Think Globally: Who's Prodding Green Funders to Broaden Their Horizons?

Issues like drought, climate change, and sustainable agriculture don’t recognize borders. Even during tough times for U.S. environmental policy, the most locally focused grantmakers still can’t afford to think of their work in isolation. 

With that in mind, the Environmental Grantmakers Association is offering members a chance to reach far outside of their usual arenas through a five-month learning program on work happening in southern and eastern Africa, culminating in a learning trip.

“We don’t need everyone to be funding globally, but we all need to be thinking about things more holistically and more intersectionally, so this is just one way, one opportunity for funders to be able to do that,” said Rachel Leon, EGA executive director. 

The program is part of an effort set in motion by EGA’s board to challenge members to engage on global issues (similar to another priority to engage members in diversity, equity and inclusion issues). One result was the Global Distance Learning Program—an effort to introduce funders to issues in other geographies in a deeper way than an affinity group might normally facilitate. 

“It’s all connected, so we wanted to do a better job of bringing that frame to our membership,” Leon said. For around one to two dozen funders, the program will offer a webinar program and a learning trip to Africa, facilitated by South African activist and former Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo. 

Given the fact that the U.S. is hurtling toward environmental policy disaster, including the Trump administration’s recent efforts to unravel progress on climate change, you may wonder why green funders would want to turn their attention so far away. While global giving has been increasing among EGA’s membership, they’re still mostly U.S. environmental funders. 

Related: Where Is Environmental Giving Headed? Here's a (Mostly) Hopeful Look

Aside from the funding needs in Africa, and the overall significance of the region to global sustainability, there are some other reasons such a program would be particularly important for U.S. grantmakers. 

First, as mentioned above, environmental issues are hard to parse by location, especially considering the impacts of climate change and an increasingly global economy. Participants may ultimately decide to fund work in Africa, but they also may simply learn to apply a more global lens to their grantmaking.

Leon also pointed out that on the ground, efforts ranging from energy access to women’s rights don’t exist within the silos that funders often slot themselves into. That’s certainly the case in Africa, and such a program allows funders to see the intersectional solutions being put into action. The region is experiencing significant challenges, but also impressive work funders can learn a lot from regarding their existing funding priorities. 

“There’s a lot of bang for the buck, and a lot of exciting work happening, that is really effective that we could learn from, as opposed to thinking that we have to go in and save everything,” Leon said.

The other main thing EGA hopes funders can take away from this program is building connections. Following the program’s first outing, focused on China in 2014, funders from abroad are still maintaining connections with EGA and its members, Leon said. 

“It’s been beyond learning, it’s really developed relationships, which philanthropy is all about. Funders getting to know each other and their strategies,” Leon said. Learn more about the program here

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