A power shift to the front lines of the climate crisis


Heather McGray


The Climate Justice Resilience Fund (CJRF) provides grants to organizations that support women, youth, and Indigenous Peoples to create and share their own solutions for climate resilience. CJRF puts people, their rights, and their lived experience directly at the centre of climate action. Since 2016, CJRF has been led by a board comprised of foundation representatives, but in late 2022, they recruited a new governing board comprised of activists and practitioners from around the globe.

Climate change is accelerating, and it raises challenging questions about power and privilege – especially in philanthropy. For example, who should decide how a Bangladeshi woman rebuilds after a cyclone ravages the place where her children sleep? Should it be a set of rich, white Europeans on the board of a foundation? What about the choices a Maasai family faces when their herds die in the Horn of Africa’s drought? Should an American program officer decide whether that family gets money to regroup and restock, or to reskill and find a job in the city?

In other words, climate change raises the question of ‘Who decides?’ The Climate Justice Resilience Fund (CJRF) believes it makes sense for people on the frontlines of the climate crisis to hold the decision-making power over climate action. This approach is only fair – since it’s their lives and livelihoods at stake. Even more important, people who’ve experienced a particular cyclone or drought understand how local culture and politics mediate the outcomes of the event, so they are well-placed to take the lead in creating solutions that can really work for their community.

For the past six years, CJRF’s goal has been to support people on the frontlines to build voice and power, so they can decide what to do about climate change. Our grantmaking supports a range of organizations and activities through which communities implement, share, advocate for, and scale their own solutions. For example, two grants totalling USD $921,000 over five years have supported COAST Foundation’s work in southeast Bangladesh to address the links between climate shocks, education, domestic violence, and child marriage. COAST was founded in coastal Bangladesh and employs and organizes local people. Their leadership reports to a board that includes members of the communities where they work. COAST’s on-the-ground insights and understanding make them well-equipped for success, both with project implementation and policy advocacy.

CJRF’s investment in groups like COAST is practical and effective in that it supports the implementation of well-designed climate initiatives and development of local and national climate movements. Over time, as our grant partners’ success grows, our investment also shifts power within a larger organizational ecosystem that has long been dominated by international NGOs and Northern consultants. We believe this kind of power shift is needed to deconstruct unjust colonial, racial, and patriarchal systems – and it is critical to large-scale success in the climate fight.

In 2021, CJRF’s board decided we should also begin shifting power dynamics through how we do our grant decision-making, not just what we fund. November 2022 saw a major step in our transformation, with the appointment of a new board. By handing off power from a funder-led board to a board comprised of activists and practitioners, we aim to bring our own grantmaking processes in line with our belief that people facing the problems and doing the work should be calling the shots. The funders on our former board have relinquished traditional positional power, and those with lived experience of fighting the climate crisis are now our guides. 

Our search for our new governing board members began with an open call for applications in August 2022. We received more than 100 qualified applicants, most doing amazing things to advocate for climate justice. We formed a selection committee comprised of CJRF grant partners, board members, and advisors, who worked with staff to develop evaluation criteria and assess candidates. The aim was to formulate a board with a balance of skills, experiences, and perspectives, including broad geographic diversity and representation from CJRF’s core constituencies: women, youth, and Indigenous Peoples.

Our new nine-person board hails from eight countries across 20 time zones, with lived experience from the grassroots of the Congo Basin to the halls of the UN Green Climate Fund. They now hold responsibility for oversight of CJRF strategy, staff, and operations, and have full authority to decide how we should live up to our mission and values. Their insights will guide the fund’s future, and we expect them to correct areas where our early efforts may have missed the mark. Our new board aims to award its first grants in the coming months.  

Meaningful climate action requires power shifts in economic systems, women’s empowerment, inter-generational equity, and long-standing racial and colonial injustices. The Climate Justice Resilience Fund has spent years learning to fund these systems changes; now we are coming to embody such change, as an organization. 2023 will see powerful shifts in how we make decisions, who holds us to account, and what lessons we can offer to philanthropy and other climate funders.

Heather McGray is Director of the Climate Justice Resilience Fund.

Comments (12)

Hafizur Rahaman

This is great decision indeed. Shifting decision making power to those who suffer and fight climate crisis can effectively help them rebuild and recover from climate-induced crisis. Thanks CJRF that it already started shifting power from here.

Eric Ole Reson

This is a bold decision by CJRF! Thank you Heather for this piece, it is very interesting and inspiring. I am confident that there will be tremendous change towards making real impact. Given the power to decide, affected people will never go for policy while the most urgent/pressing need is water! its that simple! and so the resources will match real need and this equals real impact. My hope is how will other phillanthropist learn from this new inspring move by CJRF?

Milton Ogada

Thank you so much Heather, for the write-up. This is impressive to learn from and the fact that CJRF is making the bold step of transferring power to make decision on climate action to the most affected and vulnerable groups in our society. In the spirit of delocalization, this is a much welcome decision by CJRF, and we stand to learn a lot while also supporting other processes based on our lived experience.

Md. Zahidul Islam

Climate Adaptive Income Generating Techniques (CAIGTs) have been proven as a blessing for the coastal people who have limited lands to cultivate. These techniques help them economically but on top of that free their tension a lot in getting nutritious food for their own family members. Thanks to CJRF and the New Venture Fund for taking these indigenous, sustainable and comprehensive adaptation techniques into consideration to combat the impacts of climate change.

Iqbal Uddin

Climate Adaptive Income Generating Activities (CAIGT) support to the front lines coastal vulnerable people under the CJRF project, COAST has made a significant progress in improving the livelihoods, especially for women. Simple technology transfer for agricultural adaptation ensured food and nutrition security, and income too.

Emmanuel Siakilo

Great article Heather! Undeniably, CJRF has tremendously and positively so, impacted communities at the frontline of the climate crisis by amplifying their voices in key climate action spaces and of course providing the much needed financial capacity. Going forward, I would imagine that robustly integrating MEAL through designing bespoke results frameworks/logframes in this philanthropic work to measure progress of the initiative based on conventional DAC-OECD criteria parameters would be useful. MEAL will also assess the extend to which Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion are integrated in the initiative. I am happy to help.

monicah yator

this is so timely, people are struggling with the food crisis impacts of climate change and gender inequality.

Jescah Asaji

very inspiring article especially during this time when there is starvation of Food and water in many parts of Kenya, drought has affected many counties where both animals and people are in danger,loosing lives because of lack of food, water and other health related diseases Thank you so much

Nicholas Abuya

It is refreshing to see CJRF make strides in shifting power to make decisions to those at frontline of climate crisis. This is well aligned to the principles of locally led adaptation and rallying call for localization in response to climate emergencies.

David Kosgei Kanda

This is an amazing article and especially when Countries in the Tropics are facing serious climate hazard (Drought) that has left vulnerable communities with no option for survival. Letting them be on the 'Driver's seat' unable them to come up with working and lasting solutions on the challenges affecting them. Kenyan pastoralist has been pushed towards the periphery due to these myriads of complex challenges of the centuries that has recorded magnanimous Losses and Damages.

Mokhlesur Rahman

This is my first reading of the day - the 15th of February, 2023, gives me a soothing feeling. We - the CNRS, always prioritize putting the communities first in analyzing problems and planning solutions to adapt to shocks and stressors and transform. CJRF provided opportunities for us (especially for myself) to execute what I conceptualized in my Ph.D. research back in 2010-2013 in the southwestern coastal disaster-prone settings to build social-ecological resilience. Happy to hear when a retired primary school teacher of Kultali village said, " we fought for 12 years to get access to canal water and failed; the G4CR made it happen" - we are happy. While a housewife said, "now we know what to do to maintain our control over canal resources," our lifeline is back to us. The new board comprising women, youth, and indigenous people across the globe colored as practitioners and activists will be more community centered in supporting locally-led climate actions at scales. Cheers

Lameck Nkhoma

Thank you, Heather for the article and I really appreciate the approach of empowering local community and putting in front of any agenda, plan activities as we are doing on the Loss and damage project in Malawi

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *