This Woman-Led Philanthropy Is Cutting Billionaires Out Of Climate Funding Decisions
Since 2002, the Red Willow Center in northern New Mexico has worked to reclaim the agricultural traditions of the Taos Pueblo tribe.
On a 1.5-acre farm, the center teaches Taos Pueblo youth how to grow crops like blue corn and squash using traditional growing techniques. The center also runs a CSA program and a farmers market in an effort to distribute produce locally, and provides 70 bags of produce for free to families in the community.
“It’s a little beyond farming,” said Tiana Suazo, executive director of the nonprofit and a member of the Taos and Jemez Pueblos. “[We are] educating and empowering youth in our community to learn about traditional and modern agriculture, because our people have been farmers for time immemorial. And so we really teach how to take care of the land.”
Up until this year, the nonprofit was surviving off of small grants or applying for project-specific grants that require a set of deliverables. But what they really needed was funding for general operating support.
“They wanted to see their money was working, or they had a specific project in mind,” Suazo said of earlier funders. “I like general operating [funds] because how can people who don’t live in my community, who may not even know about my community, know what my community needs?”
Then along came the Fund for Frontline Power, a new fund for grassroots climate work that formed in 2021. In their inaugural round of grant giving, the fund was able to provide over $5 million to 48 organizations, prioritizing those that had operating budgets of $500,000 or less and fewer than 10 employees.
Suazo applied, and the Red Willow Center was awarded $100,000 in general operating funds — the biggest grant they’ve ever received. It will allow Suazo to ensure she can pay her employees decent wages.
The Fund for Frontline Power is part of a growing movement in the climate philanthropy space to direct funding from philanthropists like Jeff Bezos to environmental justice organizations and center their needs in the grant-making process. As more money is being poured into the climate funding space, jumping 25 percent in 2020, these organizations — which are often women-led — are trying to steer it to communities that will be most impacted by the climate crisis.
The fund’s governing board is made up of 13 environmental justice leaders — mostly women of color — who decide where funding goes.
“The only way that we could get to that conclusion of really supporting these groups that traditionally are kind of left out of philanthropy … is by structuring ourselves in a very particular way, where community organizers and community leaders are really making the decisions,” said Julia Ho, a member of the governing board and founder of the nonprofit Solidarity Economy St. Louis.