Green Giving #8
Philanthropy UK's new regular column on ‘Green Giving’ for 2010 is a response to the superordinate challenge that climate change presents to us all. Though Philanthropy UK is cause neutral, we believe the environmental issue to be one that could impact every cause. Harriet Williams and Jon Cracknell, of the Environmental Funders Network, an informal network of trusts, foundations and individuals making grants on environmental and conservation issues, will also offer analysis, news and insight of ‘enviro philanthropy’, including what other branches of philanthropy can learn from green giving.
We are keen to hear from interested parties on enviro-philanthropy and views on other issues facing society that we should feature in a dedicated column: please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trusts and foundations gathered in Brussels last month to discuss plans for a pan-European network of environmental funders, hosted by the European Foundation Centre (EFC). With the airports shut by volcanic ash, attendance was expected to fall. But in the end, nearly 30 foundation staff arrived by train from as far away as Geneva, proof of the enthusiasm for this new initiative, with the long journeys affording time to reflect on the interconnectedness of the world’s environment as well as its economy.
For Europe’s environment, all roads lead through Brussels. Decisions taken by EU institutions in the Belgian capital frame environmental policy in the 27 member states, and have a ripple effect through other major legislatures including the US and China.
By and large, European environmentalism is still bounded by national borders, with green groups and their funders focused primarily on their own countries. This can mean that opportunities for structural policy reform are not fully realised, as ambitious proposals prepared by the Commission or Parliament are weakened by opposition from national interests in the more powerful member states.
The need to better connect the domestic to the international emerged as a key theme for the network going forwards. Leonardo Lacerda is environment programme director for the Oak Foundation, based in Geneva. “There are good reasons why some foundations work at the local level, and this local knowledge and diversity is a phenomenal asset,” he says. “But only as long as we see how our individual pieces fit into the larger puzzle of a more environmentally engaged and responsible Europe.”
The meeting opened with a ‘get to know you’ session where foundations described their environmental interests, including water, sanitation, conservation, social justice and climate change. Foundations support a similarly wide range of approaches to delivering their goals, from policy advocacy to investigative journalism, energy audits to greening whole cities and supporting environmental enterprise.
These priorities and approaches are partly shaped by the divergent legal and policy context in which foundations operate, as well as by-laws, which in some cases require foundations to spend the bulk of their funds in the region or country where the foundation was set up.
Funders also vary in the portion of their grantmaking dedicated to the environment, with some specialists focusing their entire budget on a single environmental challenge, and others taking a much more generalist role.
Rogier van der Weerd, programme manager of the Netherlands-based Adessium Foundation, says, “The differences in foundation set-ups and priorities are striking, and even understanding who is involved in what is useful. This initiative helps us find peers to learn from or collaborate with.”
Break-out sessions on two inherently transnational challenges – climate change and protecting the marine environment – led into a next steps discussion of how a European-level funder network could add value, along with priority work areas and specific activities.
The EFC has secured funding from the Oak Foundation and the Foundazione Cariplo to develop the European Environmental Funders Group over the next three years. Lacerda says, “Our strong hope is that the group will provide a mechanism to coordinate efforts among grantmakers, to paint a clearer vision of what is required and channel funds to help operationalise that vision.”
One immediate priority is to improve flows of statistical information on environmental grantmaking across Europe. The EFC is working with the UK Environmental Funders Network and other philanthropy networks on a single taxonomy for classifying green grants according to issue area and approach. Another plan is to create opportunity maps of specific environmental issues, which assess points of leverage and identify barriers to change.
As the work of turning the European Environmental Funders Group from a concept into a living network begins, the coming months will test green funders to share information and to think beyond national borders towards a more interconnected future for environmental grantmaking.
Harriet Williams helps coordinate the Environmental Funders Network. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the of the network.