With contributions from Kate Sinding Daly, Trevor Thompson, & Celia Bottger
NorthLight Foundation envisions a world where the Earth’s environment is healthy, protected, and sustained for future generations. In practice, this looks like developing new leaders, encouraging collaborations across movements, facilitating a just transition away from resource extractive economies, and communicating the need for urgent environmental action. NorthLight embraces efforts to address the interconnectedness of human health and well-being and the environment.
How did you develop a strategy that embeds health and equity into your climate, land conservation, and environmental justice work?
We still consider ourselves a new foundation. Our grantmaking portfolio is about four years old and is primarily focused on climate and conservation. We believe that one of the biggest ethical and strategic shortcomings of the mainstream environmental movement has been a historic disregard for equity and environmental injustice. However, we have seen in recent years that the strongest environmental policies result from grassroots organizing that account for equity. For us, equity must be part of the solution.
We also found that power and resources are concentrated in a small handful of environmental organizations. While each of these organizations is critical, together they do not form a movement, so our strategy was developed with the intention to build that movement. We believe that strengthening and broadening the environmental movement is the only way to obtain lasting gains and just outcomes. To this end, for example, we have done cross-issue collaboration work and support with labor and workforce development entities.
We are particularly excited about entering the climate and health space with our connections to medical schools and by supporting entities that educate health care workers and train them to become effective advocates for climate and health. Health care workers are highly respected and trusted messengers, and climate change is widely considered to be the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century. We are at a crucial time for health and climate, and our hope is that other health and health care funders will also leverage their resources to support these efforts.
Your focus on cross-issue collaboration is unique. What does it look like in practice?
This work is extremely new for us. Our cross-issue collaboration program area focuses on the nexuses of climate and health and climate and labor, with our first portfolio of climate and health grantees just announced last month. Our labor-focused grantees are combatting the false narrative that we as a society need to choose between saving our environment and creating family-sustaining, unionized jobs. Our health-focused grantees are working to amplify the voices of health care professionals, consistently identified as one of the most trusted populations in the country, to advocate for climate solutions that also address health inequities.
Our grantees are also working within Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities to raise the voice and power of those communities that are most affected by climate change. Climate change is exacerbating racial disparities, putting BIPOC lives at heightened risk. It is imperative that our grantmaking addresses systemic racism.
NorthLight works to expand the network of organizations working in climate and conservation through leadership development, empowering grassroots organizations, and narrative change. What are some examples of this work? How do these priorities build on each other?
Leadership development, building grassroots capacity, and narrative change are strategies that our grantee partners employ to grow the environmental movement. For example, the Center for Story-Based Strategy works with grassroots campaigns to establish a compelling and cohesive Just Transition narrative. Our grantees that fall within our Just Transition program area, such as the Climate Justice Alliance, the New York Renews coalition, and the Just Transition Alliance, use the Just Transition narrative to build grassroots support—led by frontline communities—that shapes policy outcomes across the country.
Our grantees within our New Leaders program area, including Our Climate, Power Shift Network, and the Environmental Justice Fellowship at the New School, train the next generation of climate leaders—especially those from frontline communities—to sustain and broaden an equitable and powerful climate movement.
All of these strategies combined constitute NorthLight’s overall focus on broadening the environmental movement.
NorthLight was one of the first foundations to sign the Donors of Color Network’s Climate Funders Justice Pledge. What does this mean and why is it important to NorthLight?
The Climate Funders Justice Pledge represented to us both a continuation and a public demonstration of our commitment to racial justice, specifically by increasing our funding for BIPOC-led climate organizations. There continues to be a substantial gap in funding for BIPOC-led organizations, which not only represent communities that are disproportionately impacted by climate change, but who have been leading and securing wins across the climate movement to advance equitable climate solutions.
NorthLight’s grantmaking strategy revolves around the idea that powerful climate solutions come from and must be governed by frontline communities who have the lived experience to address the inequities they face. The Climate Funders Justice Pledge was a way to demonstrate our commitment to shifting resources to BIPOC communities who have been historically underrepresented and under-resourced in the environmental movement and to urge our peers to do the same.
What questions do you have for your peers working in the intersection of environmental justice, climate change, and children’s health, education, and stability?
A question that we at NorthLight continue to ask ourselves is how to best measure the impact of our funding without being directive or burdensome to our grantee partners. We understand that the practice of monitoring and evaluation can replicate and reinforce oppressive power dynamics between funders and grantees, and we aim to enter into relationships with our grantees in which we share rather than hoard power and resources. We strive to embed equity in our grantmaking and align our mission with those of our grantees, while finding ways to demonstrate progress to our trustees. As a relatively new foundation, we are still working to strike a balance between those two priorities and are open to learning best practices from our peers.