Cristina Rumbaitis del Rio, The Rockefeller Foundation

TITLE: Senior Associate Director

FUNDING AREAS: Water, climate change, and climate change resilience

CONTACT: crumbaitisdelrio@rockfound.org, 650-331-1031

IP TAKE: Rumbaitis del Rio uses limited resources to attack big issues in targeted ways. In response to the global climate change crisis, she invests heavily in U.S. and global policy initiatives to slow climate change and in projects that reduce the burden of climate change on impoverished people in urban Asian environments and rural African ones.

PROFILE: Cristina Rumbaitis del Rio and The Rockefeller Foundation have a human-focused approach to addressing climate change. Namely, they aim to help the people who are most vulnerable to changes in global climatethe world's poor—and to convince the people who move the levers of power—the world's governmentsto adopt legislation to keep the effects of climate change from getting any worse. Rumbaitis del Rio has devoted years to understanding and protecting ecosystems, and she brings her scientific and policy expertise to The Rockefeller Foundation, where she works as senior associate director focusing on resilience to climate change. Rumbaitis del Rio is also currently heading up Rockefeller's "exploratory work on oceans and fisheries conservation."

Climate change resilience is about protecting people from manmade changes to the earth's climate. While there are countless ways to address climate change and its effects, the Rockefeller Foundation focuses its efforts on three areas in particular: Asian urban environments, African agriculture, and U.S. environmental policy. Why these three? Because this is where, the foundation reasons, it can have the greatest impact.

In an interview with Zee News (India), Rumbaitis del Rio explains her organization's prioritization of Asian cities in its crusade against climate change: 

We particularly chose to focus on Asia because the greatest urban population is here; the greatest urban population on the coasts is here and the population most vulnerable to climate change impacts is here. Now, we are working in 10 cities in four countriesIndia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailandand plan to increase to more cities.

As for why Rockefeller is actively engaged in African agriculture, its website explains that "more effective agricultural systems and practices are urgently needed to decrease hunger and improve economic development, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa." Rockefeller's African Agriculture and Climate Change Resilience program "is working to ensure the ability of poor and vulnerable smallholder African farmers to maintain, increase, and improve their own agricultural production despite climate change."

Climate change policy, meanwhile, is a focus for Rumbaitis del Rio not only in the United States, where The Rockefeller Foundation devotes plenty of policy resources, but also in the areas of Asia and Africa where Rockefeller funds projects. Rumbaitis del Rio, again in Zee News, says that partnerships among regional social welfare interests, both governmental and nongovernmental, are esssential in building the social infrastructure for change. "We feel it is important," she explains, "to have a multi-stakeholder participatory process to gather information and knowledge from different sectors of society—CBOs, universities, training institutes, even the private sector and the chambers of commerce."

The Rockefeller Foundation gives out about $132.6 million in grants annually (out of total assets of more than $3.5 billion). Here's a sampling of its grants specifically dealing with global water issues:

  • $746,502 to Taru Leading Edge, an Indian development organization, to ensure safe water accessibility, particularly during droughts, in the water-scarce city of Indore, India
  • $89,900 to the Kenya-based but internationally located World Agroforestry Centre to produce a report on how small farmers in sub-Saharan Africa can better respond to climate change
  • $100,000 to Virginia's Global Environment and Technology Foundation to establish a public-private partnership focused on U.S. water supply and climate change

The Rockefeller Foundation has an online inquiry process through which interested groups can express a desire for funding. The foundation accepts full-on proposals, however, from a limited subset of those who are eligible. More information on Rockefeller's grant application process is available here.

For more information on what Rumbaitis del Rio finds interesting, you can check out her Twitter feed (see below). Her enthusiasms include her work, sustainable ecosystems generally, and Turkish politics. Also of note: Rumbaitis del Rio did her postdoc research on sustainable development at Columbia University's Earth Institute; she's done policy research for the United Nations and the U.S. Department of State; and she has a doctoral degree in ecology from the University of Colorado.

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