Global South leadership on climate philanthropy


Laura Señan and Erika Miller


Discussions around a power imbalance within climate philanthropy are both necessary and important, but have also led to the rise of a problematic and simplistic narrative that philanthropic organisations in the Global South must be ‘empowered’.

This term suggests that these actors are without power and agency. Instead, local foundations, funds, and philanthropy infrastructure organisations are leaders and collaborators in climate philanthropy today, and if supported at scale, critical actors in addressing the climate crisis.

Philanthropy organisations in the Majority World are leading climate advocacy and impact

Philanthropic organisations in the Global South are demonstrating commendable leadership in the areas of climate action, advocacy, and impact globally. Most of these actors have emerged out of local movements and communities and have the legitimacy and connection to represent and resource them. This results in a distinct ability to safeguard spaces of authentic trust, with programmes and initiatives focusing on adaptation and resilience, and grounded in justice. These philanthropies are challenging the status quo of traditional practices and in this process, changing dominant narratives within climate philanthropy of impact, effectiveness, and proximity.

Global South-based climate funds and foundations are not just following agendas set in the Global North, they often have long track records in supporting communities and movements that are advocating for these issues, be it climate justice, adaptation, resilience-building, or loss and damage. As part of this, local socio-environmental foundations and philanthropic organisations increase participation and leadership in the climate policy arena as they advocate for the urgent inclusion of more diverse voices at the decision-making table.

Fundación Avina, for example, is one of the organisations that has been highly involved in different fronts of climate policy negotiations ranging from democratisation of climate governance spaces, activation of non-state actors agenda, and supporting the diverse participation of climate negotiators from the Global South. ‘Localisation’, as a key aim of climate and development philanthropy today, has always been at the heart of the Global South philanthropies’ identity in their ambition to shift existing power imbalances across the ecosystem.

Collaboration has always been a central strategy for philanthropies in the Global South

The scale and urgency of the climate crisis requires that philanthropic actors of all shapes and sizes, and from all parts of the world, understand each other’s approaches and collaborate. Rather than engage in mindsets of competition and scarcity, the funding community needs to see itself as an ecosystem in which all parts add value and need each other to function.

Understanding this, climate philanthropy actors are increasingly organising themselves in new collaborative structures and networks. These structures of collaboration are deeply rooted in systems of philanthropic practices in the Global South. ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ This African Proverb is embodied by many philanthropic organisations in the Global South that see collaboration as integral to achieving collective goals on climate.

The Socio-environmental Funds of the Global South Alliance is a growing collaborative amplifying the voice and impact of locally-founded and led funds from across Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. The alliance offers a connected global platform for community funds to work together, share knowledge and experiences, access new resources, and shape collective agendas that will strengthen their actions individually and as a whole. As a collective, their voice and causes are amplified.

A new effort to spark collaboration and impact on climate action and advocacy owned and led by the Majority World is the recently launched Global South Climate Philanthropy Initiative, an effort spearheaded by Fundación Avina, and supported by GIFE, The Arab Foundations Forum, Latimpacto, and WINGS.

Emerging out of a need for the philanthropic community to develop a shared vision with a deeper impact on the climate policy agenda, and leaning on the political momentum of the upcoming G20 (Brazil), Biodiversity COP16 (Colombia) and COP30 in Brazil, the group of more than 40 organisations was formed in Dubai at COP28 and collectively articulated common concerns and priorities into a coordinated narrative of key messages. This initiative is making siloed participation of Global South actors in the climate policy processes a thing of the past by building unified action and strategic alignment among these philanthropic organisations to influence the processes that determine the global response to the climate crisis.

Similarly, #PhilanthropyForClimate is a growing global community of foundations committed to climate action, bringing a unified voice and positions to global forums, and strengthening cross-border collaboration. With networks leading their communities in the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, Canada, Brazil and internationally, this initiative emphasises the need for global collaboration of locally-led climate action and supporting its coordination.

To collaborate effectively, we need to build philanthropic networks

Without supportive and enabling ecosystems, local socio-environmental funds and collaborations, including the ones mentioned above, will not be able to reach their full potential. There is a great need for more funders to invest in strengthening local philanthropy support ecosystems that will help the climate philanthropy ecosystem to grow, diversify and thrive.

Partnering with and investing in these ecosystems can be a powerful strategy for grantmakers –  local, regional and international – to help generate more and better local resources for bottom-up and sustainable change. The same ecosystem and infrastructure organisations are key multipliers to reach the scale and pace needed to address a challenge as complex as climate change.

The language used around empowerment matters, as it has big implications that perpetuate inequity. Reframing the narrative from ‘empowering’ to ‘partnering’ or ‘supporting’ can shift the focus from a power transfer to a facilitative role where Global North organisations support the inherent capabilities and leadership of Global South philanthropies.

But we need to go further – in the face of the scale of the challenge of the climate crisis, we need to jointly build a climate philanthropy ecosystem that understands each actor’s unique value and spheres of influence. If we want our philanthropy to have any meaningful impact, we need to move from competition to identifying complementaries that can set the foundations of collaboration.


Erika Miller is Head of Climate at WINGS

Laura Señan Cagiao is head of Strategic Partnerships at Fundación Avina

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