Who's Giving Peace a Chance... Or At Least a Few Bucks?

Russian Tsar Vladimir V. Putin’s putsch in Ukraine is a nightmare for everybody, right? Well, maybe not everybody. During the Cold War and the heyday of the Evil Empire, the threat of nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union was a boon to groups working on peace and security issues. With the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, that changed. “There’s been a slow and steady decline in the number of foundations that fund peace and security work,” says John Cavanagh, director of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, who has been at IPS for three decades. “When I started, peace and security was bigger than social justice or environmental issues, and now peace and security is very small compared to those other realms.”

President Obama’s election gave everyone such a warm and fuzzy feeling that peace funding further decreased. The Ford Foundation’s international security program, which made over $17 million in grants in 2008 and 2009, was discontinued in 2009. Years earlier, in 2001, the W. Alton Jones Foundation, which supported nuclear disarmament, dissolved. Even the mighty MacArthur Foundation’s support of security programs is somewhat smaller.   

So what’s a fund-loving peacenik to do? Fortunately for the cause, there is still money in the mill. For one-stop shopping, try the Peace and Security Funders Group (www.peaceandsecurity.org), an affinity organization for grantmakers in the field. For research and scholarship, the big boys are still MacArthur Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which together give away a good chunk of all the dollars in the security field. In the advocacy arena, the Ploughshares Fund is all nukes, while other players are George Soros’ Open Society Foundations and the Hewlett Foundation, although the latter is winding down.

The good news is that some new players have arrived on the scene in the past decade. For example, Jeff Skoll set up the Skoll Global Threats Funds, which works on nuclear proliferation and Middle East conflict, among other issues (see our look at Skoll's Mid-East funding.) Pam and Pierre Omidyar created Humanity United, which has plunged into hotspots like Sudan and Liberia. Libby Hoffman created Catalyst for Peace, which promotes post-conflict peacebuilding in Africa. Howard G. Buffett has thrown serious resources into trying to reduce fighting in Congo and nearby areas, as we reported here. And the NoVo Foundation took on the issue of violence against women in war zones, as we wrote here

So it hasn't been a complete funding wipeout. Meanwhile, many of the smaller funders who are part of the Peace and Security Funders Group have kept chugging along in their grantmaking, modest though it is for many of these foundations. Oh, and its definitely worth mentioning the work of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, which has stuck with peace and security issues over the past dozen years, including its creative funding to defuse the crisis with Iran.

PSFG’s whip-smart and insanely precocious director, Alexandra Toma, said that other than Ford, there hasn’t been much of a decline in peace funding over the past five years. Which means that an analysis of grantmaking in this area that PSFG did last year for the 2008-09 period offers a still relevant snapshot of who's funding what.

Toma notes that the rise of regional militarism has spurred donors and Cavanagh of IPS says that groups have coalesced around U.S. military spending. IPS, for example, participates in the Pentagon Budget Campaign, which is partly funded by the Colombe Foundation (and which we wrote about here.)

Bottom line? There’s still money to be had, if all you are saying is give peace a chance. And if Putin continues his attempt to reconstruct the good ol’ USSR, well, it might just spur a new round of giving. “One would hope so,” laughs Cavanagh nervously.