Working In Cuba? Ford May Have Some Pesos For You

President Obama’s easing of the Cuba embargo last month drew enthusiastic applause from the folks at the Ford Foundation. The foundation has been pushing for better U.S.-Cuba relations for decades. And by the looks of things, it will continue to do so. That’s great news, incidentally, for any nonprofits whose work involves Cuba.

“This momentous policy change has been years in the making. It represents the hard work of innumerable organizations and leaders who stood firm in the belief that this change was not only possible, but necessary,” the foundation said in a Dec. 17 statement.

Judging by its own record of giving, Ford definitely holds a place among those organizations. Numerous university exchanges that bring U.S. students to Cuba or vice versa have gotten Ford funding over the years. So have many documentaries and art expos that showcase Cuban life to U.S. audiences.

Ford has been tacitly helping to promote positive reforms within Cuba, as well. Its sphere of action is understandably limited here, given that Cuba is still an autocratic state. But to the extent that it can, Ford manages to find opportunities to help improve living conditions on the island without locking horns with Havana.

Cooperation on conservation is a case in point. Ford has fostered partnerships that bring researchers from both countries together to figure out how Cuban communities can more effectively manage their fisheries, recover from natural disasters, and be better stewards of the environment.

Some political movements get Ford’s backing, too. The foundation isn’t bankrolling any attempts to overthrow the regime, to be clear. But it has lent a hand to efforts to fight discrimination and expand gender diversity.

Now that the U.S. government is permitting more U.S. interaction with Cuba, Ford is in the position of being able to organize and fund more ventures on the island nation and to get even more done with them. (Assuming that the foundation doesn't shift away from this priority as a result of the strategic planning it's now doing.)

Mario Bronfman, Ford’s Central and South America representative, wrote recently of a slow but indisputable loosening he’s been seeing of the controls that the Castros have maintained over everyday life on the island since the revolution. Bronfman is hopeful that this change process will continue, and that Ford will find ways to be a part of it.

“We have been determined to seize on opportunities we believe will lead to meaningful progress, including the significant political changes taking place in the country, particularly the approval of Raul Castro’s reform package,” he wrote, adding that he is also heartened by “Cuba’s increased integration into the regional and international community, and the U.S. ceasing restrictions on cultural and educational travel and exchange.”

So if your organization is working on Cuban issues—or, better yet, is already on Cuban soil—Ford might be a great funder to call. At the same time, keep an eye out for any program changes at the foundation in coming months that affect its Latin America grantmaking.