Development funds, be it for conservation, research and infrastructure, are there to serve countries and their people. Ideally, such funds should be innovative and flexible, and able to respond to local conditions with agility. They should be approached from a bottom-up management perspective, with the inclusion of local stakeholders, to whom funds from the trust are targeted. Top-down processes do not always allow for such versatility.

However, trust funds such as the Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust (SeyCCAT) are a good example of how top-down processes can be translated into systems better suited to their environments by local managers. SeyCCAT provides grants to Seychellois with the aim of developing a sustainable blue economy. Local managers serve as a vital link between donors and stakeholders. They are a part of the fabric of local contexts, are able to develop personal relationships with local communities while understanding the needs of the donors.

A personal connection to local environments is absent from the many trusts that are managed by external entities. Local managers can understand the barriers facing stakeholders when attempting to access funds. For SeyCCAT, this means understanding that the application process may seem daunting to those who are not NGOs with experience applying for funds and providing application guidance to those who need it. At the core of the trust fund should be accessibility and inclusivity, despite differences in incomes, educational backgrounds, and professions among grant applicants.

Locally managed trusts can closely supervise the planning and implementation of projects funded by the trusts.  At the stage of implementation, local managers can develop and maintain relationships with project grantees and constantly ensure that funds are being used appropriately by grantees. In comparison, external managers may fly in only once a year to supervise projects. Not only is the capacity for the supervision of external donors limited to the short periods of time that they spend in the countries, but these external donors may also lack an understanding of local contexts and the constraints.

Since assuming the role of CEO of SeyCCAT, Angelique Pouponneau, is keen to make a case for locally managed Trust Funds, both in Seychelles and internationally. When Angelique Pouponneau joined the organisation in 2019, she was met with many challenges, including the absorption of funds. With an application of local knowledge, SeyCCAT saw an increase in applications from 15 applications a year to 49 applications to 73 in her first and second year respectively. This was achieved through capacity building for grantees, using simple terminology, developing glossaries and communications tools that are easy to access and easy to use and permitting grant applications in both Creole and English. Constant outreach within fishing communities and among the general public ensured that applicants were not only from large organisations with experience applying for grants. SeyCCAT’s experience is a testament to the fact that if such trust funds are to be effective, it is imperative that they are spearheaded by local managers.

SeyCCAT enables a kind of symbiosis between donors and stakeholders. It maintains the standards of donors, of transparency, of accountability, and most of all ensure the development of a sustainable blue economy, whilst making the grants understandable and accessible to all.  Project applicants can now see that the faces of the trust are those that they know and recognise and that the trusts are truly a part of the community which they strive to serve.

Contributed by Upeksha Hettiarachchi