The Post-Copenhagen Funding Landscape: Thoughts from Rachel Leon and Terry Odendahl

Friday, February 12, 2010

On January 20th, Philanthropy New York presented a collaborative program with the Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA) and the Global Greengrants Fund to hear from our philanthropic colleagues about the outcomes from the 2009 Copenhagen UN Climate Change Conference (where world leaders discussed their responses to the climate emergency facing the planet) and what immediate opportunities there are in environmental grantmaking. We are pleased to have Rachel Leon (pictured left), Executive Director of EGA, and Terry Odendahl, CEO of the Global Greengrants Fund, share their thoughts with Smart Assets.

Rachel Leon:
Countries responsible for the bulk of climate pollution passed the first step and submitted their goals on time, as they promised at the Climate Summit in Copenhagen in late December. I had the pleasure of moderating the Jan. 20th discussion of next steps after the Copenhagen summit with Tom Kruse, Program Officer for Democratic Practice-Global Governance at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and Terry Odendahl, CEO of the Global Greengrants Fund. Dozens of foundations attended the session, where we discussed: Who will be most impacted by the next climate treaty framework? What is at stake in terms of economic benefit, human rights, and environmental protection? How can we promote rapid, effective, and coordinated action among governments, NGOs, and civil society organizations?

The discussion was lively and provocative, with comments from funders in attendance ranging from concern about the United States’ role in creating the problem and blocking solutions to hope about creative solutions coming from nations like Brazil. Foundations debated funding international groups as well as funding in specific states and cities in the U.S. to increase public support for addressing climate issues. Panelists cited the stark challenges before us, including the need for the U.S. to move forward with policy change in time to provide positive momentum for the next Climate Summit scheduled for December 2010 in Mexico City.

I was struck by the knowledge and commitment in the room and the notion that it will take ad hoc solutions and a range of funding strategies to begin to increase political will here in the United States—and in other countries like China and India—to address the global crisis. More funders will be gathering in Boston on February 23rd and 24th with EGA to discuss next steps for local and regional work to address climate issues. Check out the EGA website to see how to sign up to continue this essential conversation!

Terry Odendahl:
If COP 15 was any indication, international, multi-state level processes will not provide all the solutions to climate adaptation and mitigation. As Tom Kruse (my co-conspirator on the panel) argued, “We do need a global deal.” However, most of us in philanthropy also agree that private funding in the search for solutions is essential, and can fill in some of the gaping holes that will likely result from any international agreement.

The world as we know it is at risk. Whatever your grantmaking criteria, mission, or priorities, all funders can and should be increasing grants around climate change. If your foundation is new to the issue, think about beginning by educating your staff and board. You can make the link with almost every issue. If you fund economic development, consider green jobs. If you focus on education, provide information on climate change and solutions. If you’re a health or immigration funder, there are direct correlations.

Every funding scale can be strategic on climate change. Local funds can make grants for alternative energy and education at all levels. State, regional, and national grantors can increase their portfolios around advocacy, networks, and public policy, especially in the short period that the Climate Bill has to make its way through the U.S. Senate. For immediate impact, I cannot overemphasize the value of general support grants.

Internationally, the Global Greengrants Fund is working to bring the voices of the least empowered—indigenous and forest peoples, poor people, rural people, and women—to the global climate change table. Through the establishment of our new Climate Fund, we were involved in sponsoring delegates through the Indigenous Environment Network, Land is Life, and Oil Watch, as well as from our Central America and West Africa Boards.

Greengrants funds social and environmental justice projects throughout the developing world. Our activist advisors have awarded 5,000 small grants—$500 to $5,000—in 120 countries, mostly in the global south, in the last 17 years. These advisors are our primary strategists and decision-makers. We estimate that at least one-third of the grants have gone to climate solutions at the most local level—and this focus area, for us, emerges directly from the ground and what people say they most need support for.

Our advisors and partners are currently focusing on REDD and REDD+ efforts around climate mitigation. REDD stands for “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and (Forest) Degradation.” It is one of the areas of discussion at COP 15 where some believe the most positive movement was made.

Forests play a crucial role in global climate change. They are too rapidly being cut down: for farming, grazing, and wood, as well as for roads to facilitate extractive industries such as oil exploration and mining. According to the World Resources Institute, deforestation accounts for about 15 to 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

To succeed, REDD must include a certification process on the sale of carbon offsets, as well as regulation and market incentives strong enough to counter those that are driving deforestation at alarming rates. Countries with tropical forests are being asked to forgo revenue producing activities for other forms of compensation.

The REDD issue highlights the point that even if salient solutions are part of an international climate change agreement, civil society—and hence philanthropy—has a major role to play in ensuring that the policies actually succeed and are just.

Greengrants is a small player, dedicated to the effectiveness of small grants. It’s time for other foundations to step up and give at least 1 percent to climate. Every small and large effort can make a difference.

Rachel Leon joined EGA as Executive Director in August 2009. As a Senior Program Manager with the JEHT Foundation in New York City, Ms. Leon previously oversaw the foundation’s Fair and Participatory Elections Program. Prior to her work with JEHT, she served as Executive Director of the New York State Common Cause, an organization dedicated to strengthening democracy by encouraging the public to take action on critical policies. Ms. Leon served on transition teams for both former New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer and current New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. She worked closely with numerous environmental organizations while at the helm at New York State Common Cause and published several studies that highlighted the role of money in politics and its impact on environmental issues. Ms. Leon also helped advance action on specific policies, like the New York State Bottle Bill, and legislation that toughened enforcement regarding lead poisoning in New York City. Both campaigns were ultimately successful and got a boost from coordinated research and advocacy. With a background in anti-poverty and anti-hunger issues, Ms. Leon also has significant experience assisting foundations with program development and strategic planning. After leaving JEHT, she served as a consultant and strategic advisor to the Open Society Institute. Ms. Leon currently lives in Croton-on-Hudson, New York with her husband and two children.

Terry Odendahl, Ph.D., is the Chief Executive Officer of the Global Greengrants Fund. She is an applied anthropologist. Dr. Odendahl was President of the New Mexico Association of Grantmakers and Co-Founder of the Institute for Collaborative Change (ICChange), a nonprofit capacity building organization where she was principal consultant for six years. In 2004-2005 she was Neilsen Chair in Philanthropy at the Georgetown University Public Policy Institute in Washington, DC. For a decade in the 1990s, Dr. Odendahl served as Executive Director of the National Network of Grantmakers, where she led a campaign to increase foundation payout. Dr. Odendahl has been Executive Director of two women’s funds, as well as Program Director at the Santa Fe Community and Wyss Foundations. She served on the faculties of Yale University’s Program on Nonprofit Organizations and the University of California, San Diego Women’s Studies Program. Dr. Odendahl is the author of four books on philanthropy and nonprofit matters, as well as numerous articles.

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