The 2019 Annual Conference of the Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF) bought together trusts and foundations from across the UK to engage them on taking action on the climate crisis.
It’s been an active 12 months for the ACF. At last year’s conference, Selina Nwulu from 2027 shared how they’re addressing the behemoth problem of diversity and the ACF has since launched ‘The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’ working group – one of the six underpinning the Stronger Foundations initiative. Also noted last year, was the surprising number of foundations actively stating that they ‘don’t do the environment’ and many focus their grantmaking on projects supporting social justice, so it was exciting to see this as the central theme this year, and what unfolds over the next twelve months.
In her opening speech, ACF CEO Carol Mack stated that the climate crisis has implications for the foundation sector as a whole. ‘Wherever you lie on that spectrum, I think it is possible for all foundations to use climate as one of the lenses they bring to thinking about their work. In fact, I’d go further and say, given the scientific forecasts, it is highly advisable for all to consider what it will mean for their beneficiaries now and in the future.’ When attendees were asked what position they are in regards to taking action on the climate crisis, 39 per cent said they are starting to have conversations about the climate crisis and are looking to create and action plan. So what does this mean in reality and how can they start to shift more of their funding, investments, and use all of their assets to help tackle the climate crisis.
After a powerful opening plenary panel discussion including Kumi Naidoo of Amnesty International, Majandra Rodriguez Acha of FRIDA the Young Feminist Fund and Miatta Fahnbulleh of New Econmics Foundation, I attended How to think and act in the long term: re-framing to accomplish philanthropic aims facilitated by Ella Saltmarshe of the Long Time Project. It was a unique and immersive session on cultivating long-termism, and the concept of where we are placed in deep time was particularly fascinating. We are asked to truly reflect what we’d like our impact to be over multiple generations which was unexpectedly emotional! However, it was powerful given that there were a few foundations in the room with histories that went back centuries. After discussions it was evident that many in the room there was a mixed picture on whether the organisations in attendance had tools in place for true long term planning.
This year’s conference also saw the official launch of The Funder Commitment on Climate Change. An initial Fourteen UK foundations made the public commitment to tackle climate change and are calling other funders to join them in pledging their support. Nick Perks, co-ordinator of the Funder Commitment, spoke to Alliance about the motivations behind the pledge, ‘Many of us in and around foundations are concerned about climate change, but may feel confused by the volume of information, lack confidence to discuss the issues, or simply be overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge. We need to build up the climate literacy of our organisations if we are to take effective action.’
The final session I attended We can’t fund riots: does philanthropy kill movements? had insights from Daniel Vockins of NEON, Romy Krämer of Guerilla Foundation and Danielle Walker Palmour of Friends Provident Foundation. The session explored the relationship between philanthropy and activists and whether philanthropy is stifling these movements with adherence to charity law and governance. Daniel Vockins explained in the context of the above the ground/below the ground engagement model, stating funders are currently above the ground and engaging with individuals and institutions. The new model looks at below the ground engagement which will carve out spaces to facilitate these campaigns and solidify a unifying grand narrative. Romy Krämer echoed and endorsed this approach to some extent, stating ‘We’re not trying to fetishize grassroots, but we want to fund people connected to the cause.’ Is this big leap for many funders in attendance? Possibly. However, the scale of the climate crisis necessitates a rapid reponse. As Carol Mack aptly said, ‘To be fair to the future, we need to change now.’
Zibran Choudhury is Communication and Circulation Officer and Alliance magazine