Oak Foundation: Grants for Marine Conservation

OVERVIEW: The Oak Foundation is an international foundation that has 11 program areas. The foundation facilitates marine conservation efforts through its environment program, which is divided between climate change and marine conservation. , and a recently added wildlife subprogram. The funder’s marine giving is in the process of shifting from a highly regional approach to one that is more broadly based around issues. 

IP TAKE: While still giving in many of its select regions in Europe, the Arctic, East Asia, and Africa, Oak is looking to have a more global presence, focusing on fisheries and plastic waste.  

PROFILE: Established in 1983, the Oak Foundation is a global foundation headquartered in Geneva and derived from the wealth of the Duty Free Shoppers business. It deals strictly with big global problems. The foundation commits "its resources to address issues of global, social and environmental concern, particularly those that have a major impact on the lives of the disadvantaged." One of eleven separate programs, the Oak Foundation also oversees an environment program. 

Oak's environment program seeks to create more "socially and environmentally sustainable societies, for the protection of endangered species and for the transformation of how oceans are perceived and exploited." The program focuses on three areas: "safeguarding a clean climate future for our children; cleaning up our oceans; and eliminating the cruel and illegal trade in endangered wildlife." Its marine conservation grantmaking supports sustainable development; contributions to the integrity of marine ecosystems; and enhancing the wellbeing of coastal and indigenous communities. It has shifted its marine conservation to fisheries, both small and industrial, and reducing plastic waste in bodies of water.  

The foundation previously organized its marine conservation funding around regions—North Pacific and the Arctic, Mesoamerica, and Europe. While Oak is not necessarily shuttering giving in all of these areas, but it announced it would be winding down its 20-year commitment to marine work in Belize, leaving behind an endowment to support the work, but closing its offices and direct involvement. At this point, work in Europe, the Arctic, East Asia, and Africa is continuing. 

Industrial Fisheries: This subprogram seeks to address the world’s depleting fish stocks and the loss of livelihoods by making industrial fishing more sustainable. In particular, it’s working to crack down on illegal fishing in the waters of developing countries. 

Small-Scale Fisheries: This is the other side of the coin when it comes to making fishing sustainable. Many small coastal villages in developing countries rely on their fisheries, and are threatened by industrial fishing practices and other development. The initiative seeks to find a better balance to protect coastal resources. 

Plastic Waste: This has been a popular issue lately with increased awareness around the massive ocean trash gyres and plastic garbage making its way to our waters. There haven’t been many large foundations stepping to the plate on this one, so reducing plastic waste could become a signature niche for Oak. The funder plans to back work in research,  changing mindsets, improving regulations, and modernizing trash collection and recycling in developing countries. 

This will be a very interesting stage for Oak in the next five years, as it balances previous commitments with its emerging strategy. It is also difficult to tell what its giving will look like in the future as it develops. 

Oak does accept LOIs online, year round, and responds within three months. But it will take time, determination, and a relevant and impressive program to begin a relationship.

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