Barron’s: An Inclusive Approach to Combating Climate Change
Barron’s – December 8, 2021
By Michella Ore
Earlier this year, the Kresge Foundation, a Troy, Mich.-based organization with a $3.6 billion endowment that seeks to expand opportunities in U.S. cities, signed the Climate Funders Justice Pledge. Created by the Donors of Color Network, a group of high-net-worth people of color involved in philanthropy, the pledge calls for major climate funders to publicly commit 30% of their funding to organizations led by Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), while also agreeing to greater transparency on where their money is going.
“Philanthropy’s investments in climate change advocacy historically have undervalued the contributions of BIPOC-led organizations, and the work has been less effective because of that miscalculation,” says Lois DeBacker, Kresge’s managing director on the environment. “To make progress with the urgency required, we need all hands on deck, which includes organizations that authentically represent the interests of communities of color disproportionately impacted by climate change.”
Kresge’s commitment builds on its prior announcement to support nearly 60 racial justice and community-led efforts across the U.S.—$2.3 million of the $30 million grant will be “directed toward environmental organizations rallying for climate change,” DeBacker says. The foundation was already focusing on what percentage of its grant-making went to organizations with boards and executive staff that are majority people of color (for 2019-20, 33% of Kresge’s climate change funding went to these groups), and it hopes the Climate Funders Justice Pledge will encourage similar funding institutions to do the same.
Donors of Color Network
Currently, just 2% of climate funding from the nation’s top philanthropies goes to BIPOC-led organizations fighting climate change, says Donors of Color Network’s senior advisor, Danielle Deane-Ryan. “We have not been playing with all of our players on the field, and it is why we have not built enough power to make the progress we need to win in the battle against the climate crisis,” she adds. Along with the Kresge Foundation, other early signatories include the Grove Foundation, a California-based grant-making organization, and the Schmidt Family Foundation, created by Google co-founder Eric Schmidt and his wife, Wendy, a leading philanthropist.
With a growing sense of urgency about issues such as natural disasters and access to clean drinking water, Deane-Ryan says the 30% pledge is a “floor—not a ceiling” that needs to be met as quickly as possible. And while some may shy away from opening up their records to the public, this transparency is a vital part of ensuring the pledge actually leads to change, she says. “You can’t improve what you don’t measure, that is why engaging funders to be transparent and publicly share their data is so crucial.”
The Hive Fund
The Hive Fund for Climate and Gender Justice is another leading supporter of BIPOC and women-led groups protecting their communities on the front lines. “We raise money and we make grants to the folks who are doing the work to transform flawed legal and other systems,” says co-director Melanie Allen. “They are resisting the immediate harms and threats of polluting facilities, voter suppression, and state violence while helping to build the future that we hope to live in.”
Funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Women Donor Network, grants are distributed to groups that are spearheaded by Black, brown, and indigenous women and are based in the South.
“Twenty percent of all the U.S. climate pollution comes from just two states, Louisiana and Texas,” says Hive co-director Erin Rogers. “And that is mainly because the oil, gas, and petrochemical industries there are so big and so polluting, and so much of that pollution is really harming communities of color.”
Current grantees include the Air Alliance Houston, which is working to implement policy changes that will improve air quality in the region, and the Alliance for Affordable Energy, which includes 80 organizations dedicated to making Louisiana’s primary source of energy green.