First reflections of the Follow the Money initiative

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First reflections of the Follow the Money initiative


28 February 2017

It’s a simple idea with a sophisticated underlying method – a set of databases that help local communities defend and secure their land rights.

And one year after its official launch, Follow the Money, an initiative funded by the Mekong Region Land Governance, has sparked a renewed initiative among communities affected by harmful land investments.

The initiative is an innovative strategy to improve accountability of large-scale investment projects to safeguard environmental and social responsibility standards and create stronger land right protections.

By using sophisticated financial databases, FTM uncovers who profits from harmful land-based investments.

Launched in January 2016, the project supports community-based organisations with investment chain mappings in an easy-to-understand memo that identifies key pressure points and potential advocacy strategies.

In the past year, FTM has gained traction in the Mekong region, with 20 requests for investment chain mapping (11 from Cambodia, 6 from Myanmar, 2 from Laos and 1 from Viet Nam), and was able to provide in-depth maps and analysis for all cases.

At a recent workshop in Phnom Penh, project implementers Inclusive Development International and Equitable Cambodia invited partners from the Mekong region to reflect on the initiative a year on from its launch.

Participants shared information on investment chains and how the information is being used in advocacy strategies, to present emerging trends from the analysis and to evaluate FTM’s effectiveness in helping communities.

Some were representing organisations that are already using FTM information in their ongoing advocacy for local communities, and were able to share their experiences in dealing with investment projects.

Included in the workshop was the presentation of four case studies from Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam of investment projects that have had severe impacts on the livelihoods of communities and the environment.

What emerged as a key lesson was that it is vital to follow a multi-pronged approach when identifying potential pressure points – areas in which financers, buyers and suppliers have acted against their own social and environmental standards – and using them in advocacy strategies.

Another lesson was that engagement with investors takes time and needs to be carefully planned.

Participants also reflected on how useful the investment chain analysis data was for their work with communities, and how the provision and explanation of data could be improved.

But in at least one case, it was clear that new data and possible advocacy strategies had renewed the energy in communities that were looking to defend their land rights in the future.