Harnessing the Power of Data to Maximize Disaster Giving

In Louisiana, 85 percent of our population is currently recovering from natural disasters. As the range of disasters that we experience continues to expand, from hurricanes and tornadoes to floods and manmade disasters, it has become more difficult for us to predict the type of crisis that will occur. Vulnerable populations are particularly affected, and as a result, the Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation believes that disaster philanthropy should be a part of every philanthropist’s portfolio.

To give funders the data and tools they need to understand best practices in disaster philanthropy, the Pennington Family Foundation has made an investment in the Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy platform to ensure disaster grantmaking is data-driven. Produced by the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and Foundation Center, the online platform includes a report and an interactive map that both provide valuable data on when, where, and how much donors contribute to disasters, which can help funders make more informed and effective funding decisions.

The report makes it clear that, though contributions are relatively small compared to governments and multilateral agencies, private philanthropists have a particularly critical and distinct role to play in disaster funding. Since our funding is uniquely flexible, collaboration with these agencies enables us to leverage our funds and take bold action to build stronger, more resilient communities.

Here are three ways that funders can use Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy to maximize their disaster giving impact:

Explore other funders’ grantmaking strategies. The map data allows users to see grant-level information by region, disaster type, and disaster strategy. For example, you can filter by Louisiana, floods, and reconstruction and recovery to see that the John A. Hartford Foundation provided funding to rebuild a geriatric medicine and training facility at Louisiana State University. If geriatric medicine and capital reconstruction align with your grantmaking strategy, you may want to reach out to and share lessons with this foundation. In this way, you have the opportunity to learn from other foundations with similar funding priorities. 

Find and fill major funding gaps. Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy consistently reports that a majority of funding—more than 70 percent—goes to immediate response and relief. To get the most impact out of your funding, consider supporting under-funded areas of the disaster life cycle, like recovery and rebuilding or better still, preparedness. Studies have found that increased investment in early preparedness could reduce the costs of response by more than 50 percent, and save more lives by facilitating swifter, more innovative, and more efficient response to disasters. 

Identify potential funding partners. Using the map, you can drill down to see other funders who are working in your region. You can explore their grantmaking approaches and decide whether you would consider collaborating with them. Looking at Louisiana, as an example, you can see that the Blue Moon Fund, based in Virginia, provided an innovative grant for the development of the Economic Protection and Resilience Organization in New Orleans. This listing allows you to find and reach out to potential funding partners, even when they are not locally-based. 

Whether disasters are happening in your community or not, they impact our economy, human services, and populations as a collective whole. Effective and efficient disaster philanthropy can make the difference between life and death.

Learn more about how you can use data to drive better funding decisions and check out these resources from the Center for Disaster Philanthropy

About the author(s)

President and CEO
Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation

New Ideas for Old Challenges: Shaking up the Nuclear Security Sector

Believe it or not, the world is still burdened by the existence of more than 15,000 nuclear weapons. That’s right, the immensely powerful and devastating weapons we think of as part of “Cold War history” are in fact a present-day danger. They do not discriminate, and their existence threatens literally everyone on the planet.

There are a considerable number of nongovernmental organizations that work to reduce the risks from these weapons. Using expert scientists, field organizers, policy advocacy, and media tactics, they seek to reduce the numbers and reliance on nuclear weapons. There is also a small community of foundations who fund these efforts; and this group has been more or less the same for over 30 years. This community of philanthropists and practitioners are highly knowledgeable and highly skilled, but they are working, by and large, on a 21st century challenge using 20th century tools and thinking. For example, most attention and efforts are aimed squarely at traditional institutions like Congress, the United Nations, and the treaties and laws that have governed the “nuclear game” for decades. While necessary, such approaches are not sufficient to fundamentally change the game. In fact, these same institutions and arrangements often help perpetuate nuclear weapons as much as they limit or constrain them. What is needed is a more “disruptive” approach.

Enter “N Square.” Meant to evoke the notion of a “public square” of discussion and debate around nuclear threats, N Square is designed to attract new ideas, people, and approaches that address this existential threat. Drawing from different sectors like media, technology, business, design, and art, N Square seeks to diversify the ways in which we think about nuclear threats, and the range of possible approaches to eliminating them. It is meant to bust open the conventional thinking about how to change nuclear policy, and allow anyone and everyone to participate in the effort.

N Square is a collaboration of four foundations – the Ploughshares Fund, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Skoll Global Threats Fund. These four funders recognized the need to “shake things up” with respect to how we approach nuclear threats, to attract new, effective approaches, and to introduce the existing nuclear security community to innovative tools and methods for enhancing their work. 

It is a decidedly “two-way street approach”. That is, N Square’s activities, investments and network building are designed to build effective bridges between the existing nuclear security community and other sectors and skill sets. For example, one collaboration that has blossomed through N Square’s “matchmaking” is a start-up company that is developing exciting new satellite sensing technology that could – potentially – allow detection of nuclear materials everywhere on Earth. N Square has fostered a partnership between this company and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey to develop tools that would apply to needs in detection and identification of such materials as a way to monitor global nuclear activities.

Halfway through its third year of a four-year trial, N Square has already engaged scores, if not hundreds, of people through networks like TED, PopTech, the Norman Lear Center at USC, Singularity University, and others. In the year ahead, these early network-building activities will – it is hoped – generate compelling new ideas, tools, and partnerships among people and institutions that would not otherwise have found each other before. Specific policy achievements are not the mandate of N Square, rather it is growing the ecosystem of brainpower and ideas brought to bear on nuclear risks. N Square will be a success if after its initial four-year test phase, it has resulted in a network of people and organizations that are actively engaged in working on solving nuclear security challenges that represent a variety of sectors, skill sets, and—most importantly—mindsets. N Square is also interested in growing the number and amount of philanthropic dollars devoted to solving this truly existential challenge. While N Square is an experiment, it is one with undeniable benefits to humanity should it bear even small fruit.

The Ploughshares Fund is a member of the Peace and Security Funders Group, which just released the 2017 Peace & Security Funding Index, in partnership with Foundation Center. Click here to explore the Index and see who is active in the peace and security funding field.

About the author(s)

Program Director
Ploughshares Fund

Seeking an Inclusive Europe: Foundation Grantmaking for Countering Ethnic and Religious Bias and Xenophobia

Seeking an Inclusive Europe: Foundation Grantmaking for Countering Ethnic and Religious Bias and Xenophobia is the first-ever study of the philanthropic community’s response to ongoing discrimination and increasing violence and the need for greater cultural understanding, inclusion, and equity. It enables foundations active in addressing bias and promoting social change and rights across Europe to understand their grantmaking priorities in the context of the larger funder community. For foundations that want to become active, it offers numerous examples of approaches funders are taking to address these issues.


Steven Lawrence



Through IssueLab, the Foundation Center is working to more effectively gather, index, and share the collective intelligence of the social sector by providing free access to thousands of case studies, evaluations, white papers, and issue briefs.

A Leap of Faith for Serious Change

Five years ago the term ‘stranded assets’ was unknown; now it is central to financial markets thinking about the value of fossil fuel holdings. This is due to the work of the Carbon Tracker Initiative, funded in its early stages by grants from a handful of American and British foundations, including a £38,000 grant (later extended) from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT). JRCT is proud to have played a role in bringing a radical and visionary idea to mainstream global economic thinking in just five years.

We received a request for support for a new project, the Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI) in 2010. The initiative’s aim was ‘to make the financial markets accountable for the carbon reserves that are listed on them, and hold investors accountable for the carbon intensity of their investment portfolios’. Climate scientists calculated that global warming is likely to exceed 2°C by 2050 if 1,000 Gt of carbon dioxide is released globally between 2000 and 2050. By 2010, we had already used up a third of this allowance, and the fossil fuel reserves easily exceeded the balance. In order to prevent continuing climate damage, CTI said that between 60% and 80% of these reserves would need to stay in the ground. Fossil fuel companies were in effect greatly overvalued if you took account of these ‘stranded assets’. CTI wanted the value of fossil fuel companies to fall to reflect their true value, which would lead investors toward more sustainable forms of energy. CTI planned to identify the cumulative fossil fuel reserves held by companies listed on stock exchanges to increase public knowledge about the stranded assets in companies and the danger of extracting more fuel.

Now, it is as clear as day, but at the time I struggled to understand how this project could fit with JRCT’s interest in promoting social justice. Most people wouldn’t think of financial markets as a typical social justice issue. However, JRCT has been increasingly drawn to look at the imbalances within financial and corporate systems that add to global inequality and hit the poorest people hardest. Financial markets can be detrimental to poor communities, whether in relation to income distribution or the impact of climate change. For too long the philanthropic community has ignored the power of the corporate and financial sectors. Could this be because foundations are too close to these sectors and rely on them for generating their own income? In my role as trust secretary at JRCT, I felt it was important for foundations working through a social justice lens to recognize the need for social change at multiple levels, especially with those who control the economy.

Despite our struggles to understand the technical complexities of the CTI project proposal, JRCT Trustees were all intrigued by the CTI team’s innovative thinking. We also valued the expertise of their small yet competent team, which included an expert on financial markets, a sustainability aficionado, and a climate change expert. In my experience, taking calculated risks is part of the DNA of JRCT. The Trust acknowledges that it doesn’t have the answers to all the pressing issues of the day and tries to avoid the arrogance that can easily creep into organizations that have resources and thus power. In the case of CTI, the Trust knew the track record of the people involved, was convinced by the vision of CTI, and found its analysis compelling, if hard to grasp. The Trust saw its role as that of undertaking due diligence, making an assessment, and then empowering those involved to get on with the task without unnecessary interference.

Within a year, CTI had come up with its first ground-breaking report, “Unburnable Carbon: Are the financial markets carrying a carbon bubble?” This report immediately prompted a new global debate on the future of energy and investment and was picked up for stories by Rolling Stone, the New York Times, the Guardian, and other major media sources. Introducing a completely new idea and seeing it transform the thinking of the financial markets in five years is a remarkable achievement. This success was an important reminder to us as funders that taking risks, backing visionary ideas, and relinquishing control to the experts can be a great way to invest in projects that aren’t normally viewed as part of the philanthropy or social justice agenda. Social justice issues are often associated with bottom-up change, but philanthropy with a social justice lens can also play a transformational role with major global issues like climate change and financial systems.

The Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace and GrantCraft, a service of Foundation Center, are releasing a series of 11 blog posts authored by grantmakers around the world. The posts are derived from the recently published Effective Philanthropy: Another Take, a collection of stories describing a philanthropic intervention against some form of injustice (socioeconomic and/or political) at a local, national or global scale. Each story addresses key questions grantmakers wrestle with in order to effect systemic social change, and the blog posts in this series highlight certain details that feed into the bigger story. Through this series, the partners hope to raise awareness of some of the most effective examples from philanthropy in tackling injustice and achieving lasting structural change. By sharing knowledge in philanthropy and being willing to learn from one another’s experiences and perspectives, we can improve our practice together.

This is the second to last post in this series, which has rolled out over the past three months; it focuses on the impact of supporting grassroots organizations, which have the connections, skills, and knowledge necessary to make real change.


About the author(s)

Former trust secretary
Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT)

Former Knowledge Services Fellow
Foundation Center

Calculating Your Organization’s Digital Dependence

Don’t believe that civil society rests upon digital infrastructure? Try this…

Imagine your server goes offline for a day and everything on it is lost. Now, calculate the cost of recovering that day. Include the time of your personnel, the consultants, and the marketing, public relations, and disaster communications firms. Calculate the opportunity costs of catching up to where you were. Now make it interesting and imagine the information wasn’t just lost, but stolen. Add in the costs of reputational damage and, possibly, real harm to your beneficiaries. Time lost toward mission. Hard costs of replacing software, hardware, servers, routers (and time to determine all of what you need). Now, double it, because you guessed too low.

If the cost calculation doesn’t convince you, try this. Take your work offline for a day. Use no email, internet, digital phones, printers, faxes, databases, grants management software, enterprise communications tools, spreadsheets, or social media. You may not be able to get on the bus or into your office buildings without using a digital ID card.

If you think I’m being melodramatic here, just check your local news for stories about ransomware. Chances are, you’ll find a story from your own community involving a local hospital or medical facility, most likely a nonprofit one. This isn’t future doomcasting. This is our present.

Convinced yet?

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2017.

The Power of Mapping to Help Foundations Leverage Impact in Age of Climate Change

Much like the old saying that all politics is local, the impacts of climate change are playing out in Southern California neighborhoods. From extended heat waves to air quality issues, climate change is affecting our most vulnerable populations (children, the elderly, the unemployed or underemployed, low income people, and communities of color); the same populations that our philanthropic community is seeking to help. That’s why I was humbled and enthusiastic to share the results of the Los Angeles Climate-Smart Cities Decision Support Tool (DST) at a recent Southern California Grantmakers gathering.

With generous support received from the MacArthur Foundation and the local funding community including Kaiser Permanente and Union Bank Foundation, the DST was generated by The Trust for Public Land in collaboration with 15 local experts, with the goal of providing a web-based, easy-to-understand mapping tool to help leaders in the public, private, nonprofit service and advocacy sectors identify and make the case for green infrastructure and urban greening. With increased green initiatives, communities can mitigate against the effects of climate change, drought, and air pollution, with particular focus on protecting those populations most vulnerable to these impacts.

In collaboration with local partners, we integrated demographic information such as income, linguistic isolation, communities of color, less than high school education, children under 5 and people over 64 years of age, unemployment, people living with asthma, and low birth weight to identify the communities most vulnerable to climate change impacts. The image below shows where these Angeleno(a) residents live with the red indicating the greatest concentration.

(Image 1: Geographic concentration of residents most vulnerable to climate impacts.) 

Every region in the country deals with a different climate change impacts based on its topography, climate, and socioeconomics. Given Los Angeles’ (and broader Southern California’s) ongoing drought and heat wave trends, it is no surprise then that urban heat islands (a phenomena in which urban areas are 1.8-5.4 degrees hotter than rural or less built up areas), stormwater management and groundwater recharge, and socially vulnerable populations were a big concern for the local partners who helped develop the mapping tool. Additionally, local partners also wanted to identify walking, biking, and public transit linkages to connect low income communities to jobs, medical facilities, and grocery stores. Community and public health partners wanted to highlight the exposure to particular matter and ozone and people living with asthma. It has been well documented that extreme heat is one of the top natural disaster killers in the U.S. and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has reported a string of 16 consecutive record-setting hot months, only broken this past September and October. Hotter days often lead to health issues such as heat strokes, greater air pollution, and asthma attacks or respiratory illnesses which may force parents to miss work or children from attending school; for low income communities trying to gain or keep steady jobs and improve their children’s education, heat waves may add another hurdle to overcome.

(Image 2: The image above shows the hottest areas, based on day time and night time land surface temperature readings of July and August 2015, in the LA Basin. On average, the red areas experienced temperatures ranging from 115-120 Fahrenheit while the orange areas experienced average temperatures ranging from 111-115 and the light colored areas had average temperatures of 108-111.) 

The criteria embedded in the mapping tool are tagged to all of the nearly 2 million parcels within the project area which allows us to visually rank parcels by priority, based on the presence of the criteria. The goal is to help decision makers, developers, and nonprofit community advocates understand the climate impacts, community assets as well as the socioeconomic characteristics present in neighborhoods and each parcel so they will invest, or advocate for the investment of, public and private dollars to achieve multiple benefits in a climate-smart approach.

Image 3 below shows us a ranking with similar color schemes of the neighborhoods and parcels where socially vulnerable populations are most threatened by urban heat islands. It is this multiple benefit or multiple impact analysis that we hope to facilitate; the tool can also help us understand the distribution of tree canopy cover, community gardens, and park or green space.

(Image 3 shows where vulnerable communities are most exposed to increased urban heat islands which result in heat strokes and worsened air quality. The red areas are those where vulnerable populations face the highest threat of urban heat islands, while the orange areas represent moderate to high threat of urban heat islands.)

As foundations invest in efforts to address the social and place-based determinants of health outcomes such as diabetes or asthma, there is an increasing awareness of the detrimental effects of climate change on the systems that support a healthy community – food systems, land use, drought and water quality, and air quality. Foundations supporting direct service delivery, place-based research, policy-development, or advocacy can use this information to understand how climate change may impact – and in the case of LA’s increasing hotter climate, exacerbate – the health or air quality challenges that their grantee communities are already experiencing. This has implications for environmental, health, and climate justice efforts in terms of how we design or redevelop disadvantaged communities. The Trust for Public Land looks forward to making this wealth of place-based and socioeconomic information freely available to municipal, nonprofit, private, philanthropic, and community leaders who are interested in understanding the intersection of climate change impacts and the socioeconomic or public health outcomes they are striving to achieve.

About the author(s)

California Manager
Climate-Smart Cities, The Trust for Public Land

Applying Human Rights Principles to Disaster Response

Hurricane Matthew’s devastation in Haiti provides both a historic opportunity and a daunting challenge to funders who care about human rights. We have the opportunity to help the world do a better job this time–to learn lessons from the response to Haiti’s 2010 earthquake and other disasters, and ensure more concrete, sustainable interventions. We can achieve this by insisting on a human rights-based approach in our own grantmaking and by leveraging our experience to encourage improvements in the larger disaster and recovery response by governments, NGOs and individuals.

Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti on October 4, 2016 with 145 mile-per-hour winds and 20 inches of rain. It destroyed buildings and crops–over 80% of both in many areas—as well as roads and bridges. An estimated 1,000 people died. Haiti’s death toll will likely continue to rise: on October 18 the Haitian Ministry of Health reported 2,189 suspected cases of cholera since the hurricane and an 85% increase in daily reported cholera cases.

The human rights-based approach, established in international law, recommends that response initiatives:

  • Prioritize capacity-building of the host state and civil society;
  • Ensure participation of the target population in design and execution;
  • Practice transparency by making information about the intervention accessible to the community;
  • Ensure accountability to the target communities and country; and,
  • Insist on non-discrimination, with particular attention to marginalized groups such as women and people with disabilities.

Applying a rights-based approach to grantmaking:

  1. Redefines stakeholder relationships. It transforms the target population from passive recipients of aid into rights holders with entitlements to fair and effective interventions. The approach transforms responders from being able to do what they want because they are “doing good” into duty bearers with obligations to ensure that their work is effective and sustainable. The primary duty is born by the host government, but alsoapplies to foreign governments and NGOs that provide basic services that are usually provided by the government in other countries.
  2. Fosters collaboration. For example, a group of Haiti funders and NGOs at the Opportunity Collaboration in October met to discuss the collaboration imperative. One member, Helvetas, will draft a document stressing elements of the rights-based approach, to be further discussed and hopefully approved at the Haiti Funders’ Conference in New York on November 9 and 10th.
  3. Provides human rights funders with a unique leadership opportunity. Before the winds from Matthew died down, discussions of aid effectiveness exploded in the press, on social media and among responders themselves. When we join these discussions, we can provide a framework for the existing critiques, and prescribe an approach for avoiding a repeat of past problems. This can transform the discussion from a discouraging list of complaints to strategizing on making systemic improvements.
  4. Allows human rights funders and organizations to meaningfully contribute to disaster responses. At the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), the shock and sadness from Matthew’s destruction was mixed with frustration that as advocates we lacked the skills to treat the sick, rebuild homes or distribute food. But successes from earlier earthquake-response advocacy, and the encouraging emphasis on accountability by media and earthquake responders, reminds us that advocacy for more effective and accountable disaster response can save lives, help people get into better homes and promote long-term food security.

It is hard to argue with the principles of the rights-based approach. Few do: an NYU Law School survey of organizations responding to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti found that 85% reported using a rights-based approach. But in practice it can be difficult to actually implement the approach in the complicated and urgent aftermath of a disaster.

We can close this gap as we respond to Hurricane Matthew and other disasters. We can start by looking in the mirror: does our work advance the human rights-based approach? In the Ansara Family Fund’s grantmaking (almost exclusively in Haiti) and that of the Haiti Fund at the Boston Foundation (which made 140 grants over five years), human rights were an explicit focus of all grants. In the Haiti Development Institute, seeded by the Haiti Fund, capacity-building of Haitian-led organizations and participatory community planning is a core strategy. Local organizations can thus hold public servants accountable to the citizenry for transparency, and non-discrimination and call on them to coordinate disaster response and long-term development with an eye towards tangible outcomes. Our Haitian partners understand, from long and hard experience, that the structural changes required by the human rights-based approach are their only hope for avoiding unnatural vulnerability to the inevitable next disaster.

This article was contributed by Karen Keating Ansara, co-founder of the Ansara Family Fund and the Haiti Fund at the Boston Foundation, and Brian Concannon, co-founder and Executive Director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti. Both authors will be presenting at the Haiti Funders Conference in NYC on November 9 -10, 2016.
This article originally appeared on IHRFG's blog, to view the original article please click here.

About the author(s)

Ansara Family Fund & Haiti Fund

Co-Founder and Executive Director
Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti

Human Rights Programs Examining a Main Pillar of Indigenous Funding

Human rights is one of the three most funded areas in portfolios that support indigenous communities. Given the central indigenous issues of the rights to land and self-determination, foundations sometimes employ a rights-centered approach. In 2003, the UN created a framework for development work based on human rights, known as The Common Understanding, which informs this approach.

Foundation Center’s 2015 report, Advancing Human Rights: The State of Global Foundation Grantmaking, found environmental and resources rights accounted for 37 percent of human rights funding to indigenous peoples in 2012. Indigenous human rights as a separate grants classification only accounted for 4 percent of total human rights funding, despite high numbers of indigenous peoples across the globe who are victims of assassination, forced disappearance, torture, illegal imprisonment, and sexual violence. A report from the human rights group Global Witness found that almost half of the environmental activists murdered in 2014 were indigenous peoples. 

The top funders of the human rights of indigenous peoples in 2012 included the Ford Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and The Christensen Fund. 

Human rights are seen through different prisms. For example, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation uses a racial equity lens to give to native communities in the U.S. Beginning in the 1980s, the foundation’s support of indigenous communities began with large grants to tribal colleges. One grant to the University of New Mexico funds the American Indian Language Policy Research and Teacher Training Center to empower local tribes to create Native language programs. It has since Native organizations, and NGOs that work in Native communities, said Alvin warren the foundation’s New Mexico program officer and a member of the Santa Clara Pueblo.

Human rights funding to indigenous peoples is also administered through women’s human rights programs. The Channel Foundation funds indigenous women’s groups through this gender lens: “We always want to follow the lead of the people most affected by the human rights abuses they are experiencing,” said Katrin Wilde, executive director. “This approach supports self-determination within indigenous communities.” In another example, the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund has brought issues of indigenous peoples and disability rights under one umbrella by supporting indigenous people with disabilities.

Other funders support the inclusion of indigenous persons with disabilities at global and country levels. In Papua New Guinea, for example, many women and girls with disabilities are abused, often by their family members, and it is difficult for their voices to be heard. Advocacy and global organizing efforts led by the Disability Rights Fund and the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund, there is increased visibility of challenges faced by disabled indigenous peoples. Human rights is an important entry point for funders who support indigenous peoples. From racial discrimination to political persecution, the daily reality of indigenous peoples’ lives all over the world matches many human rights program goals.

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Funding Indigenous Peoples.

Environmental Programs Exploring the Link Between Environmentalism and Indigenous Groups

There is wide recognition of the correlation between the earth’s remaining biological diversity and indigenous lands. Indigenous territories are estimated to cover 24 percent of the world’s land surface and contain 80 percent of the earth’s remaining healthy ecosystems. 

The UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights notes that the 17 nations home to more than two-thirds of the earth’s biological resources contain traditional territories of most of the world’s indigenous peoples. 

Environmental funders in particular often base their rationale of support for indigenous peoples on this convergence between the concentration of indigenous lands and biodiversity. Avecita Chicchon, program director of the Andes Amazon Initiative at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, notes, “When we talk about conservation of the Amazon, we know that 27 percent is in indigenous territories, and most of that is covered with healthy forests.”

Since so much of the earth’s remaining biodiversity is located on indigenous territory, many funders consider these communities integral to their environmental defense strategies. Funding people to conserve the environment is an entry point for support to indigenous communities, whose land-based cultures have developed sustainable resource management strategies. “If you’re interested in protecting the remaining biological diversity on the planet, you’re going to want to work with indigenous communities,” said Sonja Swift, trustee of the Swift Foundation and board member of the affinity group International Funders for Indigenous Peoples (IFIP).“These communities are strongholds of cultural and linguistic diversity, which comes in direct response to the ecological diversity of the places they live.”

“Since indigenous communities conserve biodiversity on their lands, philanthropic allies find support to them matched by community effort,” said Peter Kostishack, director of programs at Global Greengrants Fund and IFIP board member. “You put in a small amount of funding and all of a sudden, that contribution is matched many-fold.” 

Funders recommend placing a dollar value on the more intangible contributions of indigenous communities in the area of environmental defense, in order to recognize the value of ancestral knowledge and practices. Traditional knowledge generally refers to the wisdom, innovations, and practices that indigenous peoples around the world pass on from generation to generation. For example, the International Indigenous Women's Forum (FIMI) designates budget lines for traditional knowledge and speaking a native language, giving a dollar value to project inputs of indigenous communities.

As climate change attracts more attention, the lines between environmental defense and sustainable development continue to converge. Indigenous peoples are increasingly seen at the nexus of these connections. “For indigenous peoples, sustainable development isn’t some kind of new idea,” said Brian Keane, advisor on indigenous issues at USAID. “Indigenous peoples can have a profoundly positive impact on redefining what is sustainable and being key actors in working toward it.”

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Funding Indigenous Peoples.

Traditional Knowledge Utilizing Ancient Wisdom of Indigenous Communities

Some foundations are promoting indigenous traditional knowledge as an important contribution for human survival. Traditional knowledge refers to technical information, innovations, and practices of indigenous peoples developed from centuries of experience. It tends to be collectively owned, and can be transmitted through stories, songs, folklore, proverbs, rituals, customary laws, languages, agricultural practices, and resource collection.

“To end the climate crisis, to solve global poverty, our indigenous partners are our greatest teachers,” said Rajasvini Bhansali, executive director of the International Development Exchange (IDEX). “More than ever before, the concepts, ways of being, and lessons learned from indigenous experimentations are relevant.” Others see the long experience of indigenous communities, such as their close observation and adaptation to weather changes over millennia, as critical insights to solving the myriad problems facing the world.

The Tamalpais Trust initiated the launch of a collaborative fund dedicated to promoting and harnessing this traditional knowledge, called the Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Learning Fund. The fund, supported also by The Christensen Fund, the Novo Foundation, and the Swift Foundation, disbursed its first round of grants at in early 2015. “Traditional knowledge and native science are being recognized as successful contributors in addressing problems of climate change, food security and sovereignty, protection and care of Mother Earth, and revitalization of indigenous languages and culture,” notes Jaune Evans, executive director of the Tamalpais Trust. 

Ken Wilson, former executive director of The Christensen Fund, sees a trend toward recognition of traditional knowledge in academic disciplines. “We are moving away from linear, mechanistic thinking to systems thinking,” said Ken. “There’s now a great deal more productive connection between indigenous knowledge and environmental science.”

The Christensen Fund’s support to promote the acceptance of traditional knowledge at the highest levels of policymaking includes grants for a Traditional Knowledge Institute at the United Nations University, a global think tank and postgraduate school based in Australia. The university works with leading universities and research institutes in UN Member States, and functions as a bridge between the international academic community and the United Nations system. In addition, both The Christensen Fund and the Ford Foundation have made grants to the Indigenous Peoples’ Biocultural Climate Change Assessment, which documents traditional knowledge of climate change. The highest scientific authority on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,recognized such indigenous climate observations and adaptation measures as “the way forward” to the world’s thinking on climate change in the future.

Increasingly, organizations are taking note of issues through which indigenous peoples are funded. In 2015, Foundation Center updated its widely-recognized taxonomy to include terms such as traditional knowledge, food sovereignty, and sacred sites, which will improve tracking of funding trends related to indigenous peoples.

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Funding Indigenous Peoples.