As expected, the official Rio+20 conference and the People’s Summit are vast and challenging to navigate. In addition to these, there are over 500 side events to the official conference. That’s why the orientation webinar (on 11 June) and the breakfast briefings organized for funders in Rio de Janeiro organized by the Consultative Group on Biological Diversity (CGBD), the Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA) and the Funders Network for Transforming Globalization (FNTG) are helping us to get the 30,000-foot view of what’s at stake, progress made on negotiations and what’s important outside of the official process. Equally importantly, we are hearing points of views on what philanthropy needs to do going forward.
At yesterday’s briefing, 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 US and Bangladesh in the same way’. But there are game-changers – and access to sustainable energy for all is one. As an American and a Bangladeshi, I couldn’t agree more. This week’s New York Times’ op-ed contributors make 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 get to the tipping point to make the shift to a renewable energy-based economy through incremental processes such as Rio+20 and the systemic changes that are needed, given the polarized political environment in the US? Tim reiterated what most of us 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. And, a game-changer in this arena is support for campaign finance reform. For Tim, philanthropy needs to become bold again, as it was in the 1960s when 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 EGA’s Annual Retreat (30 September-3 Oct) at Mohonk this year. If you are a funder, don’t miss the opportunity to join us in the fall and contribute to this critical movement-building event.
Mafruza Khan is Enhancing the Field Director at the Environmental Grantmakers’ Association