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Don’t ignore big climate finance funds, grassroots women activists advised

Thursday, 7 August 2014 12:54 GMT

Activists’ distrust of global funders is understandable but they must not stop trying to get funding from them

BALI, Indonesia (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Grassroots women activists seeking small-scale funding should not be deterred by the scale and bureaucracy of global climate funds, experts told a Women and Climate conference.

Groups that give out small grants could act as a bridge between grassroots activists and the big funds whose role is to help developing countries reduce the effects of climate change on their land and people, the experts said.

Groups like the Samdhana Institute, which has been supporting indigenous communities in Southeast Asia for over a decade, understand the procedures needed to apply for climate funding and can help activists overcome their scepticism about funds’ lack of transparency and preference for big projects.

When Aleta Baun won the $150,000 Goldman Environmental Prize for 2013, the Indonesian activist turned to Samdhana to manage the money so that her community, which successfully forced mining companies off their indigenous land in West Timor, could maximise the benefits from it. 

Samdhana placed two-thirds of the money in a fund and used one-third to buy two trucks to take community members to meetings and market their hand-made products. 

Earnings from the trucks go to maintaining the vehicles and funding other activities of Baun’s organisation Pokja Organisasi A ’Taimamus,  including  building a bridge over a river where many children have drowned trying to get to school on the other side.

“The $100,000 is still there and it’s growing because we put it on a time deposit,” Samdhana executive director Nonette Royo told Thomson Reuters Foundation. 

“We’ve been talking to some of the corporate social responsibility programmes and they’re interested. We hope we can get some endowment and earn interest. I feel there’s so much potential here,” she added.

Compared with overall climate funding estimated by the Climate Policy Initiative at $359 billion, $100,000 is a paltry amount, yet Samdhana and Baun have shown what can be achieved with half that amount in just one year. 

Experts at the first “Summit on Women and Climate” held this week in Bali, Indonesia, say that kind of success can be repeated, but that scaling up their work would require backing from multi-million dollar funds. 

Despite the growing distrust of and scepticism about the big funds’  effectiveness, lack of transparency, preference for large-scale projects and failure to prioritise gender issues, grassroots women should not turn their back on them, say experts like Liane Schalatek. 

Schalatek, associate director at the Heinrich Böll Foundation in North America, told Thomson Reuters Foundation both large and small funds are needed and grassroots women must engage with policymakers and funders to ensure that the big funds are inclusive and fair to all. 

“If you don’t engage, it stays the same with the same power structures,” she said. “So please don’t neglect it.”


Climate funding is supposed to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change, for which developed countries are mainly responsible. In practice, grassroots female activists find the procedures too cumbersome and the rules too rigid for them to apply for grants. 

At the summit, most women risking their lives to protect their land, forests and other natural resources say they fund their campaigns themselves. 

“Climate finance is available to people who are well educated and can craft technical proposals according to the guidelines of the proposal. Grassroots women who are hands-on in putting policy into practice do not meet the requirements,” said Gertrude Kabusimbi Kenyagi, founder of Support for Women in Agriculture and Environment in Uganda. 

“Some, like where I come from, do not have access to computers. They don’t have internet,” she said. “That’s why climate finance is not percolating to where it is needed. By the time it arrives at the grassroots, it is diluted.” 

Funders and experts told Thomson Reuters Foundation national-level organisations like Samdhana and international organisations such as Global Greengrants Fund that focus on small grants could be a bridge between the money and the activists. Their familiarity with climate funding structures and processes mean they are in demand from both donors and grassroots groups. 

Steve Rhee of Ford Foundation, which provides about $3.5 million a year in Indonesia to some 30 organisations, said he could not support Baun previously because her organisation was not legally registered. Once Samdhana began managing the funds, Ford donated $50,000. 

Indonesia’s Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) secured $3 million from a World Bank-managed Japanese grant in 2013 with Samdhana’s help, Rhee said.  

“One of the challenges in connecting organisations like the World Bank with the Mama Aleta is the absorptive capacity,” he said, referring to Baun by her nickname.

“Nonette (from Samdhana) was key in helping AMAN negotiate the terms and conditions with the World Bank because as the money get bigger, so does bureaucracy and the reporting,” he said. 


Schalatek from Heinrich Böll says there is progress. 

The Green Climate Fund (GCF), supposed to be the largest multilateral funder of climate change projects, has explicit references to gender sensitivity, she said. 

“That is more than a lot of the existing climate finance structures have done from the inception,” Schalatek said. 

“However, a charter is only as good as its implementation. We’re further than where we were 5 years ago but we need reinforcements,” she added. 

GCF does not have a mechanism for providing small grants, however, unlike the Small Grants Programme under the Global Environment Facility. Some have expressed concern that the GCF may reach women’s groups but miss out grassroots women activists. 

The Small Grants Programme is severely underfunded, Schalatek said. 

“It’s a political issue, a matter of redefining what success is and what efficiency is,” she said. 

Making many small grants would increase administrative and transaction costs, but addressing the challenges people face on the ground would be effective because “one dollar spent serves multiple purposes,” she said. 

For award-winning activist Baun, the real question is of a fundamental change in attitude. 

“How good and sustainable will these funds be if the destructive activities that brought about climate change are not stopped?” she asked her summit audience.

There were nods and applause but no answer.

(Editing by Tim Pearce; timothy.pearce@thomsonreuters.com


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