David Kaimowitz, Ford Foundation

TITLE: Director, Natural Resources and Climate Change

FUNDING AREAS: Land rights, natural resources, climate change, sustainable development, agricultural development

CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)

IP TAKE: An academic with a global career in natural resources and the economy, Kaimowitz oversees about $16 million in grants annually as the director of the Ford Foundation's sustainable development portfolio. Kaimowitz and his team seek out projects related to land rights and the impact of climate change on the rural poor, with emphasis on empowering indigenous populations, women, minorities, and other marginalized groups.

PROFILE: With an annual grantmaking budget of more than $400 million, Ford Foundation is among the country's largest. It supports projects that empower marginalized people in the United States and in the developing world. Ford has eight core issue areas, each relating in some way to economic opportunity and social justice. Among these is sustainable development, a program area headed up by David Kaimowitz, an agricultural economist with a long career in policy surrounding the world's natural resources.

Ford's sustainable development portfolio involves work in two distinct but complementary issue areas: (1) Expanding Community Rights Over Natural Resources and (2) Climate Change Responses that Strengthen Rural Communities. Why these two concentrations in particular? The first is because the world's poorest people are the most dependent on natural resources like forest and farmland for their livelihoods, but they often have no ownership over these same resources, and are therefore unable to capitalize for themselves on what the land they work has to offer. The second issue is climate change, because the rural poor are more vulnerable than other populations to shifting trends in weather, temperature, and the forces of nature generally.

Internationally, the Ford Foundation focuses its giving on a few specific regions: Africa, certain countries in Asia (China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, and Sri Lanka), and parts of Latin America (Andean region and Southern Cone; Brazil; Central America; and Mexico). Kaimowitz oversees Ford's sustainable development operations in all of these places, but is himself headquartered at the foundation's outpost in Mexico City. 

Educated at the University of Wisconsin, Kaimowitz's post-academic career has been decidedly international. After securing his PhD in agricultural economics, Kaimowitz worked for national and international ag policy and research organizations in Nicaragua, the Netherlands, and Costa Rica. Most recently, Kaimowitz was the Director General for the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in Bogor, Indonesia. While his tenure at the organization involved diverse responsibilities, Kaimowitz's research at CIFOR included evaluations of the impact of non-forestry policies on the world's forests and forest-dependent people.

At Ford, Kaimowitz's annual grantmaking budget is about $16 million. His grantmaking supports several dozen sustainable development projects every year, averaging about $250,000 each. In assessing grant applications, Kaimowitz and his team show preference to programs that benefit indigenous people, ethnic minorities, and women, because they are disproportionately affected (and harmed) by existing power dynamics surrounding land and climate policy. Many of Ford's sustainable development grants have some sort of academic research or policy angle.

Some of the Ford Foundation's sustainable development grants include:

  • $250,000 to ActionAid International Uganda for the collection, analysis, and dissemination of data on land rights and oil in Uganda, with an emphasis on women and other excluded groups.
  • $250,000 to the Organization for Ethnic Community Development in Honduras in support of land rights research, training, and legal assistance to Afro-descendent communities in Honduras.
  • $1.4 million to Dutch organization Stichting Hivos to promote sustainable agricultural policies and public investment in rainfed regions of India.

Kaimowitz gave an interview focusing on women's participation in Latin American agricultural concerns. His thoughts on this matter can also be extrapolated to his approach to assessing problems and solutions for all of the populations he focues on at Ford. He states, for instance:

The big challenge is how to survive and thrive as smallholders, as communities, and as groups of indigenous and Afro-Latinas in a world that is made for Walmart, Nestle, Unilever, and not for them. Another obstacle is how to obtain land, credit, labor, and education in a world where that is not the priority for those making decisions. Also, technology is a new challenge for this population.

Why is there an urgent need to give women rights over land and forests?

Because they have so much to contribute – a lot of energy, capacity, thoughts, and efforts are being wasted by not including this population. They are vulnerable by not having rights to these resources and it leads to violence and extreme poverty that should not exist in our society.

- See more at: http://ciatblogs.cgiar.org/support/interview-with-ford-foundations-david-kaimowitz/#sthash.Kz2ofct3.dpuf

"The big challenge is how to survive and thrive as smallholders, as communities, and as groups of indigenous and Afro-Latinas in a world that is made for Walmart, Nestle, Unilever, and not for them. Another obstacle is how to obtain land, credit, labor, and education in a world where that is not the priority for those making decisions. Also, technology is a new challenge for this population. . . They have so much to contribute – a lot of energy, capacity, thoughts, and efforts are being wasted by not including this population. They are vulnerable by not having rights to these resources and it leads to violence and extreme poverty that should not exist in our society."

If you're in search of funders in the environmental and land rights realm, you'd be hard pressed to find a funder whose grant application process is more open than Ford's. The foundation accepts letters of inquiry from prospective grantees on an ongoing basis. A major caveat, however: The Ford Foundation's volume of proposals is high, and the likelihood of making it from the letter of inquiry stage to the funding stage is relatively small. According to Ford, around 1% of unsolicited grants make it through to approval and the foundation requests that grantseekers refrain from contacting program officers and directors directly. 

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