Unsustainable development, consumerism, the unequal role of women in society – all have negative impacts on our natural environment. Can environmental philanthropy successfully address the most pressing challenges if we do not acknowledge their interconnected nature?
This is the question Global Greengrants Fund posed to funders at the Environmental Funders Network (EFN) retreat earlier this year. As a grassroots, environmental justice funder, we strongly believe that we need to employ a multi-faceted response to the complex problems we see in the field. We are convinced that our grantmaking will be more effective if we work across different thematic sectors to tackle complex, multi-faceted problems. But we also realise that we do not have the capacity to work on everything, all the time. Finding collaborators in other funding fields seems the obvious solution. But what does this collaboration really look like, and how can funders replicate it?
The view from the ground: An example from South Sudan
First, it is important to understand what we mean when we talk about multi-faceted problems.
For me, this interdependence is exemplified by a group of women in South Sudan who Global Greengrants Fund supported to protect the health of their environment and community. Women in this community are responsible for gathering firewood for their home and for sale, which over time has led to less and less available wood in the degraded and unmanaged forests. This means the women have to walk farther to gather the wood, putting them at risk of violence, and taking them out of education and employment. At the same time, the firewood they use in the house produces toxic fumes, leading to grave health implications. The forest, source of life and livelihood alike, has been destroyed, species are being lost, the soil is degraded, and the lack of trees has wider implications in a place already seriously impacted by climate change.
The solution for the group we supported was to teach local women how to manufacture environmentally-friendly cookstoves – thus in one project addressing the need to safeguard the forest, prevent soil erosion, reduce gender violence, help women access education and make a living from the sale of the cookstoves, and reduce respiratory diseases in the community. The impact of such a multi-thematic approach for people and the planet is impressive. (Interested in another example of powerful intersectional work? It was hard to choose, so another case study is included below this blog.*)
As environmental funders, we may understand the need for natural resource protection and the strategies that work, but we may struggle to appreciate the myriad disadvantages women face in societies that keep them from actively participating in, and ultimately ensuring the success of, environmental protection efforts. Our partners funding women’s rights, on the other hand, are beginning to understand and appreciate that women’s economic and social equality hinges on a clean, safe and healthy environment. By coming together, we can add value to each other’s strategies and approaches, and ultimately increase the impact for the women we seek to support.
Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action
Since January 2016 Global Greengrants Fund has been part of the Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action (GAGGA), an innovative partnership of environmental and women’s funds, created to support grassroots women’s voices and leadership on environmental and resource rights in the Global South. With this partnership, the environmental movement and the women’s rights movement are coming together to find solutions that really address the interrelated nature of environmental protection and women’s equality in a place like South Sudan.
This unprecedented collaboration was driven by the realisation that there is an appalling gap in funding for local women working to create a healthy and safe environment for their communities. The knowledge and work by women at the grassroots level is often not recognised or valued, and women are still largely absent from the decision-making bodies that govern the use and control of the very resources they traditionally manage. In pooling our knowledge, funds and organisational capacities, the partners in GAGGA are seeking both to address the immediate needs of women at the grassroots, and to increase the resources available for this work.
Collaboration, but how?
But how to “do” funder collaboration? Many people, including on this blog, have written about what makes collaborations successful. Here are the top three lessons the GAGGA partners are learning:
- It takes time to build collaboration, and to understand each other’s perspectives and aims. GAGGA started two years before we began implementation – with meetings, research, planning. Misunderstandings had to be straightened out, trust built, food and drink shared, ideas formed and tossed out, feelings hurt, assumptions challenged, a common language established. This process still continues: in year one, we took time to convene, discuss and learn about our priorities and approaches. Where do we align, where do we converge? Interestingly, we found that women at the grassroots have a much more holistic view on environmental protection. It is us funders who have siloed our approaches.
- This is why we need to involve our beneficiaries – to ensure that our cross-thematic funding is relevant to their needs. This means seeking true understanding – what does it mean to be a woman environmental activist in Africa? What matters to them, what do they need from us? What don’t they need from us? GAGGA has benefitted from bringing women environmental actors into the discussion and ideation from our first meeting.
- Strength in numbers: With a challenge of this magnitude, we should not be the only ones investing in this work. The GAGGA partners are inviting governmental funders, international financial institutions, and private philanthropy to join us and increase funding for women environmental leaders. Funder collaboration should be open and inclusive, not an exclusive club – because ultimately it is about maximising impact.
To quote comedienne and all-round legend Amy Poehler: “As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people’s ideas are often better than your own.”
At the EFN retreat in February, we heard many great examples of collaboration with other environmental funders and also across thematic siloes, both internally and externally, which need to be shared more widely. Concretely, there was a call for funders to have a more structured dialogue and opportunity to develop collaboration under the auspices of EFN. We hope to take this forward in the coming months, and as we continue our journey with women’s funds, look forward to sharing our learning and the impact we are making. We believe that collaboration with funders from different fields – health, development, social justice – will mean a better-targeted and relevant response to environmental problems, and ultimately more impact. Collaboration is the future of environmental funding; I look forward to hearing from you about your experiences and thoughts on how to collaborate!
Eva Rehse has been the Director of Global Greengrants Fund UK since 2015. Previously, she worked in human rights and civil society development with Amnesty International and CIVICUS, but her very first job was with the Scottish Biodiversity Forum, helping to create Scotland’s first biodiversity strategy. It is exactly this connection of environmental protection and social justice that gets Eva excited and motivates her work at the Fund.
*Multi-faceted work – another case study
Cendela Lopez, an indigenous Miskita woman in the Caribbean city of Puerto Lempira in Honduras, was alarmed by the negative impacts of climate change on her community. In particular she noticed that more frequent rains affect women’s ability to know when to plant crops. In addition, fish stocks in the lagoon were low due to pollution and overfishing. To help support her community both financially and environmentally, in 2003 Cendela organised local women to collect and recycle the waste that has long littered the wetlands and mangroves of the Moskitia region.
Today, and including with the support of a small grant from Global Greengrants Fund, her organisation MIMAT is a largely self-financed small recycling business, employing 60 women through municipal contracts for waste removal. As a result, solid waste in the region has been reduced by 2,400 cubic meters every year. MIMAT’s cleanup of the coastal zone and reforestation activities have lowered greenhouse gas emissions because less garbage is incinerated, and the cradle-to-grave emissions of processing goods have been reduced through recycling. The waste management has helped replenish fish stocks in the lagoon and reduced insect-borne illnesses among the 12,000 inhabitants of participating towns.
The status of the women of MIMAT in their households and communities has improved because of their self-organising. Women see improvements in their productive (income generation), reproductive (better maternal and child health) and community roles (safer environment, restored natural resources). Women’s interests are also now much better represented in the Miskito community as a result of the influence MIMAT has gained with local political authorities and the Miskito indigenous federation. Even small-scale waste reduction and recycling efforts can have multiple benefits, when rooted in and led by the local community.