In recent years, the concept of resilience has grown as a philanthropic priority, aiming to strengthen the ability of communities to withstand impacts typically associated with climate change. There’s also a growing movement behind climate justice, which views the issue in the context of systemic inequality and disproportionate impacts on marginalized communities.
Funding either issue can challenge a foundation in the execution, testing its ability and willingness to support smaller local groups, trust community leadership, and branch out from the usual grantees.
But a new project called the Climate Justice Resilience Fund is taking a crack at this challenge. It's a grantmaking intermediary launched in 2016 by the Oak Foundation with an initial $20 million commitment. The fund just picked up its second backer, the Georgia-based Kendeda Fund, which has committed $900,000 over the next three years. It's also made some grants during its first full year, so we’re starting to get a better sense of how this new outfit is going about its mission.
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The Oak Foundation is a large, international funder that has been around since the 1980s, based in wealth from Duty Free Shoppers. It started the CJRF as a new outgrowth of its environmental funding, but also in coordination with other priorities around youth, women’s issues and poverty (you can read a program officer discussing the decision here). Other environmental causes Oak supports include global fisheries and marine plastic waste. The six-year commitment for CJRF tasked the New Venture Fund with launching and housing the project, with former World Resources Institute program director Heather McGray taking the helm.
The fund always intended to pool resources from other foundations, however, and now they’ve added a second backer. The Kendeda Fund was for many years the anonymous philanthropic vehicle for Atlanta donor Diana Blank, until the grantmaker went public a couple years ago. Also interested in the environment, with a big focus on green building and sustainability, Kendeda has a Girls’ Rights program that also informed the recent contribution to CJRF.
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Over the past year or so, the fund has been taking shape, establishing how it operates and making some significant grants. One thing that makes CJRF unique is the fact that its focus is global, initially looking at three regions—East Africa, the Bay of Bengal and the Arctic (Alaska and northern Canada). Funding targets three main constituencies—women, youth and indigenous peoples—and is out to support “bottom-up, community-led approaches.”
While we’re seeing more foundations tackling inequality and supporting marginalized communities, this kind of giving at the grassroots level doesn’t always come naturally for them, requiring trust in the right grantees in each location. In the case of CJRF, there’s quite a bit of process detailed in its guidelines—an LOI, then a full proposal to be developed closely with the fund’s director. Decisions are made within four months, and then grantees are to stay in regular communication with CJRF while following set deliverables and milestones.
In its first year, the fund has mostly made grants for work in the Bay of Bengal. Recipients include some U.S.- and Europe-based international NGOs such as World Resources Institute ($75,000) and Helvetas ($1 million), but also organizations based in Bangladesh like major grantee COAST ($721,750) and YPSA ($50,000). The Arctic focus has also made a large grant to the Alaska Institute for Justice ($752,450) to support Alaska Native communities.
Part of the fund’s strategy is clearly to pick larger grantees that can act as intermediaries and pass smaller grants to local community groups, prioritizing grantees that have annual budgets greater than $500,000, and experience regranting to grassroots organizations. A key priority of giving is to get support to community-led groups, and that includes general operating support. So the key to its success will be how well it can ultimately get money into the right hands, truly let them lead, and then get out of the way.