The Nature of Conservation Enterprises

  • Date Posted: February 11, 2021
  • Organizations: USAID, The Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment (E3)
  • Document Types: Evaluation
  • Donor Type: US Agency for International Development


A Nepali community
Nepali community. Photo by: Jason Houston, USAID.

Small enterprise development is a common approach used by development organizations in biodiversity conservation, agriculture, and other economic growth strategies to generate increased income for rural communities. It is assumed that these benefits will lead participants to change behaviors related to agricultural practices or to natural resource exploitation, or that improved livelihoods will lead to better human development outcomes. However, a recent systematic review of the literature found a lack of evidence connecting alternative livelihood programs to changes in the behaviors of participants.

To learn more about the assumptions behind enterprise approaches, USAID’s Office of Forestry and Biodiversity conducted a twenty-year retrospective evaluation, “The Nature of Conservation Enterprises,” to examine the theory of change behind this widely used international development approach.   

This rare look-back at enterprise approaches included a review of six sites where an enterprise approach to conservation has been implemented for 20 years or more. At each site, implementing partners and stakeholders were interviewed to examine the conditions needed for enterprise establishment and long-term sustainable outcomes.