How One of the Country’s Wealthiest Families Is Linking Up Climate and Justice

The Pritzkers are best known for enormous wealth derived from a hotel empire, and there are so many billionaires and philanthropists with this last name that it's hard to keep track of them all, although we do our best. One branch of the family’s charitable endeavors, the Libra Foundation, has made an interesting shift in how it works on the environment, to elevate an emphasis on justice and women’s rights. 

The Pritzker family’s fortune comes in part from the Hyatt Hotels company, but their empire is one of the largest in the country, starting back in the 19th century and today including 11 members worth more than a billion dollars.

Libra was founded in part by Nicholas J. Pritzker, who now serves on the board with his wife Susan S. Pritzker and other family members. The foundation is all about human rights and social justice, with interests in women’s rights and drug policy reform. But it also has an environment program, which recently shifted from sustainability to environmental justice, now focusing on human rights, promoting social justice, and mitigating impacts of climate change. 

While it's not a huge program, in its last round of funding, decided in December, Libra did renew and increase support for all of its environmental grantees, and added four new grantees, according to Jennifer Near, senior program officer. 

“We are open to accepting a very limited number of new partners from the environmental movement that are using this framework, and we are also interested in exploring new groups that identify climate change and environmental impacts as a core women’s rights issue,” Near stated via email. 

While Libra is hardly the only funder that has linked up gender and climate, it's not a major theme that we see among environmental funders. Then again, maybe it's only been a matter of time, since a gender focus has increasingly come to the fore in other areas of philanthropy, like giving around global development, STEM, and U.S. anti-poverty work. It turns out that empowering half the world's population is a key to making all sorts of good things happen. 

Meanwhile, as we've been reporting, more climate funders are getting attuned to the role of low-income groups in climate work, so in that sense, Libra's shift to a justice frame can be seen as part of a broader trend in environmental philanthropy.  

Related - Why Kresge's Helping Low-Income Communities Lead on Climate Change

One representative example of Libra's unfolding strategy is a recent grant made to the Climate Justice Alliance, a collaborative of organizations working with communities on climate issues. The groups work in minority and working-class communities in the United States to coalesce a movement of groups interested in tackling climate change from the standpoint of racially or economically marginalized groups. The two leading organizations in the coalition are Grassroots Global Justice Alliance and Movement Generation. It’s a cool initiative, also connected to the Divest Invest movement to move money away from fossil fuel stocks.

This kind of philanthropy is at the core of the Libra Foundation, which has also signed on to Philanthropy’s Promise, which means it pledges to give 50 percent to underserved communities and 25 percent to policy and civic engagement. 

A lot of people may not associate the Pritzker name with progressive philanthropy. The family's "brand" is closely linked to business and the mainstream of Chicago civic life, as opposed to liberal causes (although Penny Pritzker is a well-known Obama supporter who now serves as U.S. Commerce Secretary.) 

Still, the more we dig into Pritzker giving, the more we see how different members of this clanall born to great privilegecare deeply about inequity and the well-being of vulnerable people. 

Libra accepts applications, and while they give nationwide and globally, emphasis is on programs in Illinois and California.