Going to the Source Direct Funding for the Long Term

The Oak Foundation’s relationship with the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM) in Belize illustrates how a large foundation can give directly to an isolated indigenous community and achieve huge impact.

A major factor that initiated this long-term relationship was the mandate from a trustee that the foundation commit more resources on the ground. At that time, Maya and Garifuna traditional peoples in southern Belize had started to organize after learning that the government had turned part of their territory into a national park where it planned to drill for oil. Eventually the five affected Maya communities decided to bring the issue to court, beginning close to twenty years of legal battles.

The Oak Foundation first support SATIIM to complement a World Bank Development Marketplace grant for a sustainable community forestry program. This support was also given to help them “graduate to receive better and sustainable funding from other organizations” said Imani Fairweather Morrison, mesoamerican program coordinator. She was able to make the case internally based on her confidence in SATIIM’s leadership and activism. “They are taking on huge battles; it’s not easy to reach 30-40 communities spread out in a remote region to keep them united on thorny issues, to deal with major litigation,
and bring in media nationally while engaging local leaders,” she said.

“We made the conscious decision to give them a larger, long-term grant so they wouldn’t need to invest resources in writing proposals to us every year,” said Imani. “We didn’t want our grantmaking to be a burden.” It was decided that SATIIM would still file reports every year, but the grants would be multi-year (three years on average) and consistent. For more than ten years, Oak has supported the organization’s core costs. This flexibility freed SATIIM’s staff to devote their time to the goals of the funding—strengthening Maya land rights and traditional environmental defense.

The Oak Foundation ties this financial flexibility with fluid communication to ensure transparency and progress toward goals. “SATIIM and other grantees check in all the time. They invite us to their functions and keep us apprised. We monitor the press, get the other side of the story, and triangulate with other stakeholders,” Imani said. Oak’s decision to adapt its support for SATIIM enabled isolated communities in Belize to take on both a national government and a foreign oil company. A series of court cases have lead to the Maya’s newest initiative to map their lands in preparation for collective land titles.

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Funding Indigenous Peoples.