New ways in philanthropy

How does truly equitable funding work?

Indigenous peoples, local communities, and women are most affected by the consequences of climate change, but they receive the least support from international funds. Global Greengrants Fund shows an alternative way: Decisions are made by local activists on the ground.

Paul-Philipp Hanske
GGF, Action Press
October 24, 2022

In the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, there are old, boundless forests that are home to many indigenous peoples. Hidden beneath these forests are mineral resources such as coal and bauxite. Numerous villages have already been resettled and people have been displaced because of mining projects. In 2006, India passed the Forest Rights Act, a law designed to prevent precisely this kind of thing from happening. But very few people know about their rights – and fighting for them is dangerous. When a leader of a local land rights movement was shot dead in 2010, presumably on the orders of landowners, a broad-scale resistance movement began to form. At its center was a group called the Multi Arts Association (MAA), which educated the local population about their rights. The activists installed information kiosks in the villages, helped residents to network with each other, and put them in touch with lawyers and authorities.

MAA's work was also supported by funding from Global Greengrants Fund. In the last seven years, the MAA has received several grants of around 5,000 euros each. This is a good investment, says Subrat, who, as Global Greengrants advisor, identifies relevant projects in India: "Since its founding, the MAA has helped local individuals, groups and communities in over 2,000 cases to secure the ownership rights to the land to which they are entitled by law. Now they can manage the forest in a traditional and sustainable way."

A success story that shows how important it is for local and innovative initiatives to be given the resources they need – and to be able to use them in a self-determined way.

How does capital get to where it needs to be?

The headquarters of Global Greengrants Fund, founded back in 1993, is located in Boulder, in the US state of Colorado. But the location is almost irrelevant for the work done by the organization, because Global Greengrants is characterized by a special structure: Where the money goes is not decided at headquarters but by local activists on the ground. Most international philanthropy is still paternalistic and colonial in the sense that institutions in the Global North are identifying what people in the Global South need. "We know that this racist and inequitable model isn’t working," says Ursula Miniszewski, Director of Gender and Equity at Global Greengrants Fund. "We know that when power and decision-making are equitable, the resources get to the right people, and people and ecosystems thrive."

Many foundations and development aid organizations are therefore questioning their processes right now: How can alternative forms of funding and participation challenge historical power structures? The Robert Bosch Stiftung too is trying out new approaches to funding so that the money reaches where it is needed most and is used in accordance with local needs. A central keyword is "participatory grantmaking": by involving the funded communities in the decision-making process and increasing transparency, the aim is to ensure that the funds are used effectively. 

Women with glasses full of water
Global Greengrants Fund in 2021 supported projects in 80 countries, including an initiative for clean drinking water in Uganda.

Global Greengrants Fund is one of the pioneers of this movement, providing funding through a hyperlocal and flexible system. In the regions where the organization works – Africa, Asia, South and North America, and the Pacific Rim – volunteer advisors identify grassroots movements that need support and are able to use the funds wisely. A local advisory board consisting of activists with local knowledge then makes unbureaucratic decisions. "The grants are a tool for grassroots communities to find their own solutions," explains Naomi Lanoi, Program Coordinator for Global Indigenous Grantmaking at Global Greengrants. "The amounts are deliberately kept small. There is no denying that large sums can arouse covetousness and bring corruption in their wake." In 2021, 493 projects in 80 countries benefited from awards totaling more than $2.5 million, which Global Greengrants Fund raised through grants and donations – including from the Robert Bosch Stiftung. 

Help for groups that receive too little help

For several years, Global Greengrants Fund has focused on those groups that suffer from climate change for multiple reasons, such as, for example, indigenous peoples living in regions threatened by extreme weather. Here, women are especially vulnerable because they are less mobile and/or have fewer resources. Global Greengrants therefore primarily supports environmental protection and climate justice projects initiated and driven by indigenous groups and women. "Less than one percent of traditional development aid reaches indigenous groups. The same is true for projects initiated by women," says Juan Mateo Martinez Arbaca, who works for Global Greengrants Fund as a learning consultant based in Quito, Ecuador, and handles the distribution of project-specific findings within the organization. "In the traditional system, a mechanism called intersectional discrimination comes into play: the least money goes to indigenous women."

"We know that when power and decision-making are equitable, the resources get to the right people, and people and ecosystems thrive."

Quote fromUrsula Miniszewski, Director of Gender and Equity at Global Greengrants Fund 

Global Greengrants’ approach is not only about equity – that is, ensuring that those most discriminated against receive special support. It also has a pragmatic aspect: According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, indigenous groups and women are the most effective actors in the fight against climate change. An estimated 80 percent of the world's biodiversity is found in tropical regions that have been traditionally cultivated by indigenous communities. In a way, they are true experts in living sustainability. For thousands of years, the traditional knowledge of indigenous people ensured that the biotopes they inhabited were permanently livable. In this context, women have the most important function, because they are often traditionally responsible for agriculture and the land.

An indigenous knowledge network

Whether it is about water filters for remote villages in Uganda or about Colombian women fighting against a large dam project, what many projects have in common is the use and dissemination of indigenous knowledge and methods. Let’s take Indonesia, for example. In recent decades, Indonesian agriculture in many places has been converted to large-scale rice and corn production, driven by massive marketing campaigns by Western corporations. The crops are enormously fragile and thrive only with the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides, which have polluted the soil. At the same time, increasingly frequent extreme weather events such as droughts have led to local famines. Maria Loretha, a local activist, took action. She drove across the country for months, collecting seeds of the ancient, indigenous sorghum variety in remote regions – and teaching their planting techniques to villagers. The result: pesticide-free agriculture that feeds local people. 

Knowledge transfer beyond borders

In addition to promoting such grassroots projects, Global Greengrants also makes sure to spread the necessary knowledge for the fight against climate change and for livable communities worldwide. This is done by people such as Juan Mateo Martinez Arbaca: "Women are on the front line in the fight against environmental destruction. But in order to lead this struggle, they need a safe private environment: protection from violence, a secure livelihood, and ideally support in caring for children and the elderly. Activist feminist movements in Central America, such as Fondo Terra Viva, have decades of experience in these areas." This knowledge is then shared through the Global Greengrants network – through online workshops, etc. – so that, for example, women's groups in sub-Saharan Africa that are just beginning their struggle can benefit from the experience of women in Mexico.

Indigenous women at a demonstration
The women's protests in Peru against a large dam were also supported by Global Greengrants – and learning effects were passed on to other countries.

Because Global Greengrants Fund stands for egalitarian decision-making, latent structures of discrimination are also repeatedly addressed. "In India, we fight against discrimination based on class, religion or gender," says Subrat. As well as against a typical type of discrimination that is generally not talked about, even in enlightened circles: the traditional caste system. According to Subrat, many activist groups are dominated by higher caste representatives. "We advisory board members had to ask ourselves whether Dalit [editor's note: a social group that is at the very end of the caste system] projects are underrepresented. To counter this, we invited a Dalit representative to join the advisory board," Subrat says. "As a result, more Dalit projects are now supported and we have livelier discussions about the relationship between castes."

"Less than one percent of traditional development aid reaches indigenous groups. The same is true for projects initiated by women. And due to intersectional discrimination, indigenous women receive the very least support and promotion."

Quote fromJuan Mateo Martinez Arbaca, Global Greengrants Learning Consultant in Ecuador 

And that is probably the most important principle of Global Greengrants Fund: It’s not just about distributing money. It's about listening and acting accordingly. Or as Juan Mateo Martinez Arbaca puts it: "The local groups on the ground know best how to fight against the consequences of climate change and environmental destruction. They don't need advice. They need support to put their knowledge into action."

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Reducing inequality with new approaches

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The Foundation fosters connections and supports actors addressing inequality with an intersectional approach. In 2020, the Robert Bosch Stiftung launched the support program “Reducing Inequality Through Intersectional Practice”. The Foundation's project partners also include the Global Greengrants Fund. In their work, the partner organizations uncover the interconnectedness of multiple forms of discrimination to better understand the root causes of inequalities.

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Global Cities Fund for Migrants and Refugees

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The Mayors Migration Council’s Global Cities Fund for Migrants and Refugees (GCF) responds to the unmet needs of cities as they support migrants, refugees, and internally displaced people. By directly funding cities, the GCF builds precedents of fiscal feasibility in city governments that are often disregarded by donors with low risk tolerance. The GCF has created a catalogue of investment-ready solutions for migrants and refugees with the potential to shift humanitarian and development responses to those best placed to deliver them: cities. The GCF has become a multi-million dollar fund with a pipeline of over 20 city grantees through the support of its donors, including the Robert Bosch Stiftung, the Open Society Foundations, and the IKEA Foundation.

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