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Grassroots Intermediaries are a Path to Climate Justice

After the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, it’s more important than ever for philanthropy to fund real climate solutions led by frontline communities. In the statement below, we join other intermediary funders of grassroots movements to push for solidarity philanthropy when it comes to climate justice.

An offshoot of the Regenerative Economies Organizing Collaborative (REO), this grassroots funder intermediary group was catalyzed in Fall 2020 by the Bezos Earth Fund’s (BEF) first-round grants announcement. All of us realized, as wealth gaps increase along with climate disasters, that billionaire climate philanthropists will likely become more frequent in years to come. And we agreed, as we watched mainstream, white-led groups with narrow vision and already large budgets once again profit at the expense of the frontlines, that we had to intercept this destructive yet familiar pattern. We recognized that unless we removed the barriers large, mainstream philanthropies often cite against funding grassroots (their budgets are too small; we don’t know how to find them; we don’t have time to give multiple small grants; we don’t know if they can get “to scale,” etc.) this inequitable story would repeat itself again and again.  And even as the BEF moves grants to environmental justice groups, we stand by the assertion that a few rounds of grants will not repair centuries of harm and inequity, nor will they erase the ills of a white supremacist, capitalist system that created the billionaire class in the first place.


Grassroots-Centric Intermediaries

We are a group of equity-focused intermediary funds, disseminating funding to and following leadership of frontline groups building solutions for our interconnected ecological, planetary, social, and economic crises. We know resourcing the mosaic of grassroots formations advancing change around the globe is complex. Large philanthropies often don’t fund the grassroots sector because of misperceptions about the absorptive capacity and scale of grassroots groups, or because of limited relationships with frontline communities. We exist to ensure that resources – including (or especially) the new influx of climate funding – move towards those best positioned to protect our planet and build more equitable societies.

The overlapping and increasing occurrence of hurricanes, floods, fires, freezes, and a global pandemic are reminders of the critical juncture in ecological history we inhabit. The choices we have made in the past and the ones we will make over the next decade will ripple across generations. Funders and donors are responding by moving more resources towards the climate crisis. Yet, while more funding is needed, it is just as important who and how we fund.

Historically and today, climate funding has disproportionately favored top-down strategies and overlooked frontline climate justice solutions that are led, designed, and implemented by those who are most directly affected by the ecological and climate crises. If we are to support the systemic shifts deemed necessary by the most recent IPCC report, and at an accelerated rate, funders must move the vast majority of climate philanthropy resources towards frontline communities advancing effective and equitable solutions.

We urge donors to give directly to grassroots groups or, where that is not feasible, to grassroots-accountable intermediary funds. The criteria and preliminary list of equity-focused intermediary funds below were created through a transparent, democratic process. We welcome and expect additional funds that meet the criteria to provide feedback and join. We encourage funders to lean on us to support the integration of equity and justice in their grantmaking. In turn, we commit to following the leadership of frontline communities in the US and the Global South, leading the climate justice work, such as Black, Afro-descent, and Indigenous Peoples; women; peasants and family farmers; fisherfolk; low-wage workers, queer, trans, and gender-non conforming people; immigrants and migrants; disabled people; and young people, among many others. We will do our part to shift capital directly to the communities upon whose backs wealth has historically been built, and whose bodies and local environments have suffered most from the impacts of our globalized extractive economy.

Please join us!

Criteria for inclusion in this group:

We recognize the power we hold as funders. With this in mind, the following criteria for inclusion in this group describe ways in which we strive to address, mitigate to the extent possible, and shift the “power over” dynamic toward leveraging “power for,” “power to,” and “power with” movements.

We welcome intermediary funders who support the points of unity/criteria below to join us:

  1. Our funding goes to Frontline* grassroots organizations, communities and social movements in the US and globally that are: most impacted by extractive systems and policies; lead grassroots climate justice solutions with a systems change frame; support intersectional grassroots solutions to the climate crisis; and reject false promises of market-based schemes, techno-fixes, and other top-down strategies that harm communities.
  2. We recognize the importance of supporting the visions, strategies, and decisions of frontline organizations. We respect their autonomy and provide flexible, core support so that they can self-determine the use of resources in alignment with their visions and needs.
  3. We engage our grassroots partners in decision-making processes in strategic and meaningful ways. Examples can include grassroots partners having decision-making power in the grantmaking process; grassroots partner engagement in reciprocal, trust-based, long-term partnerships; grassroots partners being included in the development of our strategies; and grassroots partners having platforms to evaluate and give us feedback.
  4. We are not pass-through organizations, but public institutions with independent visions and strategies working to support frontline organizations. We commit to constantly deepening our accountability to grassroots communities and/or grassroots decision-making bodies, working within the contexts of our legal structures and boards to center and follow grassroots communities and solutions.
  5. We are willing to engage in collaboration and joint efforts to shift practices and liberate capital within traditional philanthropy.
  6. We commit to being risk-tolerant, standing with our partners for the long haul and moving money in ways that support frontline groups to experiment and innovate.
  7. We have an internal commitment and practice of diversity, equity and inclusion within our organization.

*Frontline Communities are those impacted most by climate change and its root causes including white supremacy, patriarchy and colonization. These communities are embedded in legacy struggles against social, economic, and environmental injustices exacerbated by extractive and pollutive industries that have been purposely and systematically situated adjacent to their communities. Their disproportionate exposure to climate and environmental injustice results in acute and chronic impacts to human and environmental health. Frontline Organizations are those created of, by, and for Frontline Communities, and are accountable to a base of Frontline Community members. They are led by Black, Indigenous, other Peoples of Color, and working class people; are grassroots-driven; and center the leadership, vision, and priorities of Afro-descendant, women, youth, intergenerational formations, LGBTQ, low-wage workers, and those who hold sacred knowledge of how to live in right relationships to the earth.

The following is an initial list of grassroots intermediaries that agree with, follow, and have contributed to our statement and criteria. We view this as a preliminary list, intending for it to grow over time:

Agroecology Fund: Farming the land as if nature doesn’t matter has become the model for much of the Western world’s food production system. And every day we feel the results: poor diets, vanishing family farms, depleted soil, chemically-fouled streams and marine dead zones, an insect apocalypse, and more. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent special report on land made clear, our future is catastrophic if we don’t make major changes to how we grow and eat food. Fortunately, agroecology revitalizes biodiversity and regenerates degraded land and watersheds.

To help move agroecology into the mainstream where it belongs, four pioneering foundations came together in 2012 to launch the Agroecology Fund. Our growing cohort of now 35 foundation members has granted nearly $10 million to hundreds of organizations, networks and collaborations across dozens of countries. We are committed to leveraging millions more for agroecology movements by motivating investments from philanthropic organizations, development agencies and the private sector.

American Jewish World Service (AJWS) is a public foundation and intermediary funder that supports grassroots movements in 18 countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America/Caribbean that are advancing climate justice, human rights, and inclusive democracy. Begun in 1985, AJWS’s tiered approach to grantmaking focuses on long term support for grassroots organizations and movements, as well as national, regional, and international organizations that intentionally elevate and support the work of the grassroots. Our annual grantmaking on climate justice and inclusive democracy averages $5 million annually to over 150 groups. We also provide accompaniment to partners and carry out advocacy targeting the US government, as well as funder organizing to amplify our partners’ voices and agendas. Our granntmaking model is guided by a social movement and feminist lens and is driven by in-country staff who are from and/or have deep experience with the movements and partners we support. Our grantmaking decisions are also informed by the priorities and recommendations of our existing grantee partners, as well as of other movement activists we engage with.

The BEA Fund emerged from the environmental justice movement and offers a critical alternative to grassroots groups that are chronically undervalued, underfunded, and often excluded from mainstream philanthropy. Our organization is led by the same communities we fund: self-led grassroots Black, brown, Indigenous, people of color and low-income frontline communities. This prioritizes our grantees’ ability to define their own agenda, build political power, and create lasting solutions for their own wellbeing and the planet’s.

CLIMA Fund is a collaboration among four international grant-making organizations funding and accompanying grassroots climate justice work across the globe: Global Greengrants, Grassroots International, Thousand Currents, and Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Rights. CLIMA raises and re-grants funding for women, Indigenous, peasant, and youth-led movement building in 168 countries. In our collective histories we have made over 15,000 grants and have an annual budget over $40M. By working together, we can absorb large capital investments to re-grant to grassroots climate justice global movements quickly, efficiently, and effectively. Our four public foundations use complementary models to holistically support movement ecosystems, from rapid response for environmental defenders to seed funding for emerging organizations to long-term partnership and support to social movements.

Grassroots International is a global grantmaking and social action organization that partners with social movements in the Global South and progressive funders in the US. We partner, fund, and work in solidarity with movements and organizations around the world in order to nurture sustainable and equitable relationships between people, with the earth, and all its living systems. We believe that social, economic and ecological justice requires deep transformation in systems, structures and culture. Social movements are necessary to create this kind of transformation. Therefore, it is vitally important that Grassroots International articulate and refine the concept and practice of Solidarity Philanthropy to advance the radical and transformational power of the movements and frontline communities we serve.

Native Voices Rising is a pooled regranting collaborative that serves as a mechanism to build broad-based philanthropic support for grassroots groups led by and for Native communities – including American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian communities – and to amplify Native voices elevating Indigenous solutions to historic harms around environmental, racial, and societal injustices. Central to NVR is a community-led grantmaking approach with Native community members empowered to make grant decisions. As a collaboration between a non-Native public foundation (Common Counsel Foundation) and a Native philanthropic affinity group (Native Americans in Philanthropy), NVR is uniquely positioned to engage and guide non-Native donors and funders into the opportunity to learn about and resource Native-led social change work, while centering Native community members in the fund’s decision-making process.

Thousand Currents believes the answers to the most entrenched societal challenges around the world rest in the hands of directly affected frontline communities. We raise money to fund those communities, which are organized as grassroots groups and social movements, working in the areas of food, economic, and climate justice. Currently, we support over 128 women and girls-, youth-, and Indigenous-led groups, alliances, and movements across Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America with core, flexible, long-term grants and value-added services. We are a bridge builder that connects donors in the Global North with leaders and solutions in the Global South through relationships of solidarity, trust, and respect — not charity. For 36 years, we have supported over 1,000 community initiatives in more than 45 countries, connected to over 200 million people, and moved nearly $20 million in grants.

We support our grassroots and movement partners to scale their successes by strengthening their capacities and leadership; and linking them to broader social change movements at the regional, national, and global levels. Through our Philanthropic Partnerships donor education program, we work with donors to adopt transformative practices that dismantle injustice and inequity and strengthen their relationships with grantee partners in alignment with their values and missions.

WhyHunger provides critical resources to support grassroots movements and fuel community solutions rooted in social, environmental, racial and economic justice. Founded in 1975 by the late musician Harry Chapin and Radio DJ Bill Ayres on the fundamental belief that access to nutritious food is a human right and hunger is a solvable problem in a world of abundance, we are working to end hunger and advance the human right to nutritious food in the U.S. and around the world. We work alongside social movements and organizations to resource the work on the ground and build cross-sectorial alliances to create the change we all aspire to see. In the last 5 years, we have mobilized $3.5 million dollars to 138 organizations and social movements in 29 countries to organize, grow food and regain control of their local food systems.