Janet Wilkinson

When communities have agency, they are more likely to resist injustice and create lasting environmental change. Working from that assumption, we are supporting communities in cultivating agency, often through civic engagement, volunteerism, and by supporting emerging leaders in networked initiatives.

The deadlines just closed for two of our three 2019 grant rounds. An unprecedented large number of applications were submitted and we are thrilled with the caliber of the project proposals under review, representing diverse responses to our environmental challenges, and every single one working at the grassroots level. 

Image courtesy Windham Youth CORE, which received a Young Leader Grant in 2018 to build out their “Community Leadership Curriculum” into a set of resources that will guide participants, integrate them with a network of their peers, and engage them with local leaders who are making change in their community.

Here are a few snapshots from our Young Leader application pool:

  • A group of high schoolers working to connect other young adults as they "build process and content skills which prepare them to thoughtfully design innovative, entrepreneurial solutions to pressing issues facing [our rural region], our legacy forest economy, and specifically, the vitality of [our] local communities.”

  • A youth-led project to engage young people to map vacant spaces in the city for community use, part of a longer term youth organizing and base building strategy to transform the relationship to space for urban dwellers.

  • A group of middle and high school students organizing four community writing workshops and spoken word events that focus on climate change and related social justice issues during the 2019-20 school year. “Work from these events will be revised and prepared for publication with media partners. A culminating community event will include an open mic and action plan on climate change.”

We are seeing far more participation from folks under 25 as planning committee members, trainers, and grant readers as well. These young leaders are bringing a whole new level of ingenuity and sensitivity to this work, particularly around environmental justice and equity.

The growth in ‘Grow’ and ‘Young Leader' grant applications is due to a number of factors. Our staff has shifted how we are showing up and listening to communities, such as our new pop up offices. Our prioritization of participatory decision-making means we’ve welcomed hundreds of volunteer readers and planning committee members who become ‘ambassadors’ of the Fund. Four years ago we decided to place equity at the center of our organizational and programmatic work, with an incredibly encouraging response from our stakeholders. And of course there are the emerging movements on the ground.

Here is what momentum looks like to us, in our effort to support communities that are building their own agency to achieve environmental, social and economic justice:

  • We received 53 LOIs for our new Young Leader grant program(compared to 12 last year!). 
  • Our Grow grant programclosed on March 15th with 111 applications - we'd anticipated receiving 60! 
  • The project proposals are all grassroots in nature (often ad hoc groups, none with a budget above $100k/more than two full time staffers), cross urban and rural settings, and focus on climate change, energy, food, conservation, and economic and social justice. More projects than ever reside at intersections of these focus areas, working directly at root causes. 
  • Last year we had 150 readers total - this year in the first two of three rounds alone we have over 160. We’ll likely double last year’s reader numbers. And even more exciting is who’s showing up to help us make decisions about how dollars are distributed in communities. We ask all reader applicants to self-identify, if comfortable, across race, gender, economics, age, etc. and the spectrum of lived experiences and backgrounds - far beyond what we usually see in philanthropy - is so heartening. View the demographic pie charts.
  • Over 1,000 grassroots organizers, fellow nonprofits and funders participated in and attended our various Convenings in 2018, contributing to this resilient, diverse network of change. We anticipate building on the quality of programming, the depth of participatory leadership, and the diversity in participation in our Convenings this year and into the future. 

Which brings us back to grantmaking, what we were founded 23 years ago to do. Our small grants program is a proven model which places equity at the center, giving us an opportunity to usher new, provocative, and innovative answers to environmental challenges to fruition. It simultaneously provides an important entry into the rest of our offerings, including skill building, training, networking, research, documentation of practices, and more. As we welcome new grantees, we fuel the movement, it’s that simple.