Local Voices for Environmental and Social Change
How do you do your funding?
We make grants averaging approximately $4,800 to protect people and the environment, restore places and ways of life that have been harmed, and transform systems for a sustainable future. Since 1993, we have made more than 8,500 grants worth more than $45 million in 163 countries.
Describe Global Greengrants’ approach and process, explaining how it is different from conventional philanthropy.
Our philosophy of catalyzing locally led environmental and social change hinges upon the recommendations we receive from our grantmaking advisors located in the very communities across Africa, Asia, the Pacific Islands, the Russian Far East, and the Americas to which we channel our support. Our advisors are experts in their fields and include activists, journalists, lawyers, professors, and scientists. Volunteering their time and expertise, they make informed decisions about the critical needs of the communities in which they live and work, identify the grassroots leaders to receive grants, and mentor grantees to ensure that funds are used in the most effective way possible. Our vast network of advisors helps connect us with groups building movements for change, challenging unjust policies, and restoring and protecting the environment.
There was a moment when your story began. How did you come to practice philanthropy in this way?
Our founders believed the only way to achieve positive, lasting environmental and social change was from the ground up. But in 1993, few funders working in nonindustrialized countries had an infrastructure or process in place to cost-effectively direct resources to the community level. So our founders established a new philanthropic model to seed grassroots environmental action by providing resources directly to the people who had solutions to their communities’ most pressing environmental and human rights challenges. They cultivated networks with activists around the world and relied on regional expert grant advisors to recommend projects to receive small grants. This model deconstructed structural and cultural barriers to international grantmaking, creating an efficient, affordable, and reliable method of channeling resources directly to the people most in need. Twenty years later, we make the most resource rights grants of any organization in the world.
Have you ever been met with resistance or criticism in regards to Micro Granting?
We know small grants have the capacity to make an enormous difference when strategically targeted to launch nascent movements into effective action. Our nimble approach allows us to administer grants quickly to local groups primed to make a serious positive impact for their communities.The most common criticism we hear is the concern that a small to medium-sized grant will not make a large, lasting difference. To address this, a case study was done in China to evaluate our impact over a decade of supporting China’s emerging green movement. The Chinese social scientists and academics who conducted the study concluded that Global Greengrants was the only international donor that consistently and directly funded China’s grassroots green groups, contributing to the positive growth of the country’s environmental movement.
You likely encountered challenges as you started implementing your strategy. What happened?
Funders often request highly technical evaluations to measure impact. This is challenging for grassroots groups that may not have time, staff, or technological resources needed to track progress. Our volunteer grant advisors also do not have time to conduct Western evaluations. Plus, because the cost of technical evaluations often exceeds our average grant size, evaluation would require funneling money away from the project itself, which could diminish its impact. Instead, we put decision-making power in the hands of our grantees and evaluate their success using qualitative metrics. At the community level, success may mean local women can make a sustainable living as a result of a Greengrant. On a larger scale, grantees have been responsible for halting bad development projects and strengthening the resource rights of entire indigenous communities. We know our decentralized, streamlined model helps grantees achieve extraordinary outcomes.
How does your funding practice affect the overall impact you are able to achieve?
We support community groups working to secure their rights to a healthy, safe environment. Our style of granting allows us to get quick funding directly to these communities exactly when an opportunity arises. United States-based foundations often fund large NGOs and not local communities. Although large NGOs play a crucial role in supporting grassroots movements on a systematic scale, without coupling their efforts locally, the urgency and demand for communities’ rights can be overlooked. Supporting local movements in conjunction with larger NGOs is critical because people at the community level hold incredibly valuable environmental and cultural knowledge. By protecting their rights, we also protect the future of our planet.
What is the most important insight you gained specifically through funding in this way?
The most significant insight we’ve gained through our multicultural grantmaking is that trust is an even more important currency than money. Investing in trust and strong communication throughout our networks is crucial to our productivity, transparency, and effectiveness. Our donors trust us to direct their funding to impactful projects. Our advisors and grantees trust us to quickly administer funding when the time is right. And we trust our advisors to know who is ready to make a big impact.
Why does Indie Philanthropy matter to you?
Grantmaking is a form of stewardship. We identify the most qualified stewards, invite them to join our advisory boards, and then step back to let the system work. This model has given our organization a deep return on its investment. Not only is grassroots-level support a good way to stretch resources, but supporting communities is also a strategic imperative for anyone concerned about increased levels of environmental, social, and economic instability in the world today. We touch the lives of people whose village, town, or region are experiencing the immediate effects of environmental degradation. For many of our grantees, receiving a Greengrant may be the only direct evidence that people in wealthy countries want to help. This is grantmaking on a personal scale. We are gifted with the tremendous progress our grant recipients achieve through our small investments.