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139 posts categorized "Environment"

Calling the Piper’s Tune

April 28, 2015

Headshot_mark_rosenmanNonprofit endorsements for sale? That might be the takeaway when more than thirty charities in the District of Columbia write to government regulators in support of a popularly opposed regulatory action sought by a local funder, with many even lending their logos to full-page newspaper ads.

Pepco, a regional electric utility that serves the District (and mid-Atlantic region) wants to sell itself ­to Exelon, a national energy company with a poor reputation among environmental groups and consumer advocates. The overwhelming majority of the charities endorsing the acquisition in letters to DC's Public Service Commission (DCPSC) have a couple of things in common: they have no environmental mission or apparent expertise on energy issues, and they have received or benefited from Pepco philanthropic funding, which Exelon promises to continue for ten years.

The offered premium of 24 percent over market valuation is enough to convince Pepco to seek approval to sell its electric distribution network to Exelon. The opportunity to become the largest utility company in the country and use Pepco’s significant ratepayer base to dilute its nuclear electric generation investments is motivation enough for Exelon. But what’s in it for local charities?

A big part of the answer was summed up nicely by Meta Williams, the regional development director in the United Negro College Fund's Washington, D.C. Area Office. In a letter to D.C Public Service commissioner Brinda Westbrook-Sedgwick, Ms. Williams noted that Pepco and Exelon are important donors to UNCF, provide a great deal of support to other charities, and are admirable corporate citizens, making their plan worthy of endorsement. Yet, she went on to say in conversation with me that she had not considered environmental, energy, or related issues in deciding to write to the Public Service Commission, that policy was not made in her office, and that she was speaking only for UNCF's fundraising arm and not for the organization itself – none of which is clear from her letter.

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5 Questions for…Bill McKibben, Co-Founder, 350.org

April 17, 2015

Forty-five years after the first Earth Day in 1970, efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have stalled and the planet faces the potentially devastating effects of accelerating climate change. At the same time, calls for educational and philanthropic institutions to rid themselves of investments in fossil fuel companies have gotten louder and a grassroots divestment movement has emerged from college campuses across the country.

PND asked noted environmental activist and author Bill McKibben about the impact of the fossil fuel divestment movement, the role of philanthropy in the fight against climate change, and the prospect that something meaningful will come out of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris later this year.

Bill_mckibben_for_PhilanTopicPhilanthropy News Digest: The name of the organization you co-founded, 350.org, refers to the goal of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the current level of 400 parts per million to 350 ppm — a level, according to climatologist James Hansen and others, that is necessary to preserve conditions on Earth similar to those which prevailed as humans evolved and flourished. Where do things stand as of 2015? And do we have any chance of meeting the 350 ppm target?

Bill McKibben: Where we stand is the CO2 level in the atmosphere climbs 2 ppm annually — and the Arctic and the Antarctic are dealing with preposterous changes that even the most pessimistic scientists thought would take many decades to arrive, oceans are acidifying, and the cycle of floods and droughts is deepening. If we managed to get off fossil fuels with great haste — if we worked at the outer edge of the possible — then by 2100 forests and oceans would have sucked up enough carbon that we'd be moving back toward 350 ppm. Much damage would be done in the meantime, but perhaps not civilizational-scale damage. But that window is small, and closing.

PND: 350.org’s Fossil Free campaign aims to convince educational and religious institutions, governments, and other organizations that serve the public good to divest their investment portfolios of fossil fuel companies. One frequently heard criticism of the campaign is that it is trying to put out a fire with a garden hose. That is, getting a few dozen or hundred institutional investors to divest their portfolios of fossil fuels will have no measurable impact on the activities of large energy companies — or on other investors who may see an opportunity as those stocks are sold. What’s wrong with that argument?

BM: If it was all anyone was doing, it would not be enough, not even close. Of course, we're also fighting against new pipelines and coal mines, and for the rapid spread of renewable energy. But divestment is one of the things that knits it together — it's been the vehicle for spreading the news that these companies have four times the carbon in their reserves than any scientist thinks we can safely burn. That's why everyone, up to the president of the World Bank, has hailed divestment as a crucial part of the fight.

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In Pursuit of Better Outcomes Through Transparency-Fueled Adaptability

March 13, 2015

AdaptabilityIf you're a small foundation aiming to achieve greater philanthropic impact, how can transparency be a tool? At the JRS Biodiversity Foundation, we're using it to drive impact through better project management and improved grantee relationships: transparency for adaptability rather than accountability.

Open access to biodiversity information to benefit nature and society is our mission. The principle that data access enables change applies to philanthropy as well as conservation and aligns well with our foundation strategy and culture. And transparency underlies a number of our practices, including customized progress and financial reports, detailed report reviews, amended grant agreements and plans, and regularly updated project Web pages.

From the first steps in the grant application process through the final grant report, we try to model and achieve openness and accessibility. An important moment for new grantee relationships is an orientation video-conference that introduces our approach to managing the funded project. We use the call and future communications to promote the continued refinement of thoughtful qualitative and quantitative indicators that can lighten a grantee's reporting burden and allow us to collaboratively identify areas where plans need to change. Then, during the project, we regularly remind project directors that the plan made months or years earlier to win our funds was merely the starting point; they need to execute on the plan to meet their stated goals today, and that requires flexibility on their part – and ours. When a grantee is transparent about something that has gone wrong, we'll help them revise their budget and plan to do what makes sense based on the changed circumstance. Rose-colored reporting and rigid grant agreements don't serve anybody well, while candor in the grantee-funder relationship keeps small challenges from becoming big problems. We also try to keep a promise to our partners to match our attention to milestones and metrics with our enthusiasm to adapt to emergent challenges and opportunities.

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Setting Standards in a Booming Market: What Makes Green Bonds Green?

December 02, 2014

Headshot_nicholas+tlaiyeOnce a niche market, "green bonds" — debt instruments designed to raise capital to finance climate-related or otherwise environmentally beneficial purposes — have proven increasingly popular with investors. In the first half of 2014, for instance, approximately $20 billion in green bonds were sold, a figure that is expected to nearly double by year's end — explosive growth for a niche financial instrument that just two years ago accounted for only $3 billion of the $80 trillion bond market.

The first "green" bond labeled as such was issued in 2008 by the World Bank's International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. At the time, it was a product specially tailored to satisfy demand from Scandinavian pension funds looking to invest in environmentally friendly fixed-income products. The bond, which was developed in close collaboration with Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken and the inaugural group of investors, supported a pre-defined set of climate change mitigation and adaptation projects. Since then, growing investor demand has helped to broaden the pool of environment-related bond issuers, as well as the criteria used to define the objectives of said issues. This, in turn, has led to some confusion as to what exactly makes a bond "green."

Lacking a universally accepted definition, the original issuance process developed by the World Bank Group often is used as a guiding benchmark. All World Bank projects are designed to achieve concrete development results and pass environmental, social, and governance due diligence filters. The subset of projects that address climate change — including projects to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the adverse effects of a warming climate — are reviewed by environmental specialists to determine whether they meet the World Bank's eligibility criteria, which were developed with the help of academics at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO). If they do, the future proceeds of the bond are allocated to the selected projects. Projects supported in this manner have included solar and other renewable energy installations, waste management infrastructure, and reforestation initiatives. The progress and outcomes of all projects financed by the World Bank are monitored periodically. In the case of green bonds, the World Bank Treasury monitors the progress of each project and provides a summary and impact report to investors interested in learning more about the expected social and environmental outcomes of the project or projects their investments are supporting.

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 15-16, 2014)

November 16, 2014

Ice-ballsOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Education 

On the NPR-Ed site, Emily Hanford has a piece (the first in a four-part series) about how Common Core is changing the way reading is taught to kids. (The piece originally appeared as part of American RadioWorks' "Greater Expectations: The Challenge of the Common Core.")

Environment

On Friday, the Sierra Club released a statement from its executive director, Michael Brune, in response to an announcement, expected this week, that the United States will contribute $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund (GCF),  a new multilateral fund created "to help developing countries reduce climate pollution and address their vulnerabilities to the most dangerous effects of climate disruption."

Here on PhilanTopic, Gabi Fitz, director of knowledge management initiatives at Foundation Center, shares the results of a collaboration between IssueLab and the Oceans and Fisheries team at the Rockefeller Foundation to capture and share knowledge  about sustainable coastal fisheries management.

Impact/Effectiveness

In a post on Forbes, Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation, argues that pay-for-success models, although not a silver bullet, "hold the potential to illuminate what works and what doesn’t, and to optimize both delivery of service and tax dollars."

International Development

The mainstream media tends to focus on the bad news, but Africa is changing -- largely for the better, as this slide deck from Our World in Data shows.

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A Case Study in 'Sustainable' Knowledge Management

November 11, 2014

About a year ago, the Oceans and Fisheries team at the Rockefeller Foundation embarked on a new initiative focused on the challenges faced by small-scale fisheries worldwide and on improving the health and well-being of the people who are dependent on these threatened environments. Like any program officer worth his or her salt, the team started its decision-making and strategy-setting process with a couple of fundamental questions: 1) What do we already know about work being done in this field? and 2) How successful has that work been?

Rockfound_fisheries_report_coverBut what Rockefeller did to answer these questions wasn't so typical. With the encouragement of its own evaluation and learning team, along with the technical and methodological support of Foundation Center's IssueLab service and the issue expertise of IMM Ltd., the foundation supported a synthesis review of already existing evaluative evidence that drew on findings from both the academic and "gray" literature — the literally hundreds of evaluations and case studies that had already been done on the topic — to identify and describe twenty key factors believed to influence success in small-scale coastal fisheries management. Throughout the review, the researchers regularly engaged in conversations with Rockefeller's program team, helping to inform the team's developing strategy with existing evidence from the field. The intensive, rapid knowledge gathering effort resulted in a formal report.

After the report was completed, the team could have called it a day...but it didn't. One of the key reasons Rockefeller decided to work with us on this project was IssueLab's focus on capturing and sharing knowledge outcomes as a public good rather than a private organizational asset. Instead of just commissioning a literature review for use by a single organization, the foundation was interested in creating an openly licensed and public resource that anyone could use. The result is a special collection of the hard-to-find literature identified through the review, as well as an interactive visualization of the key lessons summarized in the report itself.

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 1-2, 2014)

November 02, 2014

Your-vote-counts-buttonOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Communications/Marketing

On her Social Marketing blog, communications consultant Julia Campbell has some advice for the American Red Cross, which again finds itself in the middle of a controversy over its response to a disaster (Hurricane Isaac, Superstorm Sandy).

Environment

In the fifth part of a seven-part series on the State of the Union offered by Stanford University, Farrallon Capital founder and philanthropist Tom Steyer and former U.S. Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu talk about the environment and climate change. (Running time: 1:33:37)

On the Al Jazeera America site, author and freelance journalist Nathan Schneider (Thank You, Anarchy: Notes From the Occupy Apocalypsereports on the return of an old concept, the commons.

Fundraising

In a link-filled post on her blog, Beth Kanter explains how #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back, can help your organization reach Generation Z donors (kids born after 1995).

International Affairs/Development

In a post on the GrantCraft blog, Andrew Grabois, manager of corporate philanthropy at Foundation Center, breaks down trends in funding for Ebola relief efforts in West Africa.

Bill Foege, former head of the Centers for Disease Control and a Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree, argues on the Humanosphere blog that the public health response in the U.S. to Ebola "has been far better than we could have expected, given the cutbacks in the public health infrastructure of recent years [and] by the private care system sometimes making decisions based on cost or insurance status rather than health needs."

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What a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak Can Tell Us About Our Stewardship of the Planet

October 07, 2014

Audobon_passenger_pigeonOn my morning walk the other day, I happened on a small bird in obvious distress lying on the sidewalk. Apparently, it had flown into a building and injured itself – or that's what staff at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education said when I called them to see what I could do to help the poor thing. Rick Schubert, director of wildlife rehabilitation at the center, said the bird was probably migrating south, since it didn't sound, from my description, like a bird that was native to the area. Schubert went on to say that migrating species of birds established their migratory routes long before cities were a feature of the landscape and that they are not particularly good at navigating around tall buildings.

Soon enough, the bird died, and I was overcome by grief – not just for the little voyager that never made it to its destination, but for the precarious state of all our birds. As I learned from the Audubon Society's Audubon Birds and Climate Report, which was issued last month, half of all North American birds are severely threatened by climate change.

One of the most dramatic illustrations of the phenomenon can be seen near my home in Philadelphia. The rufa red knot, a bird smaller than a robin, migrates more than nine thousand miles every spring from the tip of Patagonia to the Canadian arctic, and makes the return journey every fall. The birds time their three-month trip north to arrive at the southern Jersey shore for the horseshoe crab spawning season; the abundance of food enables them to double their weight in preparation for the remainder of the journey north. Sadly, horseshoe crabs were overfished for bait in the 1990s, and that has resulted in a 70 percent drop in the rufa red knot population. Better crab harvest management since then has stabilized the declining bird population, but according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the red knot is "particularly vulnerable to climate change."

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Weekend Link Roundup (August 9-10, 2014)

August 10, 2014

VeggiesOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Advocacy

On Gene Takagi's Nonprofit Law Blog, Michelle Baker, a San Francisco-based attorney, checks in with the second of two posts on the lag ins and outs of issue advocacy. (You can read the first post here.)

Civil Society

"One of the defining features of civil society...is that participation is voluntary," writes Lucy Bernholz on her Philanthropy 2173 blog. And "[i]f civil society claims a role in pursuing social justice than it has a special obligation to do two things - protect people's power to act and make sure that digital data aren't used to exacerbate existing power differentials.

Environment

Marketplace's David Brancaccio looks at the Sustainable Endowments Institute's Billion Dollar Green Challenge and online GRITS platform, which helps "universities take their operating cash or endowment, upgrade the energy efficiency of campus buildings, and get a bigger return in savings than the stock market would earn them."

Leadership

What kind of leadership skills do emerging nonprofit leaders need to succeed? Beth Kanter takes a look at two recent studies that "take a pass at answering that question...."

The Talent Philanthropy Project's Rusty Stahl has a good post on the handful of foundations that invest in nonprofit leadership.

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 26-27, 2014)

July 27, 2014

War_declaredOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Society

It was an interesting week for the Hewlett Foundation's recently announced Madison Initiative, "an effort to improve Congress by promoting a greater spirit of compromise and negotiation." On the Inside Philanthropy site, Daniel Stid, the director of the initiative, responded to a critique of the initiative by IP's David Callahan. And in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Maribel Morey, an assistant professor of history at Clemson University, criticized the "one-dimensional democratic theory" behind the initiative. To which Larry Kramer, the foundation's president and a consitutitional historian in his own right, responded in the comments section with an impassioned defense of the effort. The last word, however, belongs to Morey, who responded to Kramer with an impassioned comment of her own. A great dialogue around a critically important topic.

Communications/Marketing

Very good Q&A on the Communications Network blow with longtime network contributor Tony Proscio about the dangers of jargon and how to avoid them.

On the Hewlett Foundation blog, Ruth Levine, head of the foundation's Global Development and Population Program, expresses some frustration with the fact that the foundation's current or prospective grantees tend not to "inquire about our strategic direction...[and] seem quite satisfied to hear a superficial answer. We almost never see a quizzical look," she adds,

let alone hear questions like, "When you talk about policies that affect women's economic empowerment, are you thinking about active labor market policies like job training, or macroeconomic policies that expand growth in sectors that tend to employ women?" It's those sorts of questions that uncover the thinking behind the words, and help explain why we might fund one project or organization and not another.

The cost of having a conversation where only one side is asking questions is high. We're not getting enough feedback on whether our strategies makes sense to others with different perspectives and experience. In the absence of specifics, people may spend time proposing work that we're unlikely to fund. We get comments through anonymized surveys that we are opaque, and we spend hours writing and rewriting website text that in the end doesn't clarify much at all.

Levine ends with this: "Am I asking for an inquisition in every conversation? No. But I am suggesting that there is only one way to truly understand why we do what we do: Ask."

Environment

In this four-minute video, Paul Polak, the author of Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail and (with Mal Warwick) The Business Solution to Poverty: Designing Products and Services for Three Billion New Customers, explains why poverty is "the single biggest disruptive factor for the environment" globally.

Grantmaking

Grantmakers for Effective Organizations has published a new resource, The Smarter Grantmaking Playbook, that's designed to help grantmakers collaborate, strengthen relationships with their grantees, support nonprofit resilience, and partner with their grantees to learn and continuously improve.

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Aligning Investments in Water Quality

June 01, 2014

Headshot_nathan_boonOne of the most exciting aspects of philanthropy is the prospect of effecting systematic change, yet many of us in the sector often struggle with the scale of the systems we're trying to influence. Certainly this is true in environmental philanthropy, where a single and coherent environmental system like a watershed (e.g., river basin) can encompass an enormous geography and a host of complex issues. Where my colleagues and I sit in the Delaware River watershed, for example, we're dealing with 216 major tributaries and an area of more than 13,500 square miles that includes four states, 838 municipalities, and a total population of nearly 8 million people. For watersheds and other large ecosystems, even the most generous grantmaking budget will be dwarfed by the enormity of what's needed, raising important questions for philanthropic investors. How can we be more effective in deploying scarce resources? How do we assess whether we're making a difference? Where do we choose to invest, and how do we support work in a way that meaningfully sets the stage for replication and greater impact?

At the William Penn Foundation, we're responding to these tough questions by implementing a new approach to a decades-long legacy of environmental grantmaking. With the support of our board and strong partners in the research and nonprofit communities, we are focusing our geographic footprint by prioritizing select ecosystems, aligning the work of capable nonprofit organizations within those ecosystems, targeting specific environmental stressors, and continually measuring progress. All to restore and protect the quality and availability of our water resources — resources with a history of unchecked pollution and abuse.

We have come a long way since the mid-1880s, when fouled water, factory waste, and mining by-products were drained into our waters at alarming rates. In the first half of the twentieth century, many bodies of water — including the Delaware Estuary, the Gulf of Mexico, the Chesapeake Bay, and Long Island Sound — were renowned for their dead zones, stretches of polluted water where virtually nothing could survive. The extent of the damage eventually led to multi-sector partnerships to address the problem, including the first interstate watershed commission in 1936, as well as a succession of state and federal legislation to reduce point-source pollution, culminating in the Clean Water Act of 1972 and amendments to the act in 1977 and 1987. Today, as a result, we have far fewer dead zones in our lakes, rivers and estuaries, and polluters are held to a much higher standard when it comes to releasing waste into local waterways.

But it is not enough.

Since the first Earth Day in 1970, new contaminants have emerged to threaten environmental and public health, even as major sources of industrial pollution have been outsourced to foreign shores. With the relative decline in American manufacturing and an ever-increasing U.S. population, we are seeing new threats from the industrialization of agriculture, suburban sprawl, and our appetite for fossil fuels. Regulators are challenged to address sources of pollution that are widely distributed across the landscape and cannot be traced back to a single end-of-pipe discharge point.

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Weekend Link Roundup (May 10-11, 2014)

May 11, 2014

Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Net_neutralityArts/Culture

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, David Skeel, a professor of bankruptcy law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, argues that the $816 million art-for-pensions deal to keep the Detroit Institute of Arts collection intact and in the city fails to protect all creditors equally and, therefore, is probably illegal.

Communications/Marketing

On Beth Kanter's blog, Jay Geneske, director of digital at the Rockefeller Foundation, shares the thinking behind the foundation's decision to underwrite a project that looks at the role digital technology can play in elevating the practice of storytelling as a way to inspire action on behalf of the poor and vulnerable. Findings based on the foundation's initial convenings have been packaged in a report, Digital Storytelling for Social Impact, that's embedded in Geneske's post or can be downloaded here.

Education

In a post on the Campaign for America's Future blog, Jeff Bryant, editor of the Education Opportunity Network site, looks at a handful of recent reports that call into question the efficacy of private charter schools.

Environment

Nice two-part interview on the Greenpeace USA blog with environmental activist and documentarian (The Story of Stuff) Annie Leonard, who earlier this week was named to lead the organization.

The announcement by Stanford that it was divesting its endowment of investments in coal companies has officials at other colleges and universities feeling the heat, writes Jonathan Berr on CBS' Moneywatch site. But in the New York Times, op-ed contributor Ivo Welch, a professor of finance and economics at UCLA's Anderson Graduate School of Management, argues that "[i]ndividual divestments, either as economic or symbolic pressure, have never succeeded in getting companies or countries to change."

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 12-13, 2014)

April 13, 2014

Illustration_cherry_treeOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Society

Writing in The Week, journalist Matt Bruenig takes a closer look at the one part of the charity versus social welfare argument that everyone ignores.

On the Hewlett Foundation's Work in Progress blog, Daniel Stid considers the implications of the Supreme Court's recent decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission for the foundation's developing plans for grantmaking in the democracy area.

Data

"Big Data is suddenly everywhere," write New York University professors Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis in the New York Times. "But precisely because of its newfound popularity and growing use, we need to be levelheaded about what [it] can — and can't — do." Before we embrace big data as the answer to all our problems, they add, keep in mind that big data:

  • is very good at detecting correlations but never tells us which correlations are meaningful;
  • often works well as an adjunct to scientific inquiry but rarely succeeds as a wholesale replacement;
  • can be gamed;
  • often generates results that are less robust under further scrutiny than initially thought;
  • is subject to what might be called the "echo-chamber effect";
  • can amplify errors of correlation;
  • is prone to giving scientific-sounding solutions to hopelessly imprecise questions; and
  • excels when applied to things that are common but often falls short when applied to things that are less common.

Environment

As part of Goldman Sachs' Focus On series, Mark Tercek, president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy, makes the business case for investing in nature (video; running time: 3:08).

Ever since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the the summary of its new report on climate impacts a few weeks ago, the word "transform" has been flying around in climate circles, writes Megan Rowling on the Thomson Reuters Foundation site. And if you listen closely to those conversations, adds Rowling, "the message is clear: the world has not yet changed radically enough to prevent dangerous levels of global warming, nor even to protect itself from the more extreme weather, gradual climate shifts and sea-level rise that are already hitting us. Instead we"ve been fiddling with adaptation while the planet burns."

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Financing Sustainable Development Around the World

April 11, 2014

(Tensie Whelan is president of the Rainforest Alliance, which works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices, and consumer behavior.)

Headshot_tensie_whelanMore than two billion people around the world are dependent for their livelihoods on five hundred million smallholder farms. Yet these smallholder farmers, who typically have less than five acres under cultivation, operate far below their potential because they lack access to the technical assistance and credit they need to implement better farm management practices.

Global smallholder demand for credit is estimated at nearly $500 billion. While "social finance lenders" typically lend to smallholders who don't qualify for traditional or commercial loans, they currently meet only a tiny fraction of that demand — roughly $350 million. That leaves millions of smallholders unable to make needed investments in raising their workers' pay and improving worker safety, building waste management systems, and installing new water-conserving technology — all of which contribute to increases in yields and income.

Traditional aid programs aren't likely to alleviate the problem anytime soon, but urging lenders to change their practices could help. A 2013 study conducted by the Rainforest Alliance in conjunction with the Citi Foundation suggests that better data can dramatically improve smallholders’ access to credit. The study, which compared a hundred and ten Rainforest Alliance Certified™ coffee and cocoa farmers in Colombia and Peru with a non-certified control group, found that 90 percent of the certified producers in the survey tracked both revenue and expense metrics for their farms, while only about 30 percent of the non-certified producers did so. The study also found that the average dollar value of loans to certified producers was $5,562, while it was only $3,311 for non-certified producers — a finding which suggests that many smallholders rarely keep the kind of records, including production cost, income, and delivery history, that would enable potential lenders to assess their creditworthiness.

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5 Questions for...Ellen Dorsey, Executive Director, Wallace Global Fund

February 27, 2014

In late January, Divest-Invest Philanthropy, a coalition of seventeen foundations with nearly $2 billion in assets, introduced itself to the world with the announcement that its members have agreed to divest their portfolios of investments in fossil-fuel companies and invest a portion of those resources in climate change solutions instead. Arguing that continued investment in the fossil fuel industry carries both ethical and financial risks, coalition members are calling on other foundations to realign their portfolios away from investments in coal, gas, and oil companies and to join them in supporting and sustaining the clean energy economy.

PND recently spoke with Ellen Dorsey, executive director of the Wallace Global Fund, a leading member of the coalition, about the genesis of the divestment movement and the need to act now.

Headshot_ellen_dorseyPhilanthropy News Digest: What was the catalyst for the creation of the Divest-Invest Philanthropy coalition? And what is at stake here?

Ellen Dorsey: The catalyst was the climate crisis itself — a serious threat that affects all of us — and the need to divest from fossil fuels and invest in climate change solutions. As a responsive philanthropy, we want to support that shift and encourage the philanthropic sector as a whole to take this movement seriously.

So the goal of the initiative is not just to announce the commitment by seventeen foundations to divest from fossil fuels and invest in clean energy; it's also to call on the philanthropic sector more broadly to engage in the climate debate and encourage other institutions to both divest from coal, oil, and gas companies that are driving the problem and actually use their investments creatively to identify and fund climate solutions in ways that help move us toward the kind of new energy economy that the world needs.

PND: It's clear that members of the coalition see divestment from fossil fuels as a moral issue. The letter you released in January says, "Mission-based institutions whose goals and constituencies are threatened by the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels should not also seek to profit from them." When did your foundation, the Wallace Global Fund, decide it has a moral obligation to address the threat posed by our continued reliance on fossil fuels?

ED: In 2009, we began analyzing our grantmaking and our investments. We quickly realized there were real inconsistencies. One striking example was investing in fossil fuels at the same time as we were working to combat climate change and all its environmental and human rights impacts. How could we be invested in the very industries driving the crisis we were asking our grantees to solve? Not only was our investment strategy potentially undercutting our grantmaking, we were foregoing the opportunity to use our investments as a tool to achieve our mission and goals. We could be helping create the clean energy economy the world requires.

Additionally, we don't believe there is only an ethical risk to investing in fossil fuels. We also believe there are serious financial risks. Prudent investors are listening to the warnings that fossil fuel stocks are overvalued, as we cannot possibly burn the reserves coal, oil, and gas companies currently hold without cooking the planet. It is clear that a tectonic shift is required in the way we produce and consume energy, and smart investors will put their assets in the energy sources of the future.

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