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Nohemi Rodriguez

Progress Report: Centering Racial Equity in Climate Grantmaking

Barr’s Climate Director shares the story and learnings behind our ongoing work to advance a more diverse, inclusive, and equity-centered climate movement.

Almost two years ago, I wrote here about new work on Barr’s Climate Team to significantly increase grantmaking to people of color (POC)-led, equity-centered organizations. This is an extension of Barr’s commitment to center racial equity as a core value through our grantmaking and practices. It also stems from our firm belief that addressing climate change will only be possible with a diverse, inclusive, and equity-centered movement. In December 2021, I reported our baseline - roughly 10% ($5.2 million) of our 2019 and 2020 climate grantmaking went to POC-led, equity-centered organizations. I also stated our commitments to keep improving and to be transparent about progress.

That’s why I am thrilled to share that we have more than doubled that baseline. In 2021 and 2022, our grantmaking to POC-led, equity-centered climate organizations totaled $15.8 million, which was 22.8% of our climate grantmaking those two years. And we are projecting an even higher percentage for 2023. In this post, I want to share the story behind those numbers – five ways of working and new partnerships to advance a more diverse, inclusive, equitable, and effective climate field.

1. Investing in Existing Partners and Connecting to New Ones

Being explicit about our goal to support more POC-led, equity-centered organizations led us to deepen support to many existing partners – with larger, more flexible, and longer-term grants, and supplemental funding to build resiliency. Our commitments also guided our approach, outreach, and network building to find and support new partners.

We recognized that there are existing community-based leaders working on a range of multiple issues to address systemic injustices. Because of the trust they already hold in their communities, such leaders can be enormously effective in connecting climate to what matters most in their context, ensuring that climate action reflects local priorities, and that locals reap the benefits from the opportunities climate action creates. We revamped our Climate Program online inquiry form to add accessibility as well as clarity about our keen interest in supporting POC-led, equity-centered organizations working in clean energy, mobility, and resilience. We asked our current partners to circulate the form in their networks.

As a result of increased outreach, we’ve been excited to add several new organizations to our portfolio that were already trusted partners in their communities – such as The Alliance for Tribal Clean Energy, which is working with Native American tribes in New England to transition toward clean energy systems, and Arise for Social Justice, which is organizing low income people to fight oppression in all its manifestations, including environmental injustice in Springfield, MA (you can see all of our Climate grants since 2021 here).

2. Simplifying the Steps for Grant Applications and Reporting

We took a fresh look at all our grant application and reporting processes with an eye towards offering more flexibility and choice for how our partners could get us essential information. We wanted to emphasize real connections and relationships over the grantmaking transaction. As a result, we’re now doing a lot more through conversations (with our team members doing the work to document), and there’s a lot less paperwork we’re asking our partners to generate for us.

3. Supporting Benchmarking, Peer Learning, and Action to Advance Racial Equity

Based on feedback from our grantees on how we can best support their racial equity efforts, in the fall of 2021, we commissioned a self-assessment for organizations to reflect on their racial equity efforts and to assist them in benchmarking progress over time. We made this available and optional for all our current grantees and over 80 (90% of our current grantees) chose to participate. Following their participation, organizations received their profiles, and we learned about how the racial equity self-assessment prompted or accelerated conversations about areas of growth (for example, learn about Vote Solar's HR practices here). To further expedite progress for grantees who had demonstrated commitment to make changes in their culture and operations, we introduced a racial equity organizational development grant application. These grants have ranged between $10,000 and $30,000 and are typically utilized to hire consultants to facilitate organizational change opportunities connected to centering equity.

One consistent theme brought up by our grantees is that people are really interested in what others are doing and learning in their racial equity efforts. In response, we launched a peer learning process, inviting our grantees to self-organize groups on topics of shared interest. We received an incredibly enthusiastic response, with over 60 participants forming five peer-learning groups covering topics like hiring and retention, board development, strategy, and community participation in decision-making. The feedback received so far has been very positive, with participants valuing the opportunity to exchange insights, experiences, and best practices. To support these groups, we offer help with scheduling, facilitation, and access to relevant experts for advice and support.

4. Enhancing Leadership Infrastructure, Pathways, and Networks

We’ve been resourcing new approaches to building a more diverse cadre of leaders for the climate movement. This includes fostering a network of climate leaders who are already working in communities on a range of other issues. That’s why we’ve supported the Climate Justice Organizing School led by the Hyams Foundation, and the Liberation Leadership Program by One Square World. And we’re exploring participatory grantmaking with the New England Grassroots Environmental Fund (which is currently seeking community grant readers for its Fall 2023 cycle).

We’ve been investing in new approaches to fostering a more diverse cadre of leaders for the climate movement. This includes building a network of climate leaders who are already working in communities on a range of other issues.

We’ve also focused on strengthening the network of these community-rooted climate leaders. As they connect with each other and build relationships, it fosters new partnership and mutual support on advocacy, organizing, and work to transform their own organizational cultures and practices rooted in justice and healing. Our support for the Professionals of Color in the Environment’s (POCIE’s) network is one example.

Another important facet of leadership infrastructure is keeping allies engaged and playing their part. One common challenge in equity-oriented work is that individuals and groups who have been most marginalized can end up carrying the lion’s share of the work to bring about change. We know that POC-led, equity-centered organizations are not the only ones who care about advancing a more diverse, inclusive, equitable future. And they can’t do it alone! Creating that better world requires all of us. That’s why we have been intentional about engaging all our grantees in discussions about racial equity and supporting their efforts to commit to integrating it within their organizations, and in their work.

5. Reflecting, Course-correcting, and Being Transparent

An important part of reflecting on our approach and strategies has been taking an honest look at where we may have made missteps, listening carefully to our partners, making adjustments, and sharing about all of the above – like this recent post from our Mobility Team on a refresh to their strategy.

In early 2021, the Donors of Color Network launched the Climate Funders Justice Pledge. They urged the nation’s largest climate funders to commit publicly to disclose how much of their funding was going to people of color-led power building groups, AND to embrace a goal of at least 30%. At the time, we committed to the transparency portion of the pledge and shared our baseline. Though we’ve come a distance since then already, we know there’s plenty more work still to do. And we could not be more proud or grateful to support such a tremendous group of partners in their work to advance equitable solutions to climate change.

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