. Communication strategies help FONCET to communicate its results to different audiences attracting different types of possible donors but also communicating actions done by the other blocks.




Building Blocks
Strong procedures / Capacity Building

FONCET was one of many financial mechanisms that were created for different natural protected areas as part of TNC´s Parks in Peril Program. FONCET started out only for El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve and was the only local fund to succeed. Later on, FONCET started to invest in other protected areas trying to replicate the model.

First donations were used to create strong bases for the organization, carefully selecting, hiring and training high skilled and committed individuals, as well as developing legal and operational manuals, transparent administrative procedures, strategic plans, strong communication, fundraising and technical capacitates, among others. FONCET invests in having the best team since the success of an NGO strongly depends, among other, on the people in charge.

Enabling factors
  1. Board willing to invest: to have a strong financial mechanism in every aspect
  2. Professional team: to successfully manage the fund
  3. Mentors: who can help in the process, whether is another NGO, or individuals with different capacitates. A mentoring program will enable strong procedures.
  4. Manuals: administrative and legal manuals with clear values like austerity, subsidiarity, equity, creativity to create the framework of the financial mechanism
  5. Transparency: will give confidence to donors and attract more finance
Lesson learned

Most environmental NGO’s in Mexico do not invest in having a strong and secured staff; many do not give competitive salaries or even legal benefits to their employees, like social security, even when these spend most of their time in the field being more susceptible to accidents. These practices generate a negative atmosphere in the staff that eventually can be reflected in their work. Some NGO’s boards assume that by saving money in the salaries and legal benefits, they will invest more in conservation, without noticing that by not investing in the staff safety they are compromising their mission. It is hard to convince some of these members to invest in these procedures, but it is definitely worthy. So, a lesson learned is to have a board of directors willing to invest in their people and in strong procedures that in turn will permit to have a strong and successful financial mechanism and of course results in conservation.  

Local Financial Committee

FONCET invited local, talented and respected individuals to be part of the financial committee which mission is to raise money from people, families and businesses in Chiapas. This committee is a vital part of the financial mechanism because gives certainty to other possible donors about the use of their money and as businesspersons they give insight about new sources of finance.

The committee have clear goals; for example, they are responsible of organizing one event every year with three objectives:

1. Say thank you to all the people who has been donating.

2. Communicate the achievements and challenges.

3. Raise money: All people are invited to sign a pledge where they say how much money they want to donate throughout the year, and how they wish to be charged.

Besides, every month they gather to discuss new opportunities of finance, evaluate results, and consider new conservation activities, either in other natural protected areas or in other communities of El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve. Member are well-known businesspersons with high standards which give confidence to new donors to become part or support the organization.  Without a doubt the financial committee is essential in the functioning of FONCET.

Enabling factors
  1. Highly committed individuals: members have a professional team, strong procedures, clear values and shared goals in their professional life
  2. Mentoring program: as spokespersons for FONCET members have a mentoring program to have a clear understanding of the conservation and sustainable development goals
  3. Local engagement: members are highly committed individuals and respected in their sector
  4. Representation of different sectors: so more expertise is brought to the organization
  5. Clear goals: to attract new finance
Lesson learned

When forming a local committee, often organizations are tempted to invite the wealthier individuals vs. the most committed ones. FONCET learned that is better to have different individuals representing different sectors with different giving potential, so they can target similar individuals who will identify with them.

The executive director of FONCET is in charge of coordinating this committee, although this was not always the case, but it didn’t work. The coordination of this team must be in charge of the executive director because is the bridge between the operation and the strategic and financial planning.

Finally, people within the committee must be trained in conservation issues. The NGO must invest in an ongoing knowledge program for the committee. When selecting the individuals, sometimes organizations are tempted to invite mainly experts in conservation, but the lesson learned is that very often is more important to invite highly committed and respected people, and train them in conservation issues.


Association with the local government, businesspersons, artists (actors, filmmakers, theater producers, designers, chefs, photographers, among others), researchers, academics and national and international foundations is a key aspect of this solution. Creating a balance between the objectives of the partners and the objectives of FONCET allows having a win-win relationship, in which partners gain more recognition as their work is widely communicated, and also they are recognized as social responsible people; in turn FONCET’s work is known in other spheres and increases the possibility of attracting more donors. Partnerships help generate creative strategies to procure partner funds and coordinate efforts to achieve the greatest possible positive impact in the region. The partners are also motivated by the strong local participation of the local communities that work committedly to improve their livelihoods as well as conserving the Reserve.

FONCET is an NGO that bases its success on partnerships that allow creating, innovating, and communicating, which in turn allows having greater impact in the conservation of natural protected areas of Chiapas.

Enabling factors
  1. International & National Foundations: strategic alliances allow to identify financial resources as well as knowledge interchange

  2. Win-win relationships: allows strong partnerships and take advantage of partners’ potential

  3. Local government: to strengthen and increase conservation impacts

  4. CONANP: working in natural protected areas requires a strong and good relationship with CONANP

  5. Local NGO’s: essential to promote conservation

  6. Local communities: the indispensable partnership in this solution

Lesson learned

In Mexico, especially in Chiapas, most NGOs have their main alliance with government; however, FONCET did their first partnership with local people, then with foundations and finally with governments. This allows FONCET to avoid compromising their work with government interest that may or may not always be transparent. It also allows FONCET´s projects to be long term as oppose to government projects. Finally, a lesson learned during these years, is to try as far as possible, to have a mix of partnerships. This allows having strong programs, reducing vulnerability, and leveraging and potentiating the project impacts.

As oppose to many NGOs, FONCET decided to focus its work where they knew they were creating the most value and create partnerships with other groups to implement the projects. FONCET doesn’t have a big team, they rather partner with local groups and empower them to create an efficient way of investing the resources. This strategy also helps to strengthen partners so that FONCET will not always be needed. This strategy must always be done using the subsidiarity principle.

Monitoring, Evaluation and Communication Strategies

In order to measure the effectiveness of FONCET’s work, FONCET has a clear strategy to measure and evaluate the activities, as well as a communication strategy that can clearly communicate to different audience the work done, the goals and the ways all people can get involved. As an example; FONCET has created a communication program where celebrities are invited to visit El Triunfo Reserve and use their unique talents to reach more people and influence their followers to support conservation activities. FONCET has created a team with actors, filmmakers, theater producers, designers, and chefs, among others. This team has created amazing communication and fundraising programs to conserve El Triunfo. From products that are sold like wine, jewelry, water bottles, to plays, films, dinners, among others, giving a percentage of their work for conservation programs, that raise awareness and financial resources for conserving protected areas.

Monitoring and evaluation of the activities and results are an essential to give transparency to the funds invested in conservation as well as to make necessary adjustments if necessary.

Enabling factors
  1. Strong strategic plan: provides a clear vision towards short, medium and long term objectives as well operative annual plans for each strategic action
  2. Clear messages: transmits the values, achievements and aspirations of the organization to attract and inspire the active participation of communities, donors and allies.
  3. Clear indicators: measurable and quantifiable
  4. Creative programs to reach different audiences: segmented communication to different audiences in order to reach different possible donors
Lesson learned

Regarding the communication strategy, FONCET was very good talking about conservation among conservationist; however, this strategy left out many people who were not conservationist expert but they were willing to participate and become donors. Information for this kind of public become available just few years ago when the communication department was established.

FONCET has built strong relationships with donors and future possible donors creating an information flow for every audience. A lesson learned is to communicate the achievements of FONCET and offer relevant information about El Triunfo. At this point, FONCET wants to become a reliable source for national and international media on conservation and protected areas.

In terms of monitoring and evaluation, FONCET uses the results of the evaluation in order to know the impact of the programs and make necessary adjustments. Although monitoring and evaluation is implemented just recently FONCET recognizes its importance for transparency and will become an important part of its procedures.


FONCET has worked closely with CONANP and other strategic partners in the conservation of the El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve and other protected areas through a very successful mechanism. Over 16 years some of the main impacts are:

  1. 3000 people are benefited from the conservation agriculture and mitigation activities

  2. 5664 hectares are conserved through the Payment for Environmental Services Program

  3. 40% of El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve operation staff is hired thanks to FONCET funding 

  4. 5 full-time park rangers conduct the surveillance in the core areas of El Triunfo

  5. 100 people from local communities are part of the community surveillance brigades which have prevented and fighted forest fires

  6. 22 young local people trained to start an environmental-friendly business to improve their living conditions and those of their communities

  7. 35,000 hectares managed through sustainable practices

  8. FONCET contributes to the National Biodiversity Monitoring System

  9. 142 species have been registered through the biological monitoring, like spider monkey, tapir, jaguar, horned guan, curassow, pajuil, quetzal, puma, king vulture, among others

  10. 28 young local people capacitated as educational puppeteers to support envirionmental actions

  11. 16 years of uninterrupted environmental education campaign

  12. 2350 families benefited from all projects financed by FONCET


  • Local rural communities in five protected areas
  • Urban communities 
  • National Commission of Natural Protected Areas
  • Local NGO's 


Sustainable Development Goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 16 – Peace, justice and strong institutions
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Communities of the Sierra Madre

Located in southeast Mexico, Chiapas is the second most biodiverse state of the country and with the highest number of natural protected areas. One of these is El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve which protects one the last remnants of cloud forest, the most biodiverse and threatened terrestrial ecosystem in Mexico.


Unfortunately, population increase, lack of opportunities, expansion of the agricultural frontier, the frequent fires that accompany these activities, lack of funding, along with natural events like hurricanes, threaten the integrity of the Reserve.


Since the late 90’s was clear that additional support besides the given by the government was crucial to conserve and manage El Triunfo. That is why El Triunfo Conservation Fund (FONCET) was created: to ensure its long term conservation.


FONCET is a non-profit organization that seeks financial resources at a state, national and international levels to finance conservation and social projects in El Triunfo. Strong local participation is one of the main characteristics of FONCET: local entrepreneurs are part of the board and the financial committee, which has allowed to form strategic alliances with various sectors and attract new financing.


FONCET is a young and small organization that in spite of being located in the second poorest state and Mexico’s incipient culture of donation, has managed to increase their donors’ list and receive larger donations.

In just few years, FONCET has achieved great results and earned an honorable reputation across the country. They have been invited to present their experience to other Natural Protected Areas in Mexico to create a financial mechanism using FONCET as an example. It is important to mention that is not only recognized by its counterparts as well as other NGO’s, but also by local communities that see in them a reliable NGO.  

In 2017, FONCET was invited to become a regional fund so that more protected areas, besides El Triunfo, have additional funds for their management. This will allow to conserve more protected natural areas and, therefore, the natural capital of Chiapas, as well as to promote the welfare of local communities.


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