199 posts categorized "Environment"

Mexican president targets U.S. philanthropy, but it’s Mexican civil society that could take the hit

September 22, 2020

Tren-Maya-Map-07On Friday August 28, 2020, four days before I officially became the W.K. Kellogg Chair for Community Philanthropy at the Johnson Center, I knew what the topic of my inaugural blog for this platform would be.

That day, Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, or AMLO, as he is known, shared the results of what he termed an "investigation" into the funding of nine non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who have opposed his principal infrastructure project, the Mayan Train (Tren Maya) (Presidency of the Republic, 2020a). AMLO claimed that the organizations had clandestinely received almost $14 million in grants specifically to oppose this project from five U.S. foundations, including Ford, Rockefeller, the National Endowment for Democracy, ClimateWorks, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. It is important to state upfront that all the recipient organizations vehemently deny the allegations.

Given that my chair was endowed jointly by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Kellogg Company 25-Year Employees' Fund, and that I have worked over the last two decades to both research and strengthen international and domestic philanthropy in Mexico, I feel a special obligation to address the accusations and innuendos made by the Mexican president.

Another motivating factor for me is that this attack is not an isolated incident. It occurs against a backdrop of increasingly hostile rhetoric and policy actions directed against Mexican civil society from the Mexican government, as well as increasing violence against environmental and human rights activists in that country, as captured by Mexico's declining score in the Freedom House Index (Freedom House, 2020). Tragically, this trend is global — in many countries, civil society is under attack (International Center for Not-for-Profit Law [ICNL], 2016).

AMLO and Tren Maya

To understand the significance of the Mayan Train and AMLO's frustration with its opponents' success, we need to go back to his election in 2018 and his campaign slogan, "For the good of all, first the poor" (Por el bien de todos, primero los pobres). He promised to lead Mexico through what he calls the Fourth Transformation, upending the corrupt, neo-liberal political and economic system that for decades has favored the rich and powerful — the "cabals of the powerful" — at the expense of the poor.

Tren Maya was to be his signature infrastructure project. The plan was to lay a thousand miles of rail around the perimeter of the Yucatan Peninsula, connecting key destinations and igniting economic prosperity by facilitating tourism and transportation of raw materials and manufactured goods. The government of Mexico estimates the cost at $6.5 billion USD and predicts it will create half a million jobs during construction and have a multiplier effect on the region's economy (Government of Mexico, 2020).

Opposition to the Mayan Train

From the start, the project has met with stiff resistance from an assortment of local, national, and international groups that believe the mega-project will bring disruption and environmental degradation. The rail line will pass through five states that hold some of the nation's most important archaeological sites and biodiverse habitats.

Soon after AMLO announced a plan for public consultation, hundreds of Mexican environmentalists, scientists, and human rights advocates published an appeal to postpone it, arguing, "High biodiversity sites must be preserved according to the most stringent international standards, taking into account the indigenous peoples who have been the guarantors of their territories and custodians of the natural and cultural wealth of our country" (Lichtinger & Aridjis 2018). Nevertheless, the consultation proceeded.

During the month-long consultation at the end of 2019, the government claimed high levels of participation and approval in both a popular referendum and assemblies aimed at indigenous groups. Local organizations cried foul. After observing the process, the Mexico office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement that said in part, "The information presented to indigenous communities only outlined the potential benefits of the project and not the negative impacts it may cause" (United Nations, 2019). It also found that the process did not comply with "culturally appropriate" standards designed to encourage free participation and that the participation of indigenous women was especially inadequate.

Local organizations began to collaborate with larger NGOs based in Mexico City with expertise in environmental law and public policy, and it is these nine NGOs that AMLO identified in his August statement. Together, the groups launched successful court challenges and public protests, calling into question the legality of the consultation process, as well as the project's forecasted benefits and compliance with environmental regulations. At present, two of the seven sections of the project have been halted by court orders, while construction proceeds on others (Vanguardia 2020), raising the question of how the train can function if its circuit is left incomplete.

Benefactores y Opositores (Benefactors and Opponents)

AMLO claimed that these NGOs had hidden their sources of funding because they were acting on behalf of foreign interests, including multinational corporations and the U.S. State Department. He declared his role was to expose the fact that organizations were "disguised" as advocates for the environment and human rights when in fact they were acting on behalf of what he termed "cabals of the powerful" (Presidency of the Republic, 2020). He put his case succinctly on September 4:

What was wrong is that they worked in anonymity, clandestinely, without transparency, supposedly as independent non-governmental associations, so maybe they are independent, but from the people, not from the cabals of the powerful....

Thus, his criticism of the NGOs has two prongs:

  1. that their work and their funding was clandestine and opaque; and
  2. that these groups are not accountable to the Mexican people, but rather to the corporate and political interests behind their donors and therefore are illegitimate.

Let's examine each claim.

Transparency Defended

The investigation shared by the president states that the organizations' activities include filing lawsuits to stop construction of sections of the Mayan Train or the project as a whole, filing a complaint before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, investigating and documenting irregularities of the project, and disseminating the findings of such research (Cuevas, 2020). Given that these acts are essentially public, or need to be made public in order to have an impact, it is difficult to understand how they can be conducted clandestinely.

In a series of individual and collective statements, the named organizations have defended their work, contending that the funding they received from U.S. philanthropy was both legal under Mexican and international law and transparent, and that the grants identified were not made to them for the purpose of opposing the project (Animal Politico, 2020).

The organizations pointed out that in the table provided by the president, seven of the nine grants started well before his election in 2018, contradicting his claim that the funds were intended to defeat the project. Similarly, more than once AMLO and his spokesperson stated that some of this information was public. AMLO's administration also said the investigation was conducted by a "private foundation," but they did not identify the researcher nor the source of their information. Using publicly available data from the tax authority's transparency portal for nonprofits, a Mexican think tank called Alternativas y Capacidades found that five of the NGOs listed were charitable organizations, and of those three received the bulk of their resources from sources within Mexico (Alternativas y Capacidades, 2020).

Legitimacy Defended

This leaves the second prong of the critique: does the receipt of foreign grants delegitimize the work of an NGO?

While AMLO has leveled a rhetorical attack, many other governments have placed regulatory restrictions or outright bans on organizations receiving foreign funds (ICNL, 2016). Such restrictions often represent a government's attempt to assert its sovereignty against both foreign governments and domestic actors, denying resources to groups they perceive as "political rivals" (Dupuy & Prakash, 2020, p. 618-619). The assumptions underlying such restrictions are that "internationally funded NGOs are not well rooted in the local community," and that they "are more responsive to donors' concerns than those of the communities they serve" (Dupuy & Prakash, 2020, p. 621).

This argument does not do justice to the mechanisms for community accountability that NGOs practice and that international donors typically look for as part of their due diligence (Brechenmacher & Carothers, 2018). These mechanisms include board composition, consultation and representation, and compliance with governmental regulations and ethical standards. While there are cases of heavy-handed international funders seeking to influence and even dictate outcomes for communities and public policy, most — and particularly those foundations named by AMLO — make it their policy to respect local autonomy and support community-led development. Still, funding from foreign donors opens a potential line of attack for critics.

Why accept cross-border philanthropy?

Given that cross-border donations can present a point of vulnerability for NGOs, why do they accept them?

NGOs turn to foreign funders because local sources of funding are often quite scarce, especially for issues that risk the ire of the government — like the defense of human rights and environmental justice. Additionally, outside of the world's wealthiest nations, there are few philanthropic foundations (Johnson, 2018). While all nations have their unique expressions of generosity and vibrant traditions of mutual self-help, few exhibit a strong propensity to support formal nonprofit organizations.

Mexico's formal nonprofit sector is relatively under-developed and is heavily reliant on earned income (Salamon, Sokolowski, & Haddock, 2017). Foreign donors do not play a large role in supporting the sector as a whole, with about 10 percent of donations coming from abroad (Layton et al., 2017). This challenging context has been further complicated by actions taken by AMLO's administration:

  • It has moved to eliminate Mexican federal funding of nonprofit organizations (Technical Advisory Council 2020), which was already low compared to other nations (Salamon, Sokolowski, & Haddock, 2017).
  • The tax authority has stepped up its audits of charitable organizations and its revocations of their charitable status: in the three years prior to AMLO's presidency, there was one revocation a month. Now there is one every other working day (Tax Administration Service, 2020). One high-profile case involved the revocation of the charitable status of Mexico's largest community foundation, the Foundation of Chihuahuan Businesspersons (FECHAC), widely respected for its professionalism (González Sierra, 2020).
  • The tax authority has also imposed an income tax on earned revenue (unrelated to mission) that exceeds 10 percent of total organizational income (Council on Foundations, 2019).

These policies weaken the three major sources of domestic funding: government support, private grants, and earned revenue. With his attacks on foreign grants, AMLO and his administration are undermining all avenues of financial sustainability for Mexico's nonprofit sector.

Why cultivate domestic — especially community — philanthropy?

These actions on the part of the current Mexican administration present an important challenge to Mexican civil society. There is a growing consensus among civic leaders and international donors that the long-term sustainability and credibility of NGOs depends on a more favorable enabling environment for civil society, especially the growth of domestic philanthropy.

Many donors have sought to encourage the emergence of domestic philanthropy in developing nations (C.S. Mott Foundation, 2013; Regelbrugge, 2006). My own research has sought to provide empirical data to better understand the nature of this challenge, and my consulting work has supported efforts to encourage the development of Mexican civil society and its philanthropic sector, particularly the institutions of community philanthropy.

Community philanthropy in Mexico has shown great promise in addressing the key challenge of cultivating a culture of giving and promoting the use of institutional channels for generosity (Olvera et al., 2020). At their best, community foundations work with a broad range of stakeholders at the intersection of donors, nonprofits, business, and government, and they enjoy a unique ability to support community-led development. Their work demonstrates that, far from being independent of a community's people, they are directly engaged with and accountable to them.

(Image credit: Mayan Train Route image from Dialogo Chino.)

Headshot_Michael_LaytonMichael Layton, PhD, joined the Johnson Center in September 2020 as the W.K. Kellogg Community Philanthropy Chair, the nation's first endowed chair focused on community philanthropy. This post originally was created for the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy's blog and was published there on September 16, 2020.

 

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References

Alternativas y Capacidades, A.C. 2020. Analysis of Data from Fondos a la Vista. Data retrieved from https://fondosalavista.mx/

Animal Politico. 2020. Gobierno de AMLO acusa a Animal Político y a OSC de recibir recursos para atacar al Tren Maya. Animal Politico. Retrieved from https://www.animalpolitico.com/2020/08/gobierno-amlo-animal-politico-recursos-atacar-tren-maya/

Brechenmacher, S. & Carothers, T. (2018). The legitimacy menu.Examine Civil Society Legitimacy. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Retrieved from https://carnegieendowment.org/2018/05/02/examining-civil-society-legitimacy-pub-76211

C.S. Mott Foundation. (2013). 2012 Annual Report, Community foundations: Rooted locally, Growing globally. Retrieved from https://www.mott.org/news/publications/2012-annual-report-community-foundations-rooted-locally-growing-globally/

Council on Foundations. (2019). Nonprofit Law in Mexico. Global Grantmaking Country Notes. Retrieved from https://www.cof.org/content/nonprofit-law-mexico

Cuevas J. R. [JesusRCuevas]. (2020, August 28). Hoy se dio a conocer una investigación sobre el financiamiento de fundaciones extranjeras a organizaciones no gubernamentales y a un medio que se oponen a la construcción del Tren Maya. [Tweet]. Retrieved from
https://twitter.com/JesusRCuevas/status/1299368891525804032

Dupuy, K. & Prakash, A. (2020). Global backlash against foreign funding to domestic non-governmental organizations. In Powell, W. W., & Bromley, P. (Eds.). (2020). The Nonprofit sector: A research handbook. Stanford University Press.

Freedom House. (2020). Freedom in the World: Mexico. Retrieved from https://freedomhouse.org/country/mexico/freedom-world/2020

González Sierra, E. (2020, January 22). FECHAC’s Charitable Status Revoked. El Heraldo de Chihuahua. Retrieved from https://www.elheraldodechihuahua.com.mx/local/desautorizan-a-la-fechac-para-recibir-donativos-noticias-de-chihuahua-4732080.html

Government of Mexico. (2020). Mayan Train: Multiplier Effect. Retrieved from https://www.trenmaya.gob.mx/efecto-multiplicador/

International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. (2016). Survey of Trends Affecting Civic Space: 2015-16. Global trends in NGO law 7(4). Retrieved from https://mk0rofifiqa2w3u89nud.kinstacdn.com/wp-content/uploads/global-ngo-law_trends7-4.pdf?_ga=2.245940356.162911111.1599646423-2060145790.1598725786

Johnson, P. D. (2018). Global philanthropy report: Perspectives on the global foundation sector. Harvard Kennedy School, the Hauser Institute for Civil Society at the Center for Public Leadership. Retrieved from https://cpl.hks.harvard.edu/files/cpl/files/global_philanthropy_report_final_april_2018.pdf

Layton, M. D. (2017). Regulation and self-regulation in the Mexican nonprofit sector. Chapter in Dunn, A., Breen,O., & Sidel, M. (Eds.). Regulatory waves: Comparative perspectives on state regulation and self-regulation policies in the nonprofit sector. London: Cambridge University Press.

Layton, M.D., Rosales, M.A. (2017). Financiamiento de las donatarias autorizadas. Chapter in Butcher García-Colín, J. (Ed.), Generosidad en México II: Fuentes, cauces y destinos. Mexico City: Editorial Porrúa, Centro de Investigación y Estudios sobre Sociedad Civil, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey.

Layton, M. D., & Mossel, V. (2015). Giving in Mexico: Generosity, Distrust and Informality. Chapter in Wiepking, P. & Handy, F. (Eds.) The Palgrave Handbook of Global Philanthropy (pp. 64–87). Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Lichtinger, V. & Aridjis, H. 2020. The Mayan trainwreck. Opinion. Washington Post. Dec. 4, 2018. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/theworldpost/wp/2018/12/04/amlo/

Mexican Center for Environmental Law. (2020). The defense of human rights and the environment strengthens democracy and should not be criminalized. Retrieved from https://www.cemda.org.mx/la-defensa-de-los-derechos-humanos-y-de-la-naturaleza-fortalece-la-democracia-y-no-debe-criminalizarse/

Olvera Ortega, M., Layton, M., Graterol Acevedo, G. & Bolaños Martínez, L. (2020). Community Foundations in Mexico: A Comprehensive Profile 2009–2016 – Report Summary. Mexico City: Alternativas y Capacidades, A.C., Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and Inter-American Foundation. https://alternativasycapacidades.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/FundComunitarias_ENG.pdf

Presidency of the Republic. (2020a). Transcript of press conference of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on August 28, 2020, Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Retrieved from https://www.gob.mx/presidencia/es/articulos/version-estenografica-conferencia-de-prensa-del-presidente-andres-manuel-lopez-obrador-del-28-de-agosto-del-2020?idiom=es

Presidency of the Republic. (2020b). Transcript of press conference of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on September 4, 2020, Mexico City, Mexico. Retrieved from https://www.gob.mx/presidencia/articulos/version-estenografica-conferencia-de-prensa-del-presidente-andres-manuel-lopez-obrador-del-4-de-septiembre-de-2020?idiom=es

Regelbrugge, L. (2006). Funding Foundations: Report on Ford Foundation support of grantmaking institutions, 1975 to 2001. Ford Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.fordfoundation.org/work/learning/research-reports/funding-foundations-report-on-ford-foundation-support-of-grantmaking-institutions-1975-to-2001/

Salamon, L. M., Sokolowski, S. W., & Haddock, M. A. (2017). Explaining civil society development: A social origins approach. JHU Press.

Tax Administration Service. (2020). Charitable Organizations Published in the DOF (Diario Oficial Federal). Retrieved from https://www.sat.gob.mx/consultas/27717/conoce-el-directorio-de-donatarias-autorizadas

Technical Advisory Council. (2020, September 02). Pronouncement of the technical advisory council of the federal law on promotion of the activities of the civil society organizations (CSOs), regarding the declarations of the President of the Republic Lic, Andrés Manuel López Obrador on CSOs. Retrieved from https://consejotecnicoconsultivo.org.mx/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/CARTA-DEL-CTC-CON-RELACION-A-LOS-PRONUNCIAMIENTOS-DEL-PRESIDENTE-AMLO.pdf

United Nations. (2019). The indigenous consultation process on the Mayan Train has not complied with all international human rights standards on the matter: UN-DH. Retrieved from https://www.onu.org.mx/el-proceso-de-consulta-indigena-sobre-el-tren-maya-no-ha-cumplido-con-todos-los-estandares-internacionales-de-derechos- humans-in-matter-onu-dh/

[Review] The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of the Future

September 16, 2020

23499-The-Uninhabitable-Earth_David-Wallace-Wells-1Published in February, before the COVID-19 pandemic and national protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd grabbed the world's attention, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells provides an utterly disturbing picture of the many ways in which global warming will transform every aspect of life on the planet — changes, according to Wallace-Wells, likely to lead to untold human suffering and quite possibly the extinction of our species. As he frames what follows in the first line of the book, "it is worse, much worse, than you think."

A deputy editor at New York, Wallace-Wells first came to the attention of the public three years ago with an article in that publication about the perils of climate change. In it, he outlined some of the repercussions we are likely to face if we fail to take meaningful action to slow global warming, and his book expands on that warning. Or, as he puts it, the book is not "about the science of warming; it is about what warming means to the way we live on this planet."

The many examples he marshals in support of that statement are grim and left this reader with a sinking feeling that has been hard to shake. As Wallace-Wells writes, efforts to hold the average global temperature below 2°C above pre-industrial levels already seem doomed, and for every half degree of warming societies will experience a 10 percent to 20 percent increase in the likelihood of armed conflict. By 2050, the global production of fossil fuel-based plastic is expected to triple, and it is possible there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans. With a 2.5°C increase in warming, the planet may experience a global food deficit. In the American West, wildfires will consume sixteen times more acreage than they do today. With a 4°C increase, hundreds of cities will be inundated by sea-level rise, and in many others venturing out of doors will be life-threatening. An additional 200 million people will become climate refugees.

But Wallace-Wells doesn't confine himself to the familiar dangers of rising sea levels, ocean acidification, or furnace-like temperatures rendering mega-cities uninhabitable. As an environmental studies major, I have read about the likelihood of an increase in interpersonal conflict and domestic violence due to increasing temperatures, but I hadn't heard about the unpredictable ways in which gut microbiota may react to a warming planet. Wallace-Wells describes unknowns like these as "elements of chaos," and warns that no single one, but rather many in combination, are what is likely to bring about our demise.

There is little to take comfort from in the book, and that's intentional. Just four years ago, the Paris climate agreement committed the global community to keeping global temperature rise below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. (The United States pulled out of the agreement after Donald Trump's election.) Tragically, the former worst-case scenario now looks like an improbable best-case outcome, with some climate experts predicting four degrees of warming by 2100. Because such numbers are small and an abstraction for most people, we tend to seek reassurance and comfort by trivializing the difference between them. But as noted above, Wallace-Wells makes sure his readers comprehend how catastrophic the consequences of one extra degree of warming are likely to be. And when we start to contemplate the now worst-case outcome of six to eight degrees of warming, the level of uncertainty — and catastrophe — can barely be comprehended.

If there's a silver lining in the book it is that Wallace-Wells does not want to shock his readers into paralysis: "I am optimistic," he writes. "I know there are horrors to come….But those horrors are not yet scripted." In other words, the future is editable, and it's up to each of us to decide how much worse — or better — it will be. Indeed, dozens of solutions to global warming have been proposed and the technologies to implement them exist. So why hasn't the global community been able to come together and move them forward?

From normalization of the risks (think frog in a pot of water) to fear of the unknown, Wallace-Wells outlines many possible reasons as to why we have settled into uneasy complacency. And yet, he remains optimistic, writing in closing, "if there is to be any chance of preserving even the hope for that happier future…[c]all me crazy, or better yet naive, but I still think we can."

Though the sentiment is meant to leave the reader feeling she can make a difference, it doesn't do much to erase the existential dread that permeates the book. Yes, we want to be optimistic, but that dread keeps tugging at us, sapping our energy and resolve. Wallace-Wells implores us to snap out of it. As yet another record-setting wildfire season in the American West makes all too clear, we need to lean into that dread and ramp up our sense of urgency, not to mention agency, with respect to global warming. Educating ourselves about the challenge is a great way to start and sharing what we learn with others is a critical next step. Climate change is everyone's problem, in that almost everyone will be impacted. As he writes, "there is no single way to best tell the story of climate change….Any story that sticks is a good one."

Wallace-Wells has written a pretty powerful one.

Headshot_issy_nesciIzzy Nesci, a former intern in the Insights department at Candid, is an environmental studies major at Bucknell University.   

What we can learn from the Sierra Club's moment of self-reckoning

August 31, 2020

Sierra_club_history-edward-t-parsonsThe Sierra Club, that paragon of environmental activism, just did something unusual: it admitted it has a problem. In July, the nearly hundred-and-thirty-year-old organization released a statement in which it acknowledged the racial prejudices of its founder, environmental icon John Muir, as well as the harm it has caused Black, Indigenous, and people of color over the decades. 

The nationwide protests that followed George Floyd's killing in May have reenergized conversations around our collective need to grapple with the long history of racism in America. The Sierra Club's acknowledgement of its problematic origins and its sincere commitment to make amends should serve as a model for how other organizations and institutions can reckon with their own checkered pasts while not invalidating the positive work they have done over the years. Problems can only be fixed when they have been identified and named; others should take note. 

The Sierra Club is one of the nation's largest and most influential environmental organizations. Since its founding in 1892, the club has worked to preserve and create new public parks, lobbied for the protection of clean water and the adoption of renewable energy, campaigned against the continued use of coal, and promoted youth environmental education. It's co-founder and first president, John Muir, inspired many with his writings and was instrumental in creating the movement that led to the establishment of the National Park System, earning him the sobriquet "Father of the National Parks." 

Notwithstanding its achievements over the decades, the organization recently issued a public apology for Muir's harmful writings and beliefs in which it noted that his characterizations of Black and Indigenous people often played on racist stereotypes. "As the most iconic figure in Sierra Club history," the statement read in part, "Muir's words and actions carry an especially heavy weight. They continue to hurt and alienate Indigenous people and people of color."  

In its early days, the organization screened out potential members based on race, limiting the environmental engagement of people of color. Sadly, Muir's views and statements were emblematic of many of the early conservation movement's failings — most obviously the fact that the very lands being protected were expropriated by white settlers from Indigenous populations. Muir's ideal state seemed to be "the lone white man at one with nature." This exclusionary view has had long-lasting impacts, including the disproportionately low number of people of color who visit national parks today. 

A founding father who inspired a movement spanning generations but who considered the land on which it was based "free" only after its Indigenous inhabitants had been removed. A visionary whose prejudices ran counter to his overarching message — a message he and his peers couldn't and, frankly, had no desire to uphold. An iconic figure who helped move the country in a positive direction while ignoring and damaging communities of color. It's an all-too-familiar story. 

With its recent acknowledgement of Muir's failures, the Sierra Club has taken a bigger step forward than many others in the United States. Indeed, a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that while 59 percent of Americans believe Black people face discrimination, only 44 percent believe it is systemic and perpetuated by policy and institutions — in effect putting the burden of systemic racism on a few "bad apples." 

And while the poll also found that a slight majority of Americans, 51 percent, support the removal of Confederate statues from public spaces, an ABC/Washington Post poll that asked the same question found that only 43 percent of Americans supported the removal of such statues and only 42 percent supported the renaming of military bases named after Confederate generals. Polling discrepancies aside, the message is clear: at least nearly half of Americans believe we should continue to honor men who fought to protect and preserve chattel slavery in the United States. 

Admitting that you have a problem is the first step to recovery. Admitting that the United States has a racist past and has long ignored structures and systems that are inherently racist is not the same as saying that Americans are rotten to the core, incapable of doing good, or  irredeemable; it is, instead, an acknowledgement that we have harmed ourselves and those to whom we have a moral responsibility. Sometimes the only way to address a problem is through an intervention, but even interventions are futile without fundamental acceptance of the basic problem. The Sierra Club has begun to do the work needed to heal the damage and move forward; the rest of us should follow its lead.

(Photograph by Edward T. Parsons, "Group on Summit of Mount Brewer," 1902)

Headshot_garret_zink_PhilanTopic

Garrett Zink (@GarrettZink) is a corporate social responsibility specialist based in Washington, DC.

Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic, the SDGs Are More Relevant Than Ever

May 10, 2020

SdgThe world is dealing with a crisis of monumental proportions. The novel coronavirus is wreaking havoc across the globe, destroying lives and ruining livelihoods. The primary cost of the pandemic as calculated in the loss of human life is distressing, but the knock-on effects in terms of the global economy, people's livelihoods, and sustainable development prospects are even more alarming. Indeed, the International Monetary Fund estimates that the global economy has already fallen into recession, and while the full economic impact of the crisis is difficult to predict, the ultimate cost is likely to be extraordinary and unprecedented.

That is why we must all support the United Nations' call to scale up the immediate health response to the virus, with a particular focus on women, youth, low-wage workers, small and medium enterprises, the informal sector, and vulnerable groups who were already at risk. Working together we can save lives, restore livelihoods, and get the global economy back on track.

At the same time, the pandemic has utterly exposed fundamental weaknesses in our global system of governance and demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt how poverty, inadequate health systems, underresourced educational systems, and sub-optimal global cooperation can exacerbate a crisis like COVID-19. These are exactly the kinds of challenges the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are meant to address.

The rapid spread of the virus has come at a time when the SDGs were beginning to get traction and a significant number of countries were making progress in implementing them. But with the world today consumed by the need to contain the virus and mitigate its many adverse and debilitating impacts, countries are resetting their priorities and reallocating resources to deal with the challenge.

Emerging evidence of the broader impact of the coronavirus crisis on efforts to achieve the SDGs should be troubling for all. UNESCO estimates that some 1.25 billion students globally have been affected by the pandemic, posing a serious challenge to the attainment of Sustainable Development Goal 4, while the International Labour Organization (ILO) projects that some 25 million people could lose their jobs over the coming months, dealing a serious blow to progress on Sustainable Development Goal 8 — and that is likely just the tip of the iceberg.

Crucially, in many parts of the world, the pandemic also is creating roadblocks to progress on clean water and sanitation targets (Goal 6), addressing pervasive inequality (Goal 10), and, perhaps most importantly, addressing the twin crises of global poverty (Goal 1) and hunger/food insecurity (Goal 2). Indeed, the World Bank estimates that pandemic will push an additional 11 million people into poverty.

In other words, what we cannot afford to do in this critical moment is to de-link the global response to the pandemic from action on the SDGs. Indeed, by continuing to make progress on the SDGs, we will be putting ourselves on a firmer path to dealing with global health risks and the emergence of new infectious diseases in the future. Achieving SDGs Goal 3, for instance, will mean that we succeeded in strengthening the capacity of countries to conduct early warning surveillance, reduce the risk of contagious pathogens from spreading, and manage the situation promptly and effectively should they be faced with such a situation.

As the global community strives to deal with the challenges posed by the pandemic, we must seek to turn the crisis into an opportunity and ramp up our actions to support and ultimately achieve the goals by 2030. The world has the knowledge and expertise to muster the full complement of resources needed to to do that. Buoyed by a spirit of solidarity, governments, businesses, multilateral organizations, and civil society have been able to raise and direct trillions of dollars to defeat the virus. We can do the same to defeat global poverty, reduce inequality, provide a quality education to all, protect the climate, and build a more just and sustainable global economy. All that is missing is the political will.

As governments, business, and civil society around the world respond to the impacts of the pandemic, it is incumbent on all of us to stay focused on the underlying factors that have exacerbated those impacts. We cannot relent in our efforts, even amid this painful pandemic, to address people's basic needs, protect the beauty and diversity of our planet, and build a fairer and more just world. COVID-19 reminds us that we face common, global challenges that can only be solved through united, global action. In a crisis like this, we are only as strong as our weakest link.

Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and Erna Solberg are, respectively, president of the Republic of Ghana and prime minister of Norway and co-chairs of the UN Secretary-General's Eminent Group of Advocates for the Sustainable Development Goals.

Stop Excluding People of Color in Environmental Policies

May 06, 2020

Environmental_scale_310998The fight to save our planet should be about ensuring a long and sustainable future — for everyone.

However, as the coronavirus has spread across America, it has laid bare the harsh inequities in American society.

The inequities have surfaced in obvious ways, including early data released by states showing that the virus is killing African Americans at disproportionately high rates, a disturbing trend that illustrates the substandard availability of health care in black America.

The inequities have also surfaced in subtle ways, including policy decisions that fail to reflect the needs and day-to-day realities of low-income communities and communities of color. The irony is that many of these policies are well-meaning. But in some cases, they also have had troubling unintended consequences.

Consider the area of environmental policy. Protecting the environment should be about protecting people, regardless of the color of their skin, ethnicity or race, where they live, or how much money they make. 

Yet there are many in the mainstream environmental movement who continuously overlook the needs and realities faced by some of our most underserved and vulnerable communities. That includes the push by the mainstream environmental advocacy community to enforce plastic bags bans in favor of reusables, despite the fact that cardboard paper and other reusables pose a clear public health risk — especially for workers on the front lines of the pandemic response.

Why, for example, is it smart public policy to insist that grocery workers be exposed to reusable bags when research shows that reusable bags can be repositories of the COVID-19 virus? The majority of these essential workers are low-income people of color who are disproportionately bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis, dying from the deadly disease at twice the rate of white people.

Additionally, in New York, it is well-documented that a recently enacted statewide plastic bag ban has disproportionately hurt black and Latino-owned businesses and shoppers. Although there is an exemption for recipients of benefits like WIC and food stamps from paying the five-cent tax on paper bags, working-class people of color and low-income New Yorkers still must pay.

Some stores have been charging for both plastic and paper, and, in some cases, more than five cents a bag. Five cents might not seem like much. But five cents (or more) per bag adds up, especially when one is living paycheck-to-paycheck, or, as is more likely at this moment, not working at all due to the coronavirus.

Some environmentalists have argued that opponents of the bag ban are trying to capitalize on the COVID-19 crisis by recommending a suspension of all bag regulations. Again, it would appear that many mainstream environmentalists only use research data to support policies that reflect their privileged vantage point without respect to the impact of those policies on the underprivileged.

I coined the term "environmental racism" in 1982 while involved in protests in Warren County, North Carolina, against the digging of a PCB landfill in the heart of a poor black agricultural community. At the time, there were some who thought that environmental issues should not be considered civil rights or racial justice issues. That was then, but the same attitudes persist and are part of our current public discourse, a kind of arrogance on the part of the privileged who think they know what is best for the disadvantaged and underprivileged.

Today, as the environmental justice movement has grown into a global campaign for change led by grassroots activists and leaders from people of color communities globally, we all know more about the intersection between the issues of racial and environmental justice.

I recall vividly back in the late 1980s after I co-authored and published a landmark study for the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice, Toxic Waste and Race in the United States, how unnerved the mainstream environmental movement was by the fact that people of color would do empirical research and define our own reality with respect to exposure to environmental hazards. Of course, our study demonstrated that there was an unequivocal link between race and the siting of toxic-waste facilities in America.

Unable to look beyond the blinders of a privileged ideology, some who call themselves environmentalists often fail to truly take into account the day-to-day concerns of millions of low-income Americans and people of color living in urban neighborhoods that also house hazardous sanitation sites, incinerators, rail yards, power plants, and other environmental hazards.

Indeed, some mainstream environmental groups insist on pushing for policies that make life harder for people of color and poor communities, arguing that such hardship — if they acknowledge it at all — is a price we must pay in order to achieve broader goals that those of privilege have envisioned and formulated as the standard for all to pursue.

As the virus continues to spread, we need to let go of high-minded ideological arguments and do everything possible to protect workers on the front lines of our efforts to contain it — including grocery clerks and deliverymen. Some states have temporarily lifted their bag bans or eradicated them altogether. A number of grocery stores are re-introducing plastic bags and telling customers not to use reusable bags.

As the crisis has unfolded, New York has twice extended non-enforcement of its plastic bag ban in the face of a lawsuit that challenges its constitutionality. It is not enough. The state should give essential workers and shoppers alike a sense of protection during the pandemic and bag the plastic ban altogether.

More often than not, these kinds of life-altering decisions are being made without the consultation or input from communities of color. Close to forty years after the publication of our Toxic Waste study, communities of color are still mostly excluded from these conversations, overlooked by many in the mainstream environmental movement as well as by local and state governments.

The fact remains: there is a divide between the mainstream environmentalism movement and the environmental justice community. And until both are able to come together and acknowledge the pervasive environmental harms that communities of color endure on a daily basis, the rift will only deepen. Ignoring or excluding the concerns of people of color from the environmental movement will not help solve the nation's or the world's environmental challenges.

Dr. Benjamin Chavis is president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association.

Earth Day 2020 Is an Opportunity for a New Philanthropy

April 23, 2020

Water flowing in my cornfield, like a hundred miniature rivers all at once,
carrying a simple message for a complex world.

Earth-Day-blue-2499-sq-1I clearly remember the first time I heard about Earth Day and someone mention the word ecology. Back then, in 1970, ecology was connected to a hip idea that I understood as "don't litter." The movement to clean up the environment was emerging, and many were moved by the Keep America Beautiful (Crying Indian) PSA — the one in which a noble-looking Indian paddles through an industrial wasteland and ends up shedding a single tear on a litter-strewn beach. (One thing we didn’t know, back then, was that "Iron Eyes" Cody, the "Indian" in the ad, was an Italian-American actor who had made a career out of portraying Native Americans in films.)

When I was about ten years old, my grandfather taught me how to whistle like a meadowlark so I could have conversations with them. By varying the pitch, rhythm, and tone of my whistle, meadowlarks would respond to me, and we would toss our calls back and forth until my mouth became too tired or dry to whistle any longer. The language of the meadowlark is theirs alone, but I knew they were trying to communicate with me. Later, in college, I learned that our planet and the universe are incredibly complex, yet in that field with the meadowlarks, the world was a simple and beautiful place. It was Albert Einstein, I think, who said: "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." I couldn't agree more.

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing even the biggest players in philanthropy to rethink and readjust their strategies and forcing them to come to grips with unexpected forces that could threaten the stability of our society and the planet. It's enough to make one cry, but if we think of Earth Day 2020 as a new starting line, there are several things we can do to get us moving forward with renewed vigor.

Reject a return to normal. A large part of the globe is trying to look past the pandemic and is hoping for a return to normal. But most of us know "normal" has not been satisfactory or adequate, especially for marginalized peoples. As a result of deliberate policies, millions of people around the globe are subject to living conditions that unfairly aggravate their efforts to obtain nutritious food and clean water, particularly in times of crisis. Truth be told, too much of the global population is not resilient, and far too many of us exist on the edge of a precipice. If nothing, the coronavirus pandemic has taught us that the global economy is dangerously fragile, and when it is disrupted, panic, anxiety, and anger ensue. When systems fall out of balance, as they have over the last three or four decades, significant human and financial resources must be deployed to restore the balance.

Communicate a message of compassion and reciprocity. We live in a world filled with damaged people and people who have been left behind. We also live in a world of environmental limits. We cannot continue to take from the planet without giving back, and we must not continue to neglect vulnerable people. You and I know this to be the case; now is the time to share the message widely and from a place of compassion.

Take justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in your grantmaking seriously. If your board and staff and those of your grantees are not ready for change, you need to let them know that the time for change is now. It is up to you to use your grantmaking to confront asymmetries of power. And it makes sense this should be so. We need the broadest spectrum of skills and talents if we are to develop solutions to the complex problems we face.

Direct your support to local and regional philanthropic channels. Let's be frank: community foundations and other local organizations know their social, cultural, economic, and political contexts better than you do. It's up to you, therefore, to build their capacity to do more of what they're doing. It’s an efficient and effective strategy that you need to invest in, if you aren’t already.

Native peoples have long known that land and water conservation is inseparable from food security and is the responsibility of each of us. I am also firm in my belief that preserving Native languages as vessels of traditional knowledge is a critical component of social and environmental resilience, not only in reaction to a crisis but as a human right. What has been happening in Native communities around the world for many years now is just one more example of the "canary in a coal mine." It's time to pay attention.

Against the backdrop of COVID-19, Earth Day 2020 is our chance to start anew. It's an honor for me personally to be a part of the environmental community during this challenging time. We are principled and moral people. We sometimes make mistakes, but we learn from those mistakes and move forward. We walk toward challenges, not away from them. We commit to do better because we want to make the world a more beautiful place.

Recently, standing beside the spring that waters my property, I understood that the water was speaking in a language I had known all along. Not a language of words, but of sound, a simple abstraction of the glory of the natural world, a world we must love and protect for generations to come.

Headshot_Jim EnoteJim Enote is a Zuni tribal member and CEO of the Colorado Plateau Foundation. For over forty years, he has tackled land and water conservation issues around the world and is committed to conserving and protecting his own and other Native cultures.  

Five Strategies for Advancing Your Mission in 2020

March 04, 2020

Social_media_icons_for_PhilanTopicThe months leading up to the presidential election in November are a critical period for philanthropic and nonprofit leaders interested in shaping public discourse around a range of issues. It promises to be a period when Americans weigh everything from plans to make health care and college more affordable to new ideas for addressing the opioid crisis, climate change, national security, and economic growth. It's also likely to be a period when philanthropy is called on to highlight important issues, contribute to and inform the national dialogue, and advocate for the public interest.

In the coming weeks, leaders at private and corporate foundations, NGOs, and nonprofits will have an opportunity to leverage the presidential election cycle to raise awareness of — and drive engagement with — their issues. From the debates and primaries still to come to the party conventions and the election itself, the moment is ripe for action.

For social-sector leaders inclined to act, there are five key elements to effective issues advocacy:

Continue reading »

Few Large U.S. Foundations Changed Giving Priorities After 2016 Presidential Election

January 07, 2020

White_HouseIn early 2019, Candid asked 645 of the largest U.S. foundations whether they had changed their funding priorities in 2017 and 2018 as a result of the 2016 presidential election. The vast majority (88 percent) of the respondents said their organizations made "few or no changes" to their giving priorities during the two years following the election. About one in eight (12 percent) reported making "some notable changes."

These results differ slightly from a similar survey conducted by Exponent Philanthropy in early 2017. Nearly one-quarter of the participants in that survey — foundations with few or no staff, philanthropic families, and individual donors — said they expected to make some changes to their philanthropic giving as a direct result of Donald Trump's election.

Not surprisingly, foundations reporting "few or no changes to their giving priorities" in Candid’s 2019 survey felt little need to further explain why this was the case.  "Staying the course" was a common refrain.

Foundations that reported making "some notable changes" identified five causes in particular for which they felt additional support was needed, given shifts in the political environment: 1) immigration, 2) civic engagement/democracy, 3) equity/social justice/intolerance, 4) the environment, and 5) health care. In some cases, foundations also established "rapid response" funds to help grantees that might be facing new or urgent challenges in carrying out their work.

Continue reading »

What's New at Foundation Center Update (November and December)

December 18, 2018

FC_logoDoes anyone feel like the end of the year is the busiest time of all? Not only is everyone swamped, but with so much happening in the world and in philanthropy, there's hardly any time to prioritize reflection, learning, and empathy. Here at Foundation Center, we're scrambling to finish this year's projects while also planning some exciting things for 2019.

This is a long update, but I guarantee there's something useful in it for everyone!

Projects Launched

  • In partnership with the Early Childhood Funders’ Collaborative and Heising-Simons Foundation, we launched Funding for Early Childhood Care and Education, an interactive mapping tool that provides a valuable starting place for funders and practitioners interested in supporting the learning and development of young children across the country.
  • In partnership with the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, we launched the fifth edition of Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy, as well as a revamped website with an updated dashboard. The new report includes a five-year (2012-2016) trends analysis, adding to the information available on disaster giving and enabling philanthropists, government agencies, and NGOs to better coordinate their efforts and make better decisions about support for effective disaster response and assistance. You can view all these resources at: disasterphilanthropy.foundationcenter.org.
  • We launched the Barr Foundation Knowledge Center, which features key learnings and work from the Barr Foundation and their partners aimed at maximizing impact in their issue areas and the field more generally. Powered by our IssueLab service, the collection includes publications and resources that are free to browse and download.
  • In partnership with Hispanics in Philanthropy and Seattle International Foundation, we released a new report, U.S. Foundation Funding for Latin America, 2014–2015. This two-year analysis updates seven years of collaborative research with a multiyear analysis designed to help civil society leaders identify long-term trends in the region and better target their resources. With additional analysis on Central America, the report was highlighted at the 2018 Central America Donors Forum in El Salvador.
  • We added a new feature on YouthGiving.org, Causes: Youth In Action! The new pages provide an in-depth look at how youth funders are approaching critical issues in the world today. And while there are lots of causes around which youth are energized, the new feature focuses on three to start — Environment, Immigration, and Mental Health — with each page showcasing current funding data, ways youth can get involved, and stories from youth highlighting their work to effect change.
  • We released new research in partnership with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation that maps the composition of and support for the complex ecosystem of nonprofit and philanthropic infrastructure organizations around the world.
  • We launched new dashboards on the Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy site, a nonpartisan data visualization platform for anyone interested in understanding philanthropy's role in funding U.S. democracy. With the new dashboards, the site now provides information on more than 57,000 grants awarded by over 6,000 funders totaling $5.1 billion across four major categories: campaigns and elections, civic participation, government strengthening, and media.

Content Published

Newsworthy Connections

  • In the wake of the midterm elections, we have seen a reinvigorated debate around the role of philanthropy in a democratic society. But what are funders actually doing to support democracy in the United States? At a time of increased scrutiny of foundations, our updated dashboards on Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy provide a measure of transparency and a partial answer to that question and complement the broader discussion about philanthropy's role in a democratic society. Learn more at democracy.foundationcenter.org.
  • Teleangé Thomas, director of Foundation Center Midwest, was tapped to moderate a televised interview with Anand Giridharadas, author of Winner Takes All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World at the City Club of Cleveland in October.

In the News

What We're Excited About

  • Shifting from presenting data to sharing insights. A great example is this blog post on PhilanTopic written by our own Anna Koob on the intersection of democracy funding and participatory grantmaking — both recent focuses of our work.
  • Our GrantCraft guide on participatory grantmaking guide has been downloaded more than 2,000 times since it was launched in October! We've also received a number of inquiries from funders interested in adopting the practice and are continuing to advance the conversation through blogs, conference sessions, and webinars.
  • If you haven't already, check out the series in PhilanTopic on current trends in philanthropy by Vice President of Research Larry McGill and our Knowledge Services colleagues Supriya Kumar and Anna Koob. The series touches on big picture trends as well as a few of our recent research projects.
  • Foundation Center has officially joined the United Philanthropy Forum, a network of more than seventy-five regional and national philanthropy-serving organizations (PSOs). We’re excited about the exciting joint opportunities that lie ahead!
  • Foundation Center's annual Network Days conference for the center's Funding Information Network partners met the expectations of 93 percent of attendees and was attended by representatives of sixty-four of our partners, including a number from outside the U.S.

Services Spotlight

  • In October, we added 178,992 new grants to Foundation Maps, of which 4,665 were awarded to 2,269 organizations outside the United States. In November, we added 218,139 grants, of which 12,716 were awarded to 5,912 organizations outside the U.S.
  • Foundation Directory Online now includes more than 13 million grants. We've also made improvements to its search functionality and added more robust usage reports.
  • New data sharing partners: Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation; Boyd and Evelyn Mullen Charitable Foundation; Patrick and Aimee Butler Family Foundation; C&A Foundation; Delta Air Lines Foundation; Fichtenbaum Charitable Foundation; New York Women's Foundation, Inc.; People's United Community Foundation, Inc.; People's United Community Foundation of Eastern Massachusetts, Inc.; Pohlad Family Foundation; and David And Claudia Reich Family Foundation. Tell your story through data so we can communicate philanthropy's contribution to making a better world — learn more about our eReporting program.
  • Thanks to a generous grant from Borealis Philanthropy, we added 97 eBooks to Foundation Center's collection, bringing the total number of eBooks available to the public to 179. Since mid-April, when the collection was first made available online, the most-viewed titles have been The Complete Book of Grant Writing: Learn to Write Grants Like a Professional and Nonprofit Management 101: A Complete and Practical Guide for Leaders and Professionals. Check out our free eBooks today!

Data Spotlight

  • Since 2001, youth have made 101 grants totaling more than $475,000 in support of issues related to immigrants and refugees. YouthGiving.org's new cause page focused on immigration aims to help youth (and the adults who support them) to be more strategic in their work by highlighting quick facts and resources from organizations that work on these issues every day.
  • In terms of disaster assistance strategies, 42 percent of dollars awarded in 2016 supported response and relief efforts; 17 percent supported reconstruction and recovery efforts, with more than half of that awarded in support of efforts related to the Flint water crisis; 8 percent supported resilience measures; and 5 percent was allocated to disaster preparedness efforts. Learn more about these strategies and trends at disasterphilanthropy.foundationcenter.org.
  • Since 2011, Foundation Center has documented 57,000+ democracy-related grants. Of those, 11.5 percent totaling some $583 million were directed in support of campaigns, elections, and voting, including support for campaign finance reform, election administration, voter education, and voting access efforts.
  • Did you know funding for nonprofit infrastructure organizations averaged $70.4 million annually between 2004 and 2015? Learn more about the ecosystem of organizations working to support nonprofits, philanthropy, and civil society at infrastructure.foundationcenter.org.
  • Thirty-eight percent of the grant dollars awarded by U.S. foundations to Latin America went directly to recipient organizations in the region, while the rest was awarded to organizations located outside the region. Learn more about funding for Latin America here.
  • Youth have awarded more than $795,000 in support of the environment, including causes such as climate change, outdoor education, and animal welfare. Explore youthgiving.org/learn/causes/environment to learn more about why young people are taking action around the environment.
  • Since January 2018, Foundation Center has hosted more than 15,000 attendees at our in-person events at our five regional offices and registered nearly 30,000 folks for our online classes and self-paced e-learning courses. Check out our ongoing events calendar at GrantSpace. And browse our self-paced e-learning courses and other on-demand courses here.
  • Through our Ask Us chat service, Foundation Center staff have assisted with or answered more than 130,000 questions from the public on topics related to finding grants, fundraising, and nonprofit management.
  • Lastly, we completed custom data searches for the University of San Diego, Geneva Global, the Center for Evaluation Innovation, and the Educational Foundation of America.

If you found this update helpful, feel free to share it or shoot us an email! I'll be back next month with another update.

Jen Bokoff is director of stakeholder engagement at Foundation Center.

Weekend Link Roundup (November 10-11, 2018)

November 11, 2018

11-10-2018-malibu-fire-pchA weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Civil Society

On the twenty-ninth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Richard Marker reflects on "the fragility of civil society, the brevity of memory, and the destructive hubris of leaders motivated by xenophobic rage."

Criminal Justice

In the New York Times, Michelle Alexander, author of the acclaimed The New Jim Crow, hails "the astonishing progress that has been made in the last several years on a wide range of criminal justice issues." But she warns that "[m]any of the current reform efforts contain the seeds of the next generation of racial and social control, a system of 'e-carceration' that may prove more dangerous and more difficult to challenge than the one we hope to leave behind."

Environment

The world is drowning in stuff, writes Elizabeth Seagran, PhD, a staff writer for Fast Company. Isn't it time for nonprofits and foundations to do the environment a favor and just say no to all the cheap swag they hand out at conferences and events?

Giving

Nice post on the Charity Navigator blog about philanthropically minded celebs who have turned giving into an art.

Governance

On the GuideStar blog, Bill Hoffman, CEO of Bill Hoffman & Associates, LLC, a Tampa-based consulting firm, shares six things individual nonprofit board members can do to support their CEO's success.

Continue reading »

Current Trends in Philanthropy: U.S. Foundation Support for Climate Action

November 09, 2018

IStock-470785468Released last month, the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report paints a bleak picture of the disastrous consequences facing the planet if the average global temperature climbs 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The authors of the report warn that humanity will have to cut carbon emissions to almost half the 2010 level as early as 2030 in order to avoid long-lasting and potentially irreversible impacts from climate change, including the loss of many important ecosystems.

The issue of climate change and the impact of human activity on the environment has been hotly debated and has received significant attention from U.S. foundations. According to Foundation Center data, the largest one thousand U.S. foundations gave between $232 million and $261 million annually for climate-related issues between 2011 and 2015, with the exception of 2012, when a large infusion of funds into the ClimateWorks Foundation pushed the annual total to $340 million.

This represents about one percent of giving during that period but does not represent all giving that may contribute to the mitigation of climate change and its effects. Indeed, as much as another 3 percent of foundation giving over that period related to energy issues or sustainable agriculture may have supported efforts to address energy usage and current agricultural practices so as to lessen their contributions to global warming.

Fig1.1_climate action

Energy efficiency and electrification, in particular, have been a significant focus of foundation funding for climate action, with 57 percent of all climate change-related grants funded by the largest one thousand U.S. foundations between 2011-15 related to energy efficiency or renewable energy efforts. Food and agriculture, on the other hand, represented only 3 percent of climate action funding over the same period. Increasingly, however, foundations are recognizing the importance of sustainable food production in tackling climate change and are approaching the issue through an intersectional lens, as evidenced by initiatives such as Project Drawdown.

Fig. 1.2_climate action

The year 2015 also saw the adoption of the Paris Agreement, which the United States initially signed but, at the behest of the Trump administration, subsequently withdrew from. Given that the deployment of capital and funding is a critical factor in efforts to de-carbonize the global economy, the withdrawal of the U.S. from the agreement raises the question as to whether and how foundation giving has changed in response.

Detailed grantmaking data for 2016 (and subsequent years) is still being compiled, so it's difficult to draw any conclusions about the immediate response of foundations to the Trump administration’s decision. That said, several major foundations have announced significant commitments since the agreement was ratified in 2015.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (November 3-4, 2018)

November 04, 2018

Every voteA weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Arts and Culture

According to a new Indiana University study, more than half of arts and culture nonprofits in the state report that demand for their services has increased over the past three years, and an even larger share reports that their expenses had increased more than their revenues, suggesting that most arts groups in the state operate in the red.

Environment

Most of us have stereotypes about who is, and isn't, an environmentalist. Most of us are wrong. Linda Poon reports for CityLab.

Higher Education

The Great Recession seems to have made a new generation of college students wary of the humanities. In The Atlantic, Jeffrey Selingo reports on what some liberal arts schools are doing to protect their investment.

Universities and colleges will have to work fast, because the AP reports that Amazon has launched a program to teach more than ten million students a year how to code, with a focus on kids and young adults from low-income families.

Journalism/Media

NewsMatch, the largest grassroots fundraising campaign in support of nonprofit news organizations, is underway. With support from a diverse group of foundations, including the Democracy Fund, the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, the Gates Family Foundation (through the Colorado Media Project), the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Wyncote Foundation, the campaign will double donations to a hundred fifty-five nonprofit newsrooms in nearly every state across the country through December 31.

Nonprofits

As a society, we make "big bets" on lots of things — the importance of a quality education for all, the exploration of space, the outcome of the Super Bowl and World Cup. So why, asks Social Velocity's Nell Edgington, don't we make big bets on the nonprofit sector?

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Current Trends in Philanthropy: International Giving by U.S. Foundations

November 01, 2018

Global-giving-report-coverInternational giving by large U.S. foundations reached an all-time high of $9.3 billion in 2015, up some 306 percent, from $2.1 billion, in 2002, when Foundation Center first started tracking it on an annual basis. During the same period, international giving also increased as a percent of total giving, from 13.9 percent in 2002 to 28.4 percent in 2015.

While the number of grants to international organizations and causes has stayed relatively stable, up some 31 percent (from 10,600 to 13,900) since 2002, average grant size has increased more than three-fold, from $200,900 in 2002 to $604,500 in 2015.

Much of that growth can be attributed to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which accounted for more than half (51 percent) of all international giving from 2011 to 2015. When Gates Foundation grantmaking is excluded, we see that international giving grew at a somewhat slower rate (21 percent) during the five-year period, reaching a high of nearly $4 billion in 2015.

Like foundation giving in general, international giving by U.S. foundations is largely project-focused: despite continued calls from nonprofit leaders for foundations to provide more general operating support, 65 percent of international giving by U.S. foundations from 2011 to 2015 was for specific projects or programs. (General support refers broadly to unrestricted funding and core support for day-to-day operating costs. Project support or program development refers to support for specific projects or programs as opposed to the general purpose of an organization. For more information, see https://taxonomy.foundationcenter.org/support-strategies.)

Data also show that U.S. foundations continue to fund international work primarily through intermediaries. From 2011 to 2015, 28 percent of international giving was channeled through U.S.-based intermediaries, 30 percent went through non-U.S. intermediaries, and just 12 percent went directly to organizations based in the country where programs were implemented. What’s more, just 1 percent of international giving was awarded in the form of general support grants directly to local organizations, and those grants were substantially smaller in size, averaging just under $242,000, while grants to intermediaries averaged just over $554,000.

It's important to note that these intermediaries vary in type and structure, and include:

  • International nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) operating programs in a different country than the country where they are headquartered.
  • U.S. public charities re-granting funds directly to local organizations.
  • Organizations indigenous to their geographic region but working across countries (i.e., not just in the country where they are headquartered).
  • Multilateral institutions working globally (e.g., the World Health Organization, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria).
  • Research institutions conducting public health research or vaccination programs targeted at specific countries that are not the country where they are headquartered.

Unsurprisingly, health was the top-funded subject area supported by U.S. foundations in the 2011 to 2015 period, with grants totaling $18.6 billion accounting for 53 percent of international grantmaking.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (October 27-28, 2018)

October 28, 2018

Pittsburgh synogogue vigil union sq 353A weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

In September, we reported on a coalition of mostly U.S.-based foundations and philanthropies that have pledged $4 billion to combat climate change. But what exactly can charitable efforts on that scale do to slow the pace of global warming and help people cope with its consequences? More than you think, writes Morten Wendelbo, a research fellow at American University, on The Conversation site.

Civil Society

Palaces for the People, a new book by Eric Klinenberg, a sociology professor at New York University and director of its Institute for Public Knowledge, examines how "social infrastructure" — libraries, parks, playgrounds, gardens, child care centers, churches, and synagogues — help us form some of our most significant and abiding connections. These spaces are also crucial, Klinenberg argues, for bridging divides and safeguarding the values of democracy. Katie Pearce reports for Johns Hopkins University's Hub.

Education

A lot of kids graduate high school unprepared for success in college and beyond. A new study from the New Teacher Project, a national nonprofit focused on teacher development and educational programming, puts most of the blame on school itself. Eillie Anzilotti reports for Fast Company.

Environment

The environmental movement is a lot of great things, but diverse isn't one of them. Vu Le's organization, Rainier Valley Corps, is creating a new program called the Green Pathways Fellowship designed to addressed the situation. In his latest post, Le shares a few components of the program. 

Equity

"[Philanthropy] defines people as 'low-income', 'at-risk', 'high-crime', 'low-literacy'. We define people by stigmatizing labels," Trabian Shorters, a former Knight Foundation VP who founded BME (Black Male Engagement) Community, tells Generocity's Julie Zeglin. A better approach would be to frame our narratives in terms of assets. Or as Shorters tells Zeglin: "[T]o really advance equity, you have to remind those who are really concerned with these questions that all of us are striving to do the best we can under the conditions that we're dealt. When you remind people of that, then we look at solutions entirely differently."

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (July 21-22, 2018)

July 22, 2018

Trump_putin_afp_getty_yuri_kadobnovOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Animal Welfare

Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther reports on the return of Wayne Pacelle, the former Human Society of the United States CEO who was forced to step down from his position six months ago after "a flurry of accusations of sexual harassment led to revolts among donors and staff."

Civic Engagement

In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, California Endowment president Robert K. Ross argues that what America disparately needs is a "shared vision for [the] nation that is born from our communities and [a] new social compact to support that vision."

Education

Researchers from Northeastern University have put numbers to something many of us suspected: geography largely determines access to quality schools. In Boston, where the research was conducted, a lack of good schools in predominately minority neighborhoods means that students in those neighborhoods had "fewer top schools from which to choose, had greater competition for seats in those schools, were less likely to attend them, and had to travel longer distances when they did attend them." Sara Feijo reports for Northeastern News.

Diversity

On the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, CEP's Ellie Buteau shares findings from a new CEP report, Nonprofit Diversity Efforts: Current Practices and the Role of Foundations, that was based on a survey of nonprofit leaders that asked them about diversity at their organizations and how foundations can be most helpful in this area.

Environment

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, a leading funder of conservation efforts in the American West, has announced a refresh of its grantmaking strategy for the region that includes a couple of new imperatives: listen more to grantees, partners, and communities; prioritize equity, inclusivity, and diversity; and take a systemic approach to policy change. Click here to learn more.

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Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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