Jill Fuglister, Healthy Environment Portfolio Director, Meyer Memorial Trust

Grounded in a vision of a flourishing and equitable Oregon, Meyer Memorial Trust is committed to investing in change at the systemic level to address inequities and disparities. Their Healthy Environment program seeks to nurture a resilient natural environment while supporting the well-being of Oregon’s diverse cultures and communities. Based on values of justice, cooperation, ecological sustainability, and equity, they tackle the challenges of racism and ecological collapse by supporting a range of place-based and statewide solutions that aim to address the underlying drivers of these interconnected crises.

How did you develop a strategy that embeds equity into your Healthy Environment work?

In 2011, we adopted our current mission that centers equity across all of Meyer’s work. From that core, we developed our program strategies. Historically, we were mostly a responsive grantmaker in Oregon, but we also had three funding initiatives, which led to our current portfolios. Now, everything we do in our environmental work has equity at its core. Some of that is how we diversify what is historically a very white movement and boost and strengthen the small, but mighty, environmental justice movement in Oregon with groups connected to specific issues, like climate change and water justice. We recognize that we are part of living systems and we all rely on nature for survival and it has value beyond human utility. Through our grantmaking, we work to reconnect humans with nature and heal both through this reconnection.

How do you support your grantees to center equity in their work by increasing diversity or other means?

We provide technical assistance and capacity building grants to grantees who want to deepen their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and increase their organizational effectiveness in this area. Meyer recognized that we would be working with organizations at various stages of implementing DEI strategies.

To help organizations committed to DEI, no matter where they were on their journey, Meyer created a separate pool of funds that program officers could easily and quickly draw from to provide funding for technical assistance to increase the DEI capacity of grantees. DEI TA grants are grounded in Meyer’s belief that when organizations are more inclusive, diverse, and equitable internally, their outcomes will improve for all populations, especially historically marginalized groups.

We also provide other tools to support this work, including the DEI spectrum tool that helps organizations assess their DEI progress.

What does an equity-centered environment program look like in practice?

It starts with listening to the communities most impacted by pollution and environmental disparities. Our strategies were developed in partnership with these communities. We always look for partners that have a deep connection with the constituencies they serve. We look at how communities are involved in the development and implementation of their strategies. We aren’t interested in mobilizing the masses to sign on to a campaign that doesn’t reflect people’s lived experiences. We are looking for partners that do community organizing, are involved in movement building, and center the voices of the communities most impacted. We always talk to any named partners in grant applications about how the partnership works, how decisions are made, and how resources are shared.

What are some examples of your Healthy Environment grantmaking?

Examples include:

  • Oregon Water Futures Collaborative is a partnership of four nonprofits which aims to elevate the water justice priorities of BIPOC communities and shape the future of Oregon’s water resource management.
  • The Klamath Tribes work to protect and restore the endangered C’waam and Koptu fish through better management of the Upper Klamath Lake ecosystem. With new stressors resulting from climate change and the longstanding problem of water over-allocation in the basin, The Tribes have exercised their time immemorial in-stream rights in the upper basin to protect the fish, which are vital to the health and well-being of their community.
  • Rogue Forest Restoration Initiative unites eight nonprofits and government agencies to restore resilience to dry, fire-prone forests and to the nearby communities facing high wildfire risk in southern Oregon. With leadership from initiative-partner, Lomakatsi, the project is also developing job and contracting opportunities for tribal members and immigrant forest workers and the businesses they own, as well as building their capacity to play leadership roles in the governance of the Initiative.

Your program areas are Building Community, Equitable Education, Healthy Environment, and Housing Opportunities. Is there cross-pollination of ideas or funding priorities across these program areas?

One of the areas of collaboration across all of our priorities is leadership development. This is also where kids come into our Healthy Environment portfolio. For example, we partner with our Equitable Education program on leadership development by supporting youth of color to engage in the outdoors and to plant seeds of political education and advocacy. We also partner across portfolios around economic justice and workforce development. In the Healthy Environment portfolio, we fund pathways for youth who have been incarcerated or had other challenges or trauma to participate in workforce training focused on green economy jobs. Building Community supports worker rights advocacy that also touches the green economy, supporting some of the same organizations the Healthy Environment portfolio funds.

One of your intended programmatic outcomes is the adoption and implementation of public policies, public investments, and institutional practices that support healthy ecosystems and natural resources. What does this work look like in practice? Do you have a story of how it intersects with the community organizing work you mentioned earlier?

Several years ago, we began supporting a collaboration of organizations to create the Oregon Just Transition Alliance. The Alliance works to center the voices of historically marginalized people who are the most impacted by climate change. They spent the first several years working together to build relationships and organize BIPOC and frontline communities to identify priorities. Sometimes funders aren’t patient enough to provide this kind of support, but that’s what community organizing looks like. I am delighted to say that this investment paid off in a big way recently. The Alliance had their first big policy wins this legislative session – successfully passing three new laws for energy justice.

Thanks to the coalition, we will transition Oregon’s electricity to 100% clean energy by 2040 while centering benefits for communities of color and rural, coastal, and low-income communities and workers. Oregon will also invest $10 million in a new Healthy Homes-Repair Fund at the Oregon Health Authority to support low-income Oregonians with energy efficiency retrofits. The Energy Affordability Act will help low-income families afford their energy bills. Equally important, the Alliance has built power in and with BIPOC communities to tackle more of their climate justice priorities in the future.

What questions do you have for your peers working in the intersection of environmental justice, climate change, and children’s health, education, and stability?

  • What have funders learned about how this work has changed as a result of the shocks of the past year and a half?
  • How are funders thinking about impact using an intersectional approach?
  • What are some ways that funders have supported movement alignment?