How Philanthropy Can Support Game Changers

As expected, this month’s Rio+20 conference and the People’s Summit were vast and challenging to navigate, with more than 500 side events to the official conference. Luckily, the orientation webinar and the breakfast briefings organized by the Consultative Group on Biological Diversity, the Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA), and the Funders Network for Transforming Globalization helped us to get the 30,000 foot view of what’s at stake, hear about the progress made on negotiations, and find out what’s important outside of the official process. Equally important, we heard points of views on what philanthropy needs to do going forward.

At one point Tim Wirth, president of the UN Foundation and the Better World Fund, drove home the point that it’s all about politics and that equity has to be front and center. In his words, “You can’t square the circle of inequities by thinking of the U.S and Bangladesh in the same way.” But there are game changers, such as access to sustainable energy for everyone. As an American and a Bangladeshi, I couldn’t agree more. A recent op-edin the New York Times made the same critical point about renewable energy being a game changer, though more from a sustainability perspective than an equity perspective.

So if the future is (almost) here, how do we make the shift to a renewable energy-based economy given the polarized political environment in the United States? Tim reiterated what most of us already know. It’s back to the basics of building and strengthening social movements. To win, philanthropy must invest in building coalitions across movements and sectors and the environmental community needs to connect to other movements. Support for campaign finance reform is also important. For Tim, philanthropy needs to become bold again, as it was in the 1960s when everyone was supporting the civil rights movement. Foundations and NGOs with 501(c)(3) status have the ability and the responsibility to act now so that by Rio+30 we are closer to the future we want and can have.

All this and more will be the focus of our conversation at the EGA Annual Retreat,September 30–October 3. If you are a funder, don’t miss the opportunity to join us at this critical event.

Mafruza Khan isenhancing the field director. This blog originally appeared on the Environmental Grantmakers Association’s blog.

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