Indigenous Funding: “From Little Things, Big Things Grow”

Written by Peter Kostishack, Director of Programs

In the mid-1990s tourism resort entrepreneurs carried out a land reclamation project on Serangan Island in Indonesia, tripling its size and connecting it by road to Bali. The result was the destruction of the coral reefs that sustained the fish populations upon which Serangan fisherfolk depended.

Unwilling to see their livelihood disappear, the islanders set out to restore the reef on their own by replanting it, one coral at a time.  They created an organization, Karya Segara, and learned from other communities that had successfully rehabilitated coral. With some local government support, and an early grant of $5,000 from Global Greengrants Fund, the group began to plant 5,000 coral cuttings on the sea floor.

The initial effort was an enormous success, so they began to engage tourists in reviving this lagoon by allowing them to ‘adopt’ a coral stump. Today, this small project has expanded to 35,000 corals covering two of the five hectares that were destroyed 15 years ago.  Community leaders are now invited to other islands to share their knowledge and are contracted by local resorts to restore coral off of their beaches.

Below: Wayan Patut, the head of Karya Segara, caring for the coral samples; attendees of the IFIP conference in the streets; the coral replanting in action.

Indigenous Peoples and Funders Summit: Finding Commonalities

This example of indigenous knowledge and stewardship of nature was just one of dozens of inspiring stories shared at the Asia/Pacific Indigenous Peoples Resource Sustainability and Funders Summit in Bali from March 26-29, 2011. The gathering was organized by the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), International Funders for Indigenous Peoples (IFIP) and the Samdhana Institute, and sponsored in part by the Greengrants Alliance of Funds.

The Summit brought together a remarkable diversity of indigenous leaders from the region ranging from Siberia to Australia.  They shared strategies they have used to map their territories; secure their rights to their lands, cultures, and resources; respond to the urgent challenge of climate change; build partnerships with funders; and establish their own forms of local philanthropy.  In turn, donors shared their funding strategies; mapped new funding flows from the climate agreements and emerging Asian philanthropies; and examined how funding can better support indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination.

With the Right Approach, “From Little Things, Big Things Grow”

The majority of philanthropic programs and policies are set up to support one type of organization: the non-governmental organization or NGO.  Indigenous peoples’ organizations, however, are structured differently than NGOs, often with broader missions, mandates and representation. The program silos of funders (e.g. environment, human rights, health) are usually too limited to fully accommodate indigenous world views, and timelines and evaluation frameworks rarely fit community calendars or priorities.  As a result, successful alliances between indigenous peoples and funders are surprisingly rare.

Even rarer are spaces for dialogue, such as the Summit, where funders and indigenous leaders can share their respective challenges, identify common goals, and explore ways to collaborate.  And the need to find effective channels for support is urgent.  Sea level rise and frequent storms are destroying ancient settlements and decades of indigenous coastal management.  Dams, mines, and plantations, established without community consent, are pushing indigenous peoples into more and more confined territories. To confront these challenges, funding must be adaptive. It must promote resiliency and self-sufficiency, involve indigenous peoples in decision-making, and enable communities to secure and exercise their rights over their lands and natural resources.

One reassuring lesson learned by the Serangan fisherfolk is that sometimes it doesn’t take a lot of money to tip the scales in the right direction.  Or, in the words of Carol Pettersen, a Noongar elder from Western Australia, “From little things, big things grow.”

For an in-depth look at the IFIP Summit, you can download the Summit Magazine (PDF).

Peter Kostishack

Peter Kostishack

Prior to coming to Global Greengrants Fund in 2008 as Director of Programs, Peter coordinated a coalition of indigenous and non-governmental organizations protecting the Amazon Basin, advised funders on how to partner with indigenous peoples’ organizations, helped communities in Peru monitor natural gas development on their lands, and mapped the alpine plant communities on Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Peter has an MESc in Social Ecology and Community Development from Yale University and a B.A. in Biology from Harvard University.