Volts
Volts
Putting more climate philanthropy toward economic and racial justice
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Putting more climate philanthropy toward economic and racial justice
A conversation with Abdul Dosunmu about the Climate Funders Justice Pledge.

BIPOC communities are most likely to bear the effects of climate change, but BIPOC-led environmental justice groups are severely underfunded in climate philanthropy. In this episode, Abdul Dosunmu of the Climate Funders Justice Pledge talks about his group’s aim to challenge big donors to give more equitably.

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Text transcript:

David Roberts

Whether it’s suffering the effects of fossil fuel pollution or fighting back against it, black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) are on the front lines of climate change.

Yet they are starved for resources. More than a billion dollars a year goes toward climate philanthropy, but of that amount, little more than 1 percent goes to BIPOC-led environmental justice groups.

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The two-year-old Climate Funders Justice Pledge, run by the Donors of Color Network, is trying to change that. It challenges big donors to a) be more transparent about where their grants are going, and b) within two years of signing the pledge, raise the amount going to BIPOC-led groups to 30 percent.

Abdul Dosunmu
Abdul Dosunmu

The pledge, featured in a just-released report from Morgan Stanley and the Aspen Institute on how to increase the impact of climate philanthropy, has already led to more than $100 million in annual commitments to BIPOC-led groups.

I talked with Abdul Dosunmu, who runs the pledge campaign, about why BIPOC leadership is important to the climate fight, how transparency changes the behavior of foundations, and how to improve the relationship between environmental justice groups and big funders.

Alright. Abdul Dosunmu. Welcome to Volts. Thank you so much for coming.

Abdul Dosunmu

Thank you so much for having me.

David Roberts

This is an interesting topic to me with lots of ins and outs, but let's start with just, I'd like to get a sense of what is the pool of philanthropic money available to climate and environmental organizations? And then how much of that currently is going to EJ groups?

Abdul Dosunmu

The Morgan Stanley-Aspen report, that we were honored to be part of, and was just released really details a stark challenge in terms of what the author of the report, Randall Kempner, says is both the quantity of climate philanthropy and the quality of climate philanthropy. So, on the quantity side, according to the report, only about 2% of all global philanthropy is focused on climate.

David Roberts

That's wild to begin with, honestly.

Abdul Dosunmu

Insanely wild. And what's interesting about that, what's hard to square about that is the fact that if you ask philanthropists how urgent the crisis is, 85% of them say it's extremely urgent. So they're talking one game but walking another game.

David Roberts

Right.

Abdul Dosunmu

So, of all global philanthropy, only about 2% is focused on climate. And then of that 2%, only about 1.3% of it is focused on BIPOC-led environmental justice organizations. So if you think about the quantity versus quality framework that Randall has, the Morgan Stanley-Aspen report is really focused on the quantity side of it. The climate funders justice pledge, which I lead, is focused on the quality side of it.

David Roberts

Right. We'll get to that in just one second. I got a bunch of questions about that, but I just want to in terms of quantity, do we know that 2% that goes to climate related stuff. Do we know what that number is? I don't have any sense of scale at all.

David Roberts

Is that a billion dollars? A few million?

Abdul Dosunmu

So our data, and I'm not sure Randall goes into this in the report, but our data is really focused on about 1.3 billion or so of climate funding.

David Roberts

Got it.

Abdul Dosunmu

So we're looking at single digit billions. But we also know that in recent years, frankly in recent weeks, that number is steadily escalating as new Climate Funders come onto the scene with last names like Bezos, and Powell, Jobs, and others. And so we really don't have a solid sense of what that new number is.

David Roberts

Right.

Abdul Dosunmu

But in terms of the 1.3% number that we focus on at CFJP, we're looking at about 1.34 billion of that which was awarded to National Climate Funders. And of that, only about 1.3% is going to BIPOC-led environmental groups.

David Roberts

So that's less than 20 million. Say something in that neighborhood, right?

Abdul Dosunmu

Absolutely.

David Roberts

One other distinction on this is I know that there is giving that gets categorized under EJ activities, which is separate from money actually going to EJ led groups.

Abdul Dosunmu

That's right. So that's a critical distinction, and you've really just jumped in on the core part of the work that I do. We believe that it's important that EJ work is funded when it is BIPOC-led just as much as it's funded when it's not. And currently what we have is a system where EJ work led by communities of color, conceptualizing communities of color is not funded at the same scale that other work might be funded. And the reality of that is that there are deep consequences because as we often say, the communities that are closest to the problem are closest to the solutions, but they're also the furthest away from the resources.

David Roberts

So let's get right into that then. I guess probably a lot of listeners will take this as self-evident, but when you go to big funders, people sitting on big endowments and stuff, and you are trying to make the case that BIPOC-led groups are important to tackling climate change, what's the case? What's the evidence? What do you tell them?

Abdul Dosunmu

Well, we start with a basic concept that says that the climate does not discriminate, people and systems do. And the reason we start there is that we really want to drive them to the data that most of your audience will probably be familiar with around the fact that most frontline communities, the communities that are hit first and worse by the effects of climate change are Black and Brown communities. Most fenceline communities are Black and Brown communities that when it comes to the ways in which this crisis is manifesting itself on the ground and in people's lives, it disproportionately impacts BIPOC communities. So we start there.

That if you're actually interested in mitigating the effects of this crisis, by necessity, you would start with BIPOC communities, right? The second piece is if you're actually interested in shifting the systemic landscape that has led to this crisis, you would start with BIPOC communities. And here's what I mean by that. Power differentials in society is what has created the condition for exploitation, extraction, and pollution. It's the power differentials that have created the foundations of this crisis. It's the fact that certain communities have been politically disenfranchised and subjugated and those are also the communities that have been impacted by environmental exploitation and extraction.

David Roberts

Yeah, I feel like this is an important point because sometimes what you hear from, I don't know that they'll say it publicly a lot anymore, but sometimes what you hear in private from climate people is climate is about emissions. And we should attack emissions, right? We should be lowering emissions. And insofar as you are being distracted by other social, like you're mixing your ice cream of peanut butter or whatever, like you're letting your social issues get involved in your emissions issues, you're just going to be less effective at reducing emissions. I think that mindset still has quite a hold on quite a few people.

So this point that they're linked is important, I think.

Abdul Dosunmu

You said. You don't know if people will actually share it publicly. I hear it almost every day.

David Roberts

So they still do say it publicly.

Abdul Dosunmu

They still do say it publicly.

David Roberts

Right, that there is a sense that you can somehow disconnect the climate crisis from the social and racial inequities that exist in our society, when in fact, the communities that have been the most exploited and the most extracted have been communities that have been denied political voice, right. And they've been BIPOC communities. I often tell the story of a neighborhood in my hometown, Dallas, Texas, called the West Dallas neighborhood. And it's largely Black and Brown, historically has been as a result of housing segregation. And this community was home for 50 years to a lead smelter plant. And this lead smelter plant obviously polluted the environment.

Abdul Dosunmu

It also poisoned generations of young Black and Brown kids growing up in that community. And it was the political powerlessness of that community, it was the political subjugation of that community that allowed that lead smelter plant to operate with impunity for 50 years. And this is the critical point that we make. It was the rising up of that community. It was the mobilization of that community that ultimately booted that lead smelter plant from the community. And so it's important for us to see that these things are linked

David Roberts

Just to sort of restate, the whole problem of environmental pollution generally, including climate, is this ability to basically produce waste and impacts that you don't pay for.

Abdul Dosunmu

That's right.

David Roberts

But you can't do that unless there's some community that's disempowered enough that it can't stop you from doing it, right? I mean, the whole setup relies on there being disempowered communities that have no choice but to accept this junk.

Abdul Dosunmu

That's exactly right. I have a dear friend in the movement, Felicia Davis from HBCU Green Fund, who says we don't just have a climate crisis, we have a power injustice crisis.

David Roberts

Right. And relatedly, I think, another old piece of conventional wisdom, though, this I think has been changing in recent years. But if you go back I've been doing this for close to 20 years now, and if you go back like 15 years, I think the sort of conventional wisdom was climate is something that educated, affluent, White people worry about because they have the luxury and time to worry about it. And BIPOC communities, vulnerable communities, EJ communities have other things to worry about that are more proximate and more difficult and they don't have time to worry about climate change.

And thus those communities are not going to be a big part of a social movement for climate change. And of course, now the data shows that that's wrong, like almost inversely wrong. So what is the level of kind of knowledge and engagement among these communities on the subject of climate change?

Abdul Dosunmu

Well, and this is a key point that I like to make. The first part of that that I would like to deconstruct is this notion that climate is separate from the other issues that impact these communities, right? That in many ways, part of the innovation and the imagination that these communities are bringing to the fight is to recognize the interconnections between climate and housing, climate and labor policy, climate and transportation, right? That they are uniquely positioned to see that climate is connected to a whole range of other systems that decide and define how we live. So that's part of the deconstruction that has to be made.

David Roberts

And you might also say that a White affluent businessman is uniquely positioned to want to not see those interconnections, right? Like there's a lot of incentive not to see them if you benefit from them, basically.

Abdul Dosunmu

Right. There is a desire to focus the fight against the climate crisis on a little intervention here, a little technology here. And the reality is that the crisis is the result of systems that shape how we live. And in order to fight the crisis, we've got to actually change those systems, right? And communities of color are uniquely positioned to be able to understand that and to lead that fight.

David Roberts

And that shows up in the data, and surveys, and polls and stuff. Do you feel like that sentiment, that knowledge is pretty widely dispersed in those communities at this point?

Abdul Dosunmu

Oh, absolutely. I think one of the things that we do at CFJP is we actually look at and profile a lot of the movement work that is happening on the ground in communities. And so we're not just talking at a level of theory, we're talking at a level of understanding the movements that are being led by communities of color. So there is a reason that billions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions are disrupted every year by indigenous organizers. There is a reason that it was the BIPOC-led organizations that pushed President Biden on Justice40, and that conceptualized the New Jersey and California environmental justice laws that preceded Justice40.

There is a reason that the Climate Justice Alliance, for instance, has had a massive impact on shifting away from extractive energy practices. And so it's important for us to see that we don't need a poll to tell us, all we need to do is look at the work and the organizing that is happening in these communities and see the ways in which it is moving the needle on this conversation.

David Roberts

Yeah, and I'll just say, from my perch, my perspective, like, I remember when the climate bill was being put together back in 2008 and 2009, I don't know if you were unfortunate enough to be in this area when that was happening, but EJ was it wasn't absent, but it was clearly an add on, right? It was like an amendment. It was like a thing you stick on at the end as an afterthought. And it's been remarkable to me just to see, over the years, EJ just becoming much more assertive and having a much bigger place at the table.

David Roberts

To the point now that the Democratic, official sort of Democratic Party climate agenda has it right there at the core, and it's included in a lot of these Inflation Reduction Act grants. So it's like night and day in terms of the engagement on both sides. To me, obviously there's a long way to go, but I've seen the change.

Abdul Dosunmu

That's absolutely right. And that change was led by BIPOC-led organizations. And here's why that's important, right? Obviously, you know this better than I do. We're dealing with a movement that has historically excluded and alienated the voices of People of Color. And there are organizations out there that are doing this work around diversity, equity, and inclusion in the environmental movement, right? And the data has never been good. It's always been bad. And here's the core point that we make. I draw an analogy. One of my favorite football teams, I'm a great Texan, I'm a great Dallasite.

So the Dallas Cowboys, what we're doing right now in the climate movement is the equivalent of the Dallas Cowboys finally making it to the Super Bowl but fielding only about a 10th of a team on the field. That's what we're doing right now in the movement. Our best players, our most imaginative players are not on the field because we have historically excluded them.

David Roberts

Let's talk about that. So the Climate Funders Justice Pledge, what is it specifically? What is it asking of large philanthropies?

Abdul Dosunmu

So it's pretty simple, which is not to say that they always receive it as such.

David Roberts

Not easy. Easy and simple are different.

Abdul Dosunmu

Easy and simple are different. But it's pretty simple. It says two things. Number one, it says commit to transparency. So we call on the nation's top climate funders, primarily institutional funders, so we're talking foundations, big foundations to commit to transparency, right? And what that means is we ask them specifically, "how much of your current climate giving is focused on BIPOC-led environmental justice organizations? Not just environmental justice organizations, but BIPOC-led EJ organizations." And we define that very concretely.

We say 50% of your board has to be People of Color, 50% of your senior staff has to be People of Color, and you have to have an explicit mission of serving communities of color. So how much in dollar amounts of your current climate giving is going to BIPOC-led environmental justice organizations? That's a transparency component.

David Roberts

And that information is not available today.

Abdul Dosunmu

It's not easily available. And to be honest with you, most funders have not asked themselves those questions, right?

So one of the things that has been a learning journey for us is actually getting feedback from funders that have taken the pledge. And what they tell us is that for them, the most transformative part of it has been the transparency component because they had never actually looked at the data.

David Roberts

I bet they're not finding out good things, right? They're not pleasantly surprised.

Abdul Dosunmu

No, they're not. In the main, they are not pleasantly surprised. I mean, the data is what it is, right, nationally. And part of what we wanted to do with this pledge is we wanted to make that data available to communities and movements so that they could actually hold these funders accountable, right? And so that the funders who are committed to environmental justice can hold themselves accountable. So it matters that a Kresge Foundation, for instance, says, "you know what, what has been most imaginative about this for us is that it has forced us to go internal and look at our data."

So that matters. And we don't just ask for the data, and hoard it, or put it in a report that we release annually. We actually post that number on our website. So if you go to our website, you can find that number for each of the funders that have taken the pledge. And then we do a whole bunch of media amplification around it because we actually want communities to organize around this data.

David Roberts

What's a typical number, like Kresge or whatever, once they looked, what are they finding?

Abdul Dosunmu

Well, Kresge is actually, they're an anchor pledger of ours, which is great. And I don't want to misquote their number. If I'm remembering correctly, they were under the 30%, probably in the 20s range. And it's important to note that, again, they have had this as a commitment for a very long time. So actually challenging them to, "okay, let's look at the data," has been super helpful for them.

David Roberts

Interesting. Okay, so transparency is step one.

Abdul Dosunmu

Step one is transparency. And I actually looked at the number. They're actually at 33%. Let me give Kresge their credit, they're at 33%.

David Roberts

I'm going to guess that's unusually high.

Abdul Dosunmu

They are one of the leaders in the field, no question about it. It is very high for the pledgers that we have, and they are making continued strides. So the transparency piece is very important because it allows us to have conversations like this one. "Where is this funder? Where is that funder, and how can we hold them accountable to the commitments that many of them have?" Right? So let me just put a pin in this and say after George Floyd, we saw a number of funders make new commitments around environmental justice, around BIPOC communities. And in the couple of years since, we've seen most of those commitments fade into the background, right?

And so this has become a tool that communities can use to actually hold funders accountable to what they say they're going to do.

David Roberts

Got it.

Abdul Dosunmu

And then the second component of the pledge is the 30% requirement. So what we say is after you tell us your number, if you're not at 30% and a good number or not, we challenge you to within two years of taking the pledge to get to 30%. So scale your grant making to at least 30% going to BIPOC-led environmental justice organizations over the course of two years.

David Roberts

Can I ask where 30% came from? I mean, is it just sounds reasonable or is there something more to it than that?

Abdul Dosunmu

You know, if you look at it, BIPOC communities, about 40% of the population, what we said was 30% seems like a good floor. It is not intended to be a ceiling. And what we hope to see is that over time, that number is far exceeding 30%. But at least as a floor, 30% felt right to the networks of movement organizers and leaders that we pulled together to help develop this campaign.

David Roberts

And so this funders pledge has been going on for how long, and what's the state of play? Are foundations signing on? How much money have you shifted? How long has this been running?

Abdul Dosunmu

So you're talking to me pretty much on the eve of our two year anniversary. And so we've been around for a couple of years. And to date, twelve of the Top 40 climate funders have taken the pledge.

David Roberts

Interesting.

Abdul Dosunmu

32 foundations overall have committed to at least one portion of the pledge. And so some of them will say we'll do transparency, but we're not quite ready to go to 30%.

David Roberts

Right.

Abdul Dosunmu

And we accept that because sunlight is the best disinfectant.

David Roberts

Yeah, I think you're right that transparency is the big piece here. It's like that dream where you wake up in school, and you're naked in school or whatever, all of a sudden everybody can see ... that alone, I think is going to create a lot of push.

Abdul Dosunmu

Right. Nobody wants to be at the bottom of the list, right. Nobody wants to be in single digits when everybody else is in double digits. And the ones who are in double digits, like Kresge, they want to do better, right? They want to get more shine. They want to tell their story, more impactfully. And so we offer the transparency piece not just as stick, but also as carrot to those who are doing well in this fight, and want to help us tell the story, and amplify the mission. And so what we have seen is that there is momentum around the pledge.

And we're very proud to say that we have helped to catalyze a new baseline, funding baseline through the pledge for BIPOC-led organizations of around $100 million in the two years that we have been around. But $100 million is really just a drop in the bucket because right now we're seeing, again, as I said earlier, new funders come into the field every single day.

David Roberts

Well, this was my very next question, is do we have any sense of what sort of dollar figure we would be talking about if this succeeded, if all the big philanthropies signed on, and if all the big philanthropies actually did it? Do we have any idea sort of like, what the ultimate pool of money is?

Abdul Dosunmu

So I don't have that hard number, but I can tell you that our campaign has a goal, right? An aim of catalyzing $500 million. So if we could get to $500 million, we feel like we would be radically transforming the possibilities for BIPOC-led environmental justice organizations. But that's going to require that we make the transition, the pivot, from what I would call the legacy funders, right? So legacy funders like Pisces, and Kresge, and Schmidt, and Rockefeller Brothers and Hewlett and ... a number of the ... MacArthur, a number of the others that have Heising-Simon's Energy Foundation, Packard Foundation, a number of those that have taken the pledge.

We've got to make the transition from just those to now some of these more entrepreneurial startup funders in the space, like a Bezos, like a Waverley Street, like a Sequoia.

David Roberts

Have you talked to any of them? I mean, I assume you're reaching out. I guess one of the questions I'm sort of curious about is, is there a big difference in culture that you found between these established groups and the new ones coming in?

Abdul Dosunmu

There is. We are outreaching every day to the new funders. One of the reasons I make the distinction between legacy and entrepreneurial is that when you're a legacy funder, you have deeper roots in communities because you've been funding them for a long time, or at least you've been giving lip service to funding them for a long time, right? And so you're more susceptible to their accountability, right?

David Roberts

Right.

Abdul Dosunmu

You're more accountable to them than a new funder who's coming in, who is somebody who's made a bunch of money in tech and just wants to give it away out of a good spirit and a good heart. But there isn't the same level of connectivity there to communities, and so that has been the biggest challenge. And then the other piece of this is when you're an entrepreneur and you've come in right on the heels of having made a lot of money, a lot of money in business, you tend to think you know how to do things.

David Roberts

What? Tech guys?

Abdul Dosunmu

I know, it's a crazy thought, right?

David Roberts

Yeah. I was going to say I don't want to cast aspersions, or use any stereotypes, but when I think about tech-bros fresh off making billions of dollars like sensitivity to racial justice is not what leaps to mind.

Abdul Dosunmu

Well and they may have the sensitivity, some of them, but they also have the kinds of neurosis that come from having made a lot of money and been very successful, and you think you kind of know everything, right? And so oftentimes they will come into the field and say, "here is what I want to do on climate," and it has no relationship to what communities actually are doing and need to do. That's really probably the biggest culture challenge that we face is that it's both the accountability piece, and it's the part of this that understands that, ultimately, this is a learning experience both for the funder and for the broader field. This is not top down, it's bottom up, and the best solutions come from the bottom up.

David Roberts

As you've talked to foundations, have you received any straight up kind of disagreement about your goals?

Abdul Dosunmu

Well, we mostly don't get that, right. We mostly get, "well ... we're going to work on ... " That's my impersonation. "We're going to work on it, and we're going to see, and talk to us in six months and ..." that sort of thing. But every now and then you do just hear "no, we're just not going to do it."

David Roberts

Right.

Abdul Dosunmu

But generally that doesn't come from a disagreement with the goals or the objectives of the campaign because it's hard to disagree with the goals and objectives of the campaign. It generally comes from a sense of, "you know what, this is just not part of our agenda. This is not what we do, and we're not going to have anybody external to our organization directing our strategy."

David Roberts

Yeah.

Abdul Dosunmu

And so that's generally where most of the resistance comes from.

David Roberts

If you imagine a huge new flood of money descending on these groups, over the course of the next two or three years, you can imagine ways that that could go poorly. That's a big disruptive thing. And one of the things I was thinking about is when you talk to these small groups, often what they'll tell you they need is just operating expenses. Like they need to be able to pay decent salaries, right? Just to begin with. Trying to run a whole movement on underpaid people is difficult, and they need sort of just like cost of living, cost of operations, operations money.

Abdul Dosunmu

Right.

David Roberts

And what you often find, or what they tell me they run into when they talk to funders is, of course, funders are wealthy, and therefore overestimate their own cleverness, and often have their own ideas about what they want groups to do. So I worry, like, is this going to be the right kind of support? And you can certainly imagine a big new pot of money coming with a bunch of sort of big footed demands about how these groups do things, right? Like, you can imagine big funders trying to sort of dictate the strategies of these groups rather than listening and learning from them.

So I don't know how you go about, I mean, I don't know exactly what I want you to say in the switch, but are we confident that this support is going to be the kind of support that these sort of small struggling groups need most?

Abdul Dosunmu

Right. You are really touching on a critical part of this that our campaign is going to be doing more work on. It hasn't been a core part of it thus far because we really see ourselves as the accountability mechanism in the field, but we do think there's an opportunity for us to engage on these questions. So to start, what we really need is a shift in the culture of philanthropy, right? And so part of that shift is a shift in the "philanthropy knows best" mindset. And we've been talking about that. Part of that shift is a shift in the desire of philanthropy to really dictate all of the terms of engagement. And they do that primarily by focusing most of their grant making on program grants.

Right.

And so you might get a grant to run a specific program, but you're not going to get a grant to actually scale your organizational capacity.

David Roberts

Right. This is a notorious complaint from nonprofits across the board from time immemorial, right. They're like, we can get a grant to do a specific thing, but we just need, like, printer paper,

Abdul Dosunmu

Right! "We can get a grant to do a specific thing, but we need to hire people to do the thing, and we need to be able to offer them insurance, health insurance, and we need to be able to keep the lights on in the building." And that is a part of this conversation that, again, we have not touched on, but we see there's an opportunity for us to touch on as we continue to move forward. So those are really the two of the areas where there's room for additional intervention. The other thing I'll say is this. It's a bit of a vicious cycle that these groups are in because they don't get the funding, so they can't build the capacity. And because they don't have the capacity, that lack of capacity is used as a pretext to deny them more funding, right?

So it's a vicious cycle. And now we're in a moment where there's some $500 billion coming down from the federal government, on climate related resources. And a lot of that is sort of focused on, or earmarked on a climate justice lens. And we're happy about that, right? We fought for that, the movement organized for that. But the concern that we have now is that because of this disparity in funding and private philanthropy, many of the organizations that are BIPOC-led, that are going after these grants won't be able to successfully compete because they've been locked out of the private funding, right?

And so a lot of work is being done on the ground, and movements, and organizations to actually try to help organizations build capacity over time to be able to compete for these new dollars that are coming down and to actually be able to fulfill the spirit of Justice40, but we need more funding to do that, and the private funding market is critical.

David Roberts

Yeah. And another thing I've heard from these groups, these are most often pretty small under-resourced groups. And another thing I've heard is that even the process of applying ...

Right ...

For these things, is burdensome, and difficult, and expensive. Like, if you're a two, or three, or four person operation, it's nothing for a Kresge to sort of send someone out to hear your pitch. But for you to make the pitch is a lot of hours of labor which you can't really well afford. And I've heard from groups where they say, they'll come consult with us and ask us how to do better in their EJ funding and et cetera, et cetera, and we make these elaborate presentations and then they vanish and we never hear from them again.

So I just wonder, are there broader ... you could imagine a regime where a big wealthy funder pays some small stipend to a group to offset the cost of consulting, the sort of free consulting they do, or the cost of applying for grants or something like that. And that would just be can you think of are there larger ways that we need to change the relationship between small EJ groups and big funders, beyond just the monetary beyond just giving them money, in terms of just the kind of social aspects and cultural aspects of their interaction? Are there larger reforms we need in that aspect?

Abdul Dosunmu

How much time do we have?

David Roberts

I thought you might have something to say about that.

Abdul Dosunmu

Right. I have the privilege of wearing a bunch of hats in my work.

David Roberts

Yeah, I meant to say, I read your LinkedIn page. I had to take a nap halfway through. You're a busy man.

Abdul Dosunmu

I'm a busy man. I do a lot, and I sit across a lot of different buckets, right. And so on the CFJP side of things, obviously, I'm wearing a bit of a philanthropic hat. We don't necessarily consider ourselves philanthropy, but we're not movement. We're somewhere in between, right. But we definitely wear a philanthropic hat. And then in my other work, I actually lead a grassroots voting organization of Black lawyers and law students. And so on one side of my work, I am challenging funders to do more. And then on the other side of my work, I am living every day the ways in which this system is inequitable toward founders of color and leaders of color.

And so I see this from both sides. Really, I think the first place to start in this conversation is with a conversation. And so typically the exchange between funder and organization is a one-way conversation, right. It's a one-way street.

David Roberts

Yeah. Speaking of power differentials.

Abdul Dosunmu

Exactly. These broader power differentials in society are being replicated in how foundations engage with organizations. "And so you can apply for a grant if we invite you to apply, we want it in this 60-page application format."

David Roberts

And then you get the grant. And like we need a 60-page report every year.

Abdul Dosunmu

That's right, "we need the 60-page report every year. Oh, and by the way, you probably won't get the grant in time to actually do the work you need to do with it because we're going to take our time delivering the grant to you, and you interface with us and interact with us when we invite you to."

David Roberts

Right.

Abdul Dosunmu

That has to change. And so part of the culture change that you're talking about that so many organizations are advocating for, starts with making that one-way conversation, a two-way conversation, and actually listening to organizations on the ground and having those organizations inform your grant making practices, right?

So let me go back to Kresge for a minute. One of the other things that they have said to us has been impactful for them is actually the transformation that the pledge has wrought in their grant making practices, in their day to day grant making practices, and how they engage, and how they interact with grantees.

David Roberts

So that just means they've been learning by doing, they've been learning by interacting with these groups?

Abdul Dosunmu

That's right. That's right. Absolutely. And we've heard that from multiple funders. And so really what has to happen is that the funder has to become a learner, right. And that's what we're pushing through this pledge. We're challenging funders to become listeners and learners and actually hear from the organizations on the ground about what needs to change in their grant making practices in order to be more equitable. And a lot of them are making changes. I think that's really where this starts is the conversation, shifting it from one-way to two-way.

And one of the things, by the way, that we have tried to do is that a number of these funders have said, "well, how do I actually get this data? How do I actually get the demographic data information? How do we kind of navigate that?" And what we have done is actually provide resources for them, so that when they're seeking out this data, they're not creating more layers of burden on these groups, right? So we have tried to incorporate that even into our own program.

Right, so these groups don't have to sort of do another report on our demographic makeup, et cetera, et cetera. So that's a little bit more public. And it also occurs to me I mean, maybe this is even too obvious to point out, but it also occurs to me that it would be nice if these big funders going to these groups were not like 18th century British royals visiting the islands like strangers in a strange land. Like, it might be nice if they were composed if the makeup of the actual big funders changed.

Well, there you go. There you go. I mean, you've made exactly one of the critical points, which is that the work that Green 2.0 and so many other organizations are doing to actually change the makeup of these funders is directly connected to our work. Because you're absolutely right. You should not be visiting these communities as though you're visiting from Mars. You should have people on staff in senior positions who are deeply rooted in these communities, that know the work that's happening, that know the challenges facing these organizations and are directly invested in this work, right? Part of what I have seen in the time that I've been doing this work is that there are so many brilliant folks across the country who are directly and deeply invested in this work, and they are the people who have been laboring in obscurity.

They are the people who've been laboring without resources. And in order for this system to change, the system of philanthropy to shift, part of what we've got to do is bring those voices from the outside in and make sure that they actually have the ability to transform these funding institutions. And that last point is critical because it is not enough to have People of Color faces in high places if they do not have the ability to actually engineer change.

David Roberts

I used to work for a nonprofit. The first journalistic organization I worked for, Grist, was a nonprofit. And especially back when I first started, we were very small. There's like four or five of us. So I became intimately familiar with the grind of begging foundations for money. Luckily, I didn't have to do that part for long, but I saw enough of it. And one thing that just struck me immediately and overwhelmingly is that we were an organization that was specifically targeting young people. We wanted to be sort of irreverent, and funny, and just all these kind of things that appeal to young people.

But the people we're talking to and begging for money are, to put it bluntly, White boomers. They're older White people who are not necessarily who you'd go to to learn about what the youth of today want out of a journalistic outlet, right? And so I wonder if you have gotten any sense that younger people in general are hipper to this issue than their elders?

Abdul Dosunmu

In some ways, yes, and in some ways, no, right. And so what's clear is that younger people just generally understand the climate crisis better than their elders. So we start there, right. You have less of a case to make to younger folks about the urgency of this crisis, but I think it's important for us to be clear that when it comes to age, that does not necessarily portend more enlightenment on racial justice issues.

David Roberts

Yes.

Abdul Dosunmu

Again, I work in sort of the democracy space, and I think there's always this assumption that the younger the electorate gets, the more progressive it's going to get, just because younger people have grown up in more diverse environments. On some level, I think that is true, but I would not want to bet the house on that. And I think we have to continue to be more intentional about cultivating, even among younger people, an understanding of the racial justice implications of this crisis. And so, as a case in point, I was in Miami for the Aspen Climate Conference last week.

David Roberts

Yes.

Abdul Dosunmu

And I did a number of panels during the week, and most of the programming had a climate justice angle to it, right. Most of the speakers referenced it. It was rare that you would sit through an hour long panel, and it wouldn't come up.

David Roberts

Right.

Abdul Dosunmu

But I'll be honest, there were still rooms that I walked into where I was the only Black person in the room. And I don't want to put any blame on anybody. This is not me trying to do that. This is not about assigning blame. But it is about recognizing that even among the cool, hip kids who are invested in the climate movement, that investment in racial justice still needs to be intentionally and actively cultivated. And we cannot assume that it is going to happen by osmosis.

David Roberts

Right.

Abdul Dosunmu

Or that it will happen just because younger people are younger people, right.

David Roberts

Just because the arc of history right.

Abdul Dosunmu

The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice. I firmly believe that. But I also believe that we have to bend it.

David Roberts

Yeah, there's a reason it bends towards justice, because all the people are working to bend it, right?

Abdul Dosunmu

All the people are working to bend it. And so I think there is more consciousness than ever about climate, and there's more consciousness than ever about racial justice, but we still have to do the work to actually translate that consciousness into action.

David Roberts

Well said. Well said. Thank you. Abdul Dasumo, thank you so much for coming on. This is very illuminating. I'm glad you took the time.

Abdul Dosunmu

Thank you so much for having me. Thank you for the platform. It was an honor to be with you.

David Roberts

Thank you for listening to the Volts podcast. It is ad-free, powered entirely by listeners like you. If you value conversations like this, please consider becoming a paid Volts subscriber at volts.wtf. Yes, that's volts.wtf, so that I can continue doing this work. Thank you so much, and I'll see you next time.

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Volts

Volts

Volts is a podcast about leaving fossil fuels behind. I've been reporting on and explaining clean-energy topics for almost 20 years, and I love talking to politicians, analysts, innovators, and activists about the latest progress in the world's most important fight. (Volts is entirely subscriber-supported. Sign up!)