During the decades that Maria Amalia Souza has been working as an environmental activist and funder, billions have gone to solve the deforestation problem. But it has simply not been possible to find solutions without recognizing and resourcing the true guardians of these places, says Amalia, the co-founder of the Alianza Socioambiental Fondos del Sur- Socio-Environmental Funds of the Global South Alliance.
“Local forest communities have thus far had only their lives to give in this fight. This is the exact reason activists like ourselves in our Alliance, roll up our sleeves to invent, literally, new ways of doing philanthropy from the ground up”, she says.
Philanthropy should be directly providing resources to local grassroots organisations working on the frontlines of the climate crisis. It is part of the larger global move among development cooperation funders to invest in enabling durable, locally led and locally owned development processes. And the WINGS network is part of that sea change in development funding.
WINGS brings together more than 200 foundations and local community associations across the globe as a worldwide “association of philanthropic associations”. Network members agreed to a global advocacy objective in 2021 to work towards “returning local actors to the centre of development cooperation with a greater and more central role,” as the Irish development agency Trocaire defines “localisation”.
In a recent policy paper, “Lessons from Climate Funders on Locally-led Development Assistance”, WINGS found that some climate funders in the philanthropy sector are years ahead in learning how (and doing) the provision of quality, power-shifting resources for local-led action. These re-granters are funding climate actions by local activists and organisations in a careful way, sometimes working with marginalised communities that are not consulted in decisions about their ecosystems. Underlying this work is a fundamental understanding about enhancing local power and control.
Climate philanthropy is a growing field: a recent report estimated philanthropic funding of $7.5 to 12.5 billion in 2021 toward climate mitigation, an increase of 25% compared with 2020. Through intensive relationship building, trust-based funding, locally led capacity development and other models, climate funders are at the cutting edge of philanthropy’s transformation to become more engaged in funding directly at the local level.
WINGS has almost two years of experience with #PhilanthropyForClimate, a global movement that aims to catalyse and support meaningful climate action by philanthropic organisations worldwide. The movement was initiated in 2019 with the launch of the UK Funder Commitment on Climate Change. With the support of the European Philanthropy Coalition for Climate (EPCC) led by Philea, WINGS launched the International Philanthropy Commitment on Climate Change which expanded the global movement with new signatories worldwide which have now reached more than 650 signatories in over 20 countries.
WINGS highlighted 20 case studies of organisations from around the world that explore concrete ways of approaching common challenges in funding climate action locally, with a specific emphasis on Global South philanthropies. The #PhilanthropyForClimate case studies show that many non-climate philanthropic institutions have adopted improved practices in grant-making as they mainstreamed climate change into their philanthropic giving programmes.
Cooperation mechanisms like Fondo Casa Socioambiental of the Alianza are speeding up the process of channelling resources to the local level in communities vulnerable to socio-environmental impacts while remaining under local control. Maria Amalia Souza’s organisation plays the role of connector and a convenor, on one hand acting as a bridge between large donors that see the value in resourcing grassroots but cannot do it themselves. On the other hand, Fondo Casa Socioambiental acts as a buffer, protecting local inexperienced community groups and associations from having to deal too early on with the ordeals of receiving grants in international currencies (not only bureaucratically difficult, but even dangerous in certain politically heated places and times).
The Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) was established by the Organization of American States (OAS) in the 1960’s but has remained a progressive leader in philanthropy. PADF has begun integrating climate action into their operations and building its staff capacity and awareness on how to support locally led development. The organisation actively facilitates a knowledge sharing space about how regranting organisations function in practice.
The African Climate Foundation is the first African-led strategic climate change grant making foundation on the continent fully dedicated to supporting an African-led climate-positive development agenda rooted in decarbonisation, social resilience and inclusive economic growth and transformation. Rather than a regranting tool, such as a pool fund or intermediary, which facilitates philanthropies’ selections of what they want to fund, ACF provides funds to re-granters who have relationships on the ground and have an in-depth understanding of Africa’s social, economic and political context. This model ensures locally grounded strategies that contribute to Africa’s efforts to address climate change.
To tackle the climate crisis at the very local level, these climate funders have developed a relationship with local organisations marked by national and local political connections, effective partnerships, and the strengthening of local capacity and knowledge. Their progressive regranting approaches and mechanisms can be the missing piece for those puzzled about implementing localisation. A clear conclusion from the case studies is that intermediary international NGOs still have critical if changing roles to play.
Major bilateral donors such as USAID, as well as international foundations such as Ford Foundation, Laudes Foundation and Oak Foundation, have started down the path of institutional change, adopting policies to effectively localise funding, power and capacity. In the process of working in new ways that shift power to local actors, these large funders can encourage their partner intermediary international development and humanitarian organisations to adopt more equitable and supportive resourcing practices.
The WINGS network hopes these promising new practices will help development funders of all types to deepen their impact on people’s lives and reduce communities’ dependency while strengthening local and national organisations to design and lead their own work.