Interview with Hermann Faith, executive director, Costa Rica-United States Foundation for Cooperation

Interview by Katiana Murillo, Rainforest Alliance

“The country is doing a poor job in addressing water issues, but someone has to tackle this problem. It involves technical, political, and economic factors.”

The Costa Rica — United States Foundation for Cooperation (CR-USA Foundation) serves as a bi-national mechanism designed to encourage international cooperation. It is a private, non-profit organization that promotes cooperation between the two countries, within the framework of sustainable development, by supporting projects in technical cooperation, technology transfer, and capacity building. CR-USA’s priorities are education, science and technology, the environment, and development competition.

CR-USA is financed by an endowment fund established by an agreement between the two countries with funds remaining after the United States Agency for International Development completed its mission and pulled out of Costa Rica in 1996. CR-USA provides support to nonprofit organizations and government institutions with missions similar to its own. It works mainly with organizations that contribute to Costa Rican citizens’ quality of life.

We spoke to Hermann Faith, executive director of CR-USA, to learn about the foundation’s first six years of work and future challenges in the environmental field.

Question: What role does CR-USA play in the environmental field?

Faith: We have developed two large-scale projects and have also funded small projects. One of the larger projects is the National Environmental Forum, which we opened to members of the general public interested in different aspects of the environment. The meetings and panels held in 2001 focused on different topics and established priorities for the work agenda. This was a different type of consultation because of its open nature and the fact that it was not convened by the government, conservation groups, or academics. The forum participants included people with different points of view — pro and con — including academics, technicians, politicians, and scientists from all sectors who have expertise in different areas, such as water, technologies, conservation, management, etc.

Each group met regularly during the course of the year to set an agenda of priority topics. This required consensus among the scientists, technicians, and academics. Although it was not an easy task, it was valuable because all the participants were able to express their opinions. The results are available in CD format.

I feel that the most important work accomplished in the environmental field is in terms of national impact. We would like this experience to continue in the future. CR-USA has arranged funding for CENAT (National Center of High Technology) to take over the responsibility for the project as part of its work in sustainable development and clean technologies.

The other large environmental project is a fundraising campaign for the Osa Peninsula. This is a crucial region because of its remarkable biological diversity, but it has been somewhat neglected. The project’s goal is to raise $30 million. CR-USA, as the sponsor, plans to contribute 10 percent of this.

The funds will be used for several purposes:

 

  • Up to $10 million will be used to finish purchasing and consolidating Piedras Blancas National Park. Fifty percent of the land remains to be purchased.
  • Funds will help promote sustainable development within the biological corridor that unties Piedras Blancas National Park with Corcovado National Park.
  • Up to $10 million is earmarked for an endowment fund that will be used to develop management plans and to maintain protected areas of the Osa Peninsula.

The Osa project began as a CR-USA initiative and then developed into a consortium with three other participating organizations: Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and the government of Costa Rica through the Ministry of the Environment. Conservation International focuses entirely on the corridor; TNC on the consolidation of Piedras Blancas National Park; and CR-USA on the designated fund in Corcovado. The ministry of the environment is the final beneficiary. We believe that a consortium of organizations that includes the government is an interesting alliance that will enhance our fundraising efforts. It is a slow process that could take at least five years — we started this year — to complete.

Q: What type of environmental projects does CR-USA support?

Faith: We defined the project criteria a few years ago. One year, for example, we focused on in situ conservation. Priorities remain unchanged for one or two years to provide project stability and to have a greater impact.

We will not be accepting project proposals this year. The Environmental Forum allowed us to consult with experts on priority issues, which provided us with criteria on which to base our decisions. This enables us to fund projects based on priorities and not simply because the project or organization happens to appeal to us. We plan to develop a consultation process to obtain information for the design of a strategic plan and its implementation for the next five years in the areas of environment, science, and technology.

Q: How would you evaluate CR-USA’s work over the past six years? What has worked the best?

Faith: The most significant accomplishment has been that we helped to strengthen partnerships that already existed between organizations, and we helped encourage new partnerships. I want to emphasize that these are not CR-USA partnerships but that CR-USA just helped establish the partnerships. Our main goal is to ensure that an organization in Costa Rica develops a partnership with an organization in the United States so that they can together create joint, cooperative programs related to technology transfer. We of course provide funding to make this happen. In some cases, we have used our resources to leverage additional funding.

Q: Which organizations can qualify for CR-USA funding for environmental projects?

Faith: For our non-refundable contributions to achieve the greatest results in the communities or in the country, and not only benefit one particular group, we have worked primarily with NGOs and educational organizations, although we can work in the private sector as well.

Q: How do you select projects for funding?

Faith: Our methodology is quite straightforward. We follow a set of policies and requirements. We have a form with a requirement check list for each proposal. Each project is given a reference number and is assigned to independent evaluators who are experts in their fields. Projects for in situ conservation are evaluated by a group that is knowledgeable in this area. If it is a project for watershed management or the management of renewable resources in a specific area, an appropriate group of experts reviews it. Each group consists of at least three people with a maximum of five. Each person reads and studies the project individually. Then, as a group, they discuss the project, and give it a rating and a recommendation. Each person on the recommending panel must sign an agreement of confidentiality and conflict of interest.

This recommendation is submitted to the board of directors where the final decision is made about whether to approve the project. A positive recommendation does not automatically mean that the project is approved. The availability of funds and the number of projects in the same area are also taken into account. When the project form is completed, it is important to specify what will be accomplished and if it meets CR-USA funding criteria.

The evaluation team is provided with a manual of evaluation criteria so that uniform criteria are used to evaluate the project in terms of methodology, impact, accomplishments, objectives, etc.

Q: Could you give an example of a CR-USA-funded project that you think has had a particularly important impact on the environment?

Faith: There are currently 80 active projects in all the areas. One that I find quite interesting is a project carried out jointly by the Organization for Tropical Studies and the communities of the lower watershed of the Tempisque River. They jointly studied how the water provided by the watershed was being used, in order to establish appropriate usage fees. I found it particularly interesting because it involves the collaboration of a technical organization, user communities, and the people who would benefit if we charged for this environmental service.

Q: What is your vision of CR-USA’s role in the future?

Faith: We are discussing important structural changes. We want to dedicate CR-USA funds in areas where they can have the greatest impact and result in important changes. For example, wastewater discharge into the rivers is a problem. The country is doing a poor job in addressing water issues, but someone has to tackle this problem. It involves technical, political, and economic factors. What we have to figure out is how to apply the leverage that will bring about this change. We are not sure how yet, but we believe that we need to be more strategic in the use of our resources. I feel that we have done a good job but it is our duty to improve in order to have an even greater impact, just as the impact of our projects today is greater than it was five years ago.

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