By Lindley Mease

With a global pandemic and the ever-looming climate crisis, where can our philanthropic dollars make a difference? In the last couple months, grassroots movements have shown how to meet the immediate needs of communities when governments are failing to, and organize for long-term change in a moment that shows how desperately we need it. To resource grassroots movements, funding intermediaries play a critical role, as depicted in this new infographic unpacking our learnings.

Say you are a funder with $10M to spend on climate action in the next fiscal year. This is the first year you are making grants and you have very few connections with organizations that you know are making an impact when it comes to climate change. You know you want to support movements that are mapping out bold and ambitious action to cool the planet and build local resilience, but you are intimidated by the process of funding internationally. This is a real example.

Working with a trusted intermediary means you are moving money now to grassroots groups advancing pivotal action on climate. You are drawing from the deep relationships and expertise that intermediary has in accompanying movements, in ways that do not co opt or compromise their efforts. And you avoid overburdening grassroots organizations that have movements to build, rather than funder relationships to manage. Lastly, you are investing in an intermediary who, due to proximity with change-makers, is likely to be working creatively to shift power within philanthropy towards impacted communities from whom that same wealth has been extracted.

For example, in 2019, the CLIMA Fund provided rapid response security grants to women environmental defenders threatened by government violence and industrial development in Brazil. These grants were awarded following a surge in deforestation, increased threats to Indigenous and other frontline defenders of the forest, and devastating wildfires. 

Additionally, through our relationships with activists on the frontlines, CLIMA was able to support community groups providing digital security trainings for movement leaders, as well as to journalists criminalized for resisting and exposing repression from extractive industries in the Amazon. Even in a country with tight restrictions, we were able to get these grants into the hands of grassroots activists quickly and effectively thanks to our long relationships on the ground. 

The CLIMA Fund is a collaborative made up of four organizations (Global Greengrants Fund, Grassroots International, Thousand Currents, and Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights), each of which has spent decades building strong relationships with global grassroots activists and building movements for environmental justice. Together, we reach groups in 168 countries and have awarded nearly 15,000 grants. Given the egregious lack of funding for the most high-impact climate solutions—e.g., those led by women and Indigenous peoples—each of our organizations moves money, quickly, to the hundreds of millions globally advancing those solutions.

As COVID-19 sweeps the globe, intermediaries are moving money to grassroots groups over days and weeks to ensure that grassroots groups can meet the immediate needs of communities where governments are falling short. Members of the CLIMA Fund have moved grants to groups feeding millions, distributing health kits, translating public health messages to Indigenous languages, and building mutual aid networks. Most important, these grassroots groups are those confronting the neoliberal privatization, authoritarianism, and industrialization that created the insecurities playing out on a global landscape to begin with. 

In a political moment of increasing wealth concentration – amplified by a global pandemic and recession – how do we build the philanthropic infrastructure that is necessary to redistribute that wealth, while also not further concentrating power through adding layers to the philanthropic pyramid? With philanthropy growing annually, we will need to continually live that question. For now, it’s clear that intermediaries are critical for connecting larger funders to the thousands of grassroots groups around the world advancing high-impact solutions at the intersection of climate, racial, and economic justice.

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