Earlier this year, human rights activist Berta Cáceres—a Honduran environmental activist and indigenous leader—was senselessly murdered. Cáceres’ killing not only brought the plight of human rights defenders to the forefront of the larger global dialogue on human rights, but also shined a brighter light on people and groups fighting for the rights of indigenous people around the world.
While the big funders in this space tend to get all the attention, we wanted to take a moment to spotlight what several smaller players are up to. Three small but powerful funders in this field are the Global Greengrants Fund, the Angelica Foundation and the Mize Foundation. Here’s a closer look at what these organizations are all about.
Global Greengrants Fund
Global Greengrants typically awards grants that are based on environmental conservation and protection, with a heavy focus on the rights of women and indigenous communities. Much of the fund's grantmaking revolves around disreputable activities conducted by corporations and governments that threaten the livelihoods of local communities like illegal land grabs, resource pillaging, exploitative extractive industries practices, and the pollution of water, air, and soil that occurs during the course of operations.
Global Greengrants may be taking on the “big guys” with its grantmaking, but awards are modest here, usually around $5,000. But small amounts of money don't equate with small impact. The fund supported efforts that led to some pretty big wins for indigenous people in Ecuador and the Niger Delta.
In Argentina, Global Greengrants protected the Sarayaku people living in Ecuadorian Amazon in their battle with an Argentine company that was prospecting for oil on their land. In 2012, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights officially ruled that the government was violating the rights of the Sarayaku, effectively keeping big oil off their land.
The Niger Delta, which is one of the most oil rich regions of the world, has long suffered from heavy oil development, which has been going on since the 1950s. This decades-long destruction resulted in the Ogoni people’s land being among the “world’s most polluted ecosystems.” Global Greengrants is currently backing the Ogoni Solidarity Forum to advocate for substantial environmental remediation of the land.
A self-described “progressive philanthropist,” Suzanne Gollin, co-founder and director of the Angelica Foundation, spent a good deal of her childhood in Mexico. As a result, her foundation’s human rights grants are directed to groups working in the country—where, by the way, human rights violations are among the most egregious.
Angelica’s indigenous people’s rights work includes the support of Assembly of indigenous peoples in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region of Oaxaca for its work protecting their land rights in the face of green energy companies building wind power projects on their land, often without consent or payment. The foundation has also backed efforts mounted by Oaxaca-based organizations to fight against mining projects, dam construction, natural resources, and land rights.
Angelica’s grants are oftentimes on the modest side, as well, generally starting at $10,000. However, the foundation has been known to make awards in the $100,000 to $200,000 range.
Mize Family Foundation
The Mize Family Foundation supports groups fighting for natural resource rights of marginalized and indigenous communities. Mize funds efforts in women’s rights as well.
Mize’s grantmaking is largely focused on the impact of climate change on indigenous people and communities around the world. A major goal, here, is to support grassroots groups that are equipped to protect local communities in regard to their land and other natural resources rights. The foundation also supports movements to combat the expansion of industrial agricultural systems, the construction of large dams, and fossil fuel extraction on indigenous lands.
Again, grants are modest here, typically ranging from $15,000 to $20,000.
These three small, but powerful funders clearly demonstrate that it doesn’t take millions upon millions of dollars to effectively back movements fighting for the rights of indigenous communities. With a keen focus on local and grassroots groups, Global Greengrants, Angelica, and Mize are the embodiment of how a relatively small amount of money can affect big changes.