José Dualok Rojas Ortiz

Fellow Ashoka
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Costa Rica
Fellow dal 1996
This description of José Dualok Rojas Ortiz's work was prepared when José Dualok Rojas Ortiz was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1996.


José Dualok has designed the first comprehensive strategic development plan to unite all indigenous groups in Costa Rica. The larger aim is to spread this model to indigenous populations worldwide.

La nuova idea

As coordinator and consolidator of Sejekto, José Dualok has welded the eight existing indigenous ethnic groups of Costa Rica into a united front, and designed and developed a unique sustainable development plan for all of these groups. This plan includes financial, economic, communication, training, environmental, education, research, science, technology and legal rights issues for implementation at the national level. The long-term plan seeks to improve the standard of living for indigenous populations by offering them the opportunity to knowledgeably participate in a more modern economic system, while simultaneously allowing them to preserve their cultural values and natural resources in a sustainable manner.
José is the first person in Costa Rica who has succeeded in uniting more than 22 indigenous groups from the eight main "tribes" of Costa Rica. He provides the necessary leadership and innovative approaches to address many of their pressing concerns.
The chief vehicle for this unprecedented mobilization is a formal "Strategic Plan for Sustainable Development," which for the first time unites indigenous people in a new kind of "defense" against external forces and actors.

Il problema

Indigenous peoples' most urgent needs involve health, land rights, employment, education, housing, infrastructure and respect for their culture and their rights.

In Costa Rica's case, indigenous people were not recognized as citizens until 1992 and people have essentially been left out of Costa Rica and Central America's development process. In particular, indigenous people have consistently been denied access to financing and credit, and effectively, therefore, from the formal economy.

Indigenous leaders from various groups have traditionally met with each other in long-standing fora for inter-tribal communication and collaboration. They have also long recognized the need to develop a comprehensive framework for appropriate development for the entire indigenous population in Costa Rica. But none, before now, have been able to design a viable plan of action.

La strategia

José built from the existing base of inter-tribal communication and, through extensive dialogue among representatives of all member groups, identified the most pressing common problems among Costa Rica's indigenous population. These included: environmental degradation of indigenous traditional lands, unemployment and the lack of job opportunities on or near reservations, the loss of traditional agricultural practices, malnutrition, and lack of access to credit. Woven through all of these problems is the disintegration of families, largely due to the urban migration of young people in search of work.

José then worked with the coalition of indigenous representatives to develop effective solutions to each of these problems. He incorporated these into the Strategic Plan for Sustainable Development, and began to strengthen Sejekto's institutional capacity to implement the plan. Jose's plan involves several overlapping components.

First, José seeks to economically strengthen indigenous communities. He established the Costa Rican Bank for Indigenous Development, the first private commercial indigenous bank in Latin America. José then set up a trusteeship with the Banco Popular of Costa Rica, and obtained $2,000,000 initial capital from the Interamerican Development Bank. The Indigenous Development Bank will provide loans to indigenous individuals and communities, charging interest according to need. The Bank will primarily provide otherwise lacking economic resources and credit to indigenous producers (such as artisans and small-scale farmers), and connect them too technical expertise through Sejekto's other programs. It will also serve as a job creation mechanism, as indigenous people will be recruited and trained to hold all banking positions. José seeks to consolidate the Bank's operation in Costa Rica, and replicate it throughout Latin America in all counties with indigenous populations.

Furthermore, José has developed a multifaceted training and technical assistance/research arm of Sejekto. He is recruiting a team of "resource personnel" who can address various training needs. First, he will introduce comprehensive financial training tailored to each indigenous community, which will include basic aspects of personal and professional financial management, loan eligibility and maintenance, and basic business management. Training will take into account the relative lack of formal schooling among most indigenous groups, and will provide communities and individuals with the tools and capacity to confidently use modern credit and banking facilities. José is establishing a permanent administrative follow-up team to work with each community as they apply for loans, establish micro-enterprises, and design and implement community-wide development projects. He is already working with international networks to connect emerging indigenous businesses to viable markets. For instance, in early 1996 he attended Denmark's Seminar on Indigenous People's Products and Businesses, introducing several traditional Costa Rican handicrafts and discussing their possible commercialization with international businesses.

Another aspect of the training/technical assistance component involves research and consolidation of traditional indigenous "know-how," such as the use of medicinal plants, sustainable agricultural methods, and environmental knowledge. This information will be compiled for both preservation and application across indigenous and non-indigenous communities, as well as for legislative protection as indigenous intellectual property. José is also exploring new economic opportunities based on traditional knowledge and practice, such as establishing agro-industrial plants and artisan industries. These may help curb urban migration in pursuit of employment.

A final aspect of the training component of José's plan involves strengthening the capacity of local schools to incorporate indigenous culture and values into their educational mission. José has set up a training program for indigenous teachers and students that teaches environmental issues from indigenous perspectives. He is working toward the integration of other indigenous knowledge in all school curricula.

A communications strategy complements the Bank and the training programs. José will strengthen the production of "La Voz del Indio," an existing magazine that serves as a bulletin and important communication vehicle among Costa Rica's indigenous groups. José will then create a television program called "La Voz de los Pueblos Indígenas de Costa Rica" which will be broadcast through a private television station and will highlight the implementation of the Strategic Plan for Sustainable Development among different indigenous communities. José will also develop a communication system through which communities, organizations, and business (indigenous and non-indigenous alike) exchange information and technical advice regarding the implementation of development projects. This communication vehicle will also serve to strengthen ongoing communication among different indigenous groups, and stimulate the cross-fertilization of their experiences in each of Sejekto's programs. As José implements each component of the plan, he will strengthen Sejekto's capacity to effectively manage and follow-up each project's progress. He will consolidate a core team of technical advisors in Sejekto's central office, and equip and expand Sejekto's regional offices around the country.

La persona

José Dualok, son of indigenous farmers, was born and raised with twelve brothers and sisters in an indigenous community that belongs to the Bribri tribe. He managed to study by securing a job. In high school he took the initiative to start a residence hall for the indigenous students. His residential project still exists in Buenos Aires of Puntarenas and hundreds of indigenous students have been able to study and live in this small town thanks to José's effort. José was the first indigenous person in Costa Rica to graduate from the university. With the creation and management of Sejekto, José has established an institution through which he can launch and follow through on his efforts to improve his people's condition.