TITLE: Managing Director, Environment
FUNDING AREAS: Climate change
CONTACT: firstname.lastname@example.org, 248-643-9630
IP TAKE: Leading the foundation's recently revised environment program, DeBacker funds work that helps communities become more resilient to the effects of climate change while cutting greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst consequences.
PROFILE: The Kresge Foundation first launched its Environment Program in 2008, selecting Lois DeBacker to lead the program, then as Senior Program Director. DeBacker and her team were tasked with focusing on the assessment, development, implementation, and impact of grantmaking that addresses climate change and climate change mitigation strategies. DeBacker supervises the direction of many millions of Kresge grant funds every year towards initiatives supporting an issue that she sees as the largest most signficant cause for the world’s environmental advocates.
“Climate change is the most serious problem confronting humankind,” she has stated. “Unless immediate action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we are at grave risk of disrupting the climate so severely that Earth will become inhospitable for life as we know it. The gravity and urgency of the problem motivates the Environment team, and me personally, to do the smartest and best work we can.”
DeBacker now oversees Kresge’s recently overhauled environment program, which exists entirely to take on climate change, although the revised guidelines follow similar themes as previous giving. Kresge’s environmental giving stems from its overall goal of improving opportunities for vulnerable populations, and the recent refinement of the program shores that connection up. The program is urban-focused and based on the goal of making communities more resilient to the effects of climate change. It’s one of the most proactive of the large national foundations when it comes to this segment of climate work. As DeBacker stated when the foundation unveiled the new program:
Climate change is a systemic problem that will impact built, natural, and social environments in unexpected and uncertain ways. Our aim is to help communities both reduce emissions so society can avoid the worst impacts of climate change and develop the capacity to prosper under a wide range of climate-influenced circumstances.
The foundation has identified three prongs under the new program guidelines:
- Reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change
- Plan for the changes that already are underway or anticipated
- Foster social cohesion and inclusion
The program will look at place-based programs that can be used as models for national expansion, as well as building up the overall field of climate resilience. It’s a bit early to tell how significantly the grantmaking will change with the revised guidelines, but we can look to some previous grantees for insight.
The Institute for Sustainable Communities is among DeBacker's biggest award winners, having received $1.8 million in grants to work with cities across the United States on climate and sustainability planning. DeBacker’s program has also issued $1.3 million to Enterprise Community Partners to finance affordable housing in Maryland; $400,000 to the Environmental Health Coalition to improve the environmental health of the California-Mexico border’s San Juan/Tijuana region; and $400,000 to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy to foster energy efficiency in cities nationwide.
In the beginning of her career, DeBacker held a variety of positions in the legislative and executive branches of Michigan state government. While there, she helped craft legislation to create the state's Pollution Prevention office and was appointed its first manager. She left the state government in 1991 for the nonprofit Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, where she served as a program officer and environmental director, finishing out her final three years as the Associate Vice President of Programs. Among her many responsibilities at the Mott was oversight of the Civil Society and Environment programs. In 2008, DeBacker left the Mott Foundation to become Senior Program Director of The Kresge Foundation's then newly launched Environment program.
DeBacker is president of the board of the Consultative Group on Biological Diversity. She sits on the external advisory board of the University of Michigan's Graham Environmental Sustainability Institution and is a board member of the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center. DeBacker is also active with the Environmental Grantmakers Association and the Funders' Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities.