Remarks of Chet Tchozewski, Executive Director of Global Greengrants Fund,
to the Council on Foundations 55th Annual Conference in Toronto, April 27, 2004,
on accepting the Robert W. Scrivner Award for Creative Grantmaking
Thank you for the tremendous honor that the Scrivner award represents.
I have been learning more about Bob Scrivner in the past few weeks, and I’ve discovered that he was a great model for the kind of thoughtful risk-taking that helps keep philanthropy responsive and relevant.
I’ve received several phone calls from people who knew and admired Bob. Wayne Jaquith of the Peace & Security Funders Group mentioned Bob’s early grant to Physicians for Social Responsibility in 1980. At the time, PSR wasn’t widely known, but within a few years PSR had won a Nobel Peace Prize.
I believe that much of the best work in philanthropy is based on intuition, and everyone seems to agree that Bob had great intuition.
Since 1993 the Global Greengrants Fund has made small grants to thousands of community-based environmental groups in the developing countries by relying on the ‘collective intuition’ of a global network of volunteer advisors to identify grantees.
While I’m very proud to have Greengrants’ work recognized by the Council, I cannot take all the credit for what we are achieving. Credit must go to our teams of advisors around the world who work as volunteers to make this model a success. It also goes to our grantees—grassroots groups around the world—whose incredibly hard work is helping to improve the environment we all share.
I don’t say this as an attempt at modesty. We absolutely couldn’t do this without their dedication, generosity of spirit, and their willingness to take tremendous risks.
What appealed to me about the original Greengrants idea was that we could overcome two barriers to international grantmaking at the same time. First, we could reduce the costs of making small grants, and second, we could tap the wisdom of local people closest to the action.
By reducing costs, we hope to encourage more donors to explore international environmental giving. Despite increasing awareness of how our own future is linked to conditions in the rest of the world, too little money is available to support environmental work in places where the situation is most desperate.
I think we often forget how far we’ve come in North America. Love Canal, across the border in New York state, reminds me of the days when environmental clean up was happening one community at a time.
But unlike Love Canal, the people of Bhopal, India didn’t have the luxury of support from the Sierra Club or the EPA Superfund in 1984 when twenty thousand people died because of a toxic gas leak at a Union Carbide chemical plant.
In most of the world today, neighbors are coming together to try to solve local problems. But communities in the developing world usually find that they will have to work in isolation with very few resources. This means that progress will come slowly, if at all.
But it doesn’t need to be that way. We can get grants to grassroots groups in developing countries. We can do it inexpensively, and we can do it without taking a heavy-handed approach that assumes that we know best.
That brings me to the second feature that informs the Greengrants model: the use of a network of volunteer advisors who can identify promising grant candidates in dozens of countries.
Our advisors fulfill many of the same duties as program officers. They identify grantees and can help mentor and monitor them. Yet they work as volunteers. They do this because their own commitment to the cause keeps them highly tuned to the needs of grassroots groups and to the opportunities they represent.
There are many benefits that our advisors bring, but perhaps their greatest advantage is in the range of viewpoints they offer.
In a way, Greengrants celebrates the risk of disagreement. We believe in the power of the grassroots as a catalyst for positive change, and we know that progress is a complicated path. Many voices need to be heard if nations are to be responsive to the needs of their citizens.
As a believer in risk, Bob Scrivner might have appreciated the vast opportunities for risk—and for failure—that Greengrants represents. We make nearly 500 grants a year now, and each one is a calculated risk.
We reach an incredible range of groups working on almost every environmental front, and I’m as proud of our failures as our successes. Though often as small as $500, our grants offer hope, and they offer the kind of diversity that reduces grantmaking risks overall.
Thank you for this wonderful award, and thanks too, for everything the Council has done to support our work over the years.
Although I don’t have time to thank everyone who has helped Greengrants over the years, I want to be sure to thank the Mott Foundation, Goldman, Packard, Ford, Open Society Institute, Rausing Trust, TOSA, Jurzykowski, and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors all of whom provide major funding for our work.
Thanks also to our advisors and grantees and to all the donors that have been willing to join with us and share the risks and rewards of international small grants philanthropy.
Chet Tchozewski, Executive Director
Global Greengrants Fund
2840 Wilderness Place, Suite E
Boulder, CO 80301 USA
Tel: (303)939-9866 ext. 104
Fax: (303) 939-9867