Academic Publication

Transformational Change for Achieving Scale: Lessons for a Greener Recovery

Geeta Batra
Jeneen Garcia
Kseniya Temnenko
Juha I. Uitto
Springer | GEF Independent Evaluation Office
Publication Year:
February 09, 2022
  • SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy
  • SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action


Achieving transformational changes that can be then effectively scaled up requires ambition in design, a supportive policy environment, sound project design and implementation, partnerships, and multistakeholder participation. This chapter presents a framework that can be applied at the design stage to plan for change and scaling up and provides relevant lessons based on GEF interventions. Achieving change and scale can be an iterative and a continuous process until impacts are generated at the magnitude and scope of the targeted scale. Successful transformations typically adopt a systems approach and address multiple constraints to attain environmental and other socioeconomic impacts.


COVID-19 has transformed our lives in unfathomable ways—it has altered our behaviors, cities, and the environment. It has also affirmed the inextricable link between the broader ecosystem in which we live and human health. Land mismanagement, habitat loss, overexploitation of wildlife, and human-induced climate change have created multiple pathways for pathogens to transmit from wildlife to domestic animals and humans, affecting our health and well-being.

A recent report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) concluded that future pandemics will emerge more often, spread more rapidly, kill more people, and impact the global economy more than COVID-19 unless there is a transformative change to address these infectious diseases (Daszak et al., 2020). In fact, the pandemic has made it clear that solutions and future avoidance will require a transformative, systems approach to reduce the global environmental changes caused by unsustainable consumption; these changes drive biodiversity loss; climate change; pollution of oceans, land, and air; and pandemic emergence (Global Environment Facility [GEF], 2020). But the news is not all negative. As pointed out by Professor Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum, “The pandemic represents a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine, and reset our world” (2020, para. 15). It provides a chance to develop an ambitious approach to safeguarding environmental support systems through legal and regulatory instruments, policy measures, capacity building, technological innovations, and scaling-up and replication of demonstrated instruments. Monitoring, evaluation, knowledge, and learning activities can play a critical role in assessing progress against initiatives implemented, informing adaptive management, and demonstrating results on environmental outcomes and on socioeconomic benefits generated. Evaluation, while generating lessons for scaling up tested approaches based on prior evidence, is also responding to this call for a systems-based approach to understanding transformation (GEF IEO, 2018; Patton, 2020; Picciotto, 20092020; Uitto, 2019; van den Berg et al., 2019; World Bank Group, Independent Evaluation Group [IEG], 2016).

Addressing the linkages among biodiversity loss, climate change, and emerging diseases is imperative to preventing future pandemics. Globally, there are few funds like the Global Environment Facility, which is positioned to catalyze the transformational change in biodiversity and other environmental areas to reverse the worrisome trends in the global environment. Established in 1992, the GEF is the principal financial mechanism for the Convention on Biological Diversity and an important financial mechanism for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, and the Minamata Convention on Mercury. Working through its 18 agencies, the GEF has provided close to $20 billion in grants and mobilized an additional $107 billion in cofinancing for more than 4,700 projects in 170 countries. The GEF also funds projects in international waters and sustainable forest management that support implementation of global and regional multilateral environmental agreements. Recently, the GEF has promoted multifocal and integrated interventions that interact with broader natural and human systems, with the objective of achieving deep, systemic, and sustainable change with large-scale impact.

Over its nearly 3 decades, the GEF has designed and implemented interventions that have proven to be “transformative,” with some pilot initiatives that were subsequently scaled up to achieve results at larger scale. This chapter draws on two recent evaluations investigating transformational change and scaling-up, conducted by the GEF Independent Evaluation Office (IEO), which developed systematic approaches to understand the pathways to transformational change and provide relevant lessons based on GEF interventions.

A Framework for Transformational Change and Achieving Scale

The GEF IEO evaluation to explore GEF support for transformational change defined such change as: deep, systemic, and sustainable change with large-scale impact in an area of global environmental concern (GEF IEO, 2018).1 The underlying theory of change is that by strategically selecting projects that address global environmental concerns and are designed to support fundamental changes in key systems or markets, the GEF engages in interventions that are more likely to lead to a sustainable, large-scale impact, assuming good project design and implementation and supportive contextual conditions. The theory of change is shown in Fig. 1.

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