People, Places, and Politics: Environmental Grantmakers Converge at EGA Fall Retreat

October 14, 2013

HEFN Director Kathy Sessions authored this blog post.

At its best and worst, environmentalism converges with people and politics.  That sense of convergence was palpable at the 2013 Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA) fall retreat.  Ramtin Arablouei and I represented the HEFN staff at this gathering of environmental grantmakers, held in New Orleans from September 29-October 2.  Here are some takeaways and reports from our trip.

New Orleans-Grounded

For me and likely others, being in New Orleans triggered memories of the 2005 EGA retreat, held just weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.  Then, HEFN and EGA friends huddled to finalize a plan to get philanthropic assistance quickly to affected communities.  The 2013 EGA retreat featured speakers reflecting on experiences from Hurricanes Katrina and, more recently, Sandy to discuss philanthropic disaster response and community resilience.

Other retreat events likewise drew on Gulf Coast realities to explore connections among issues like wetlands protection, climate justice, energy extraction, toxics, and community organizing.  I was particularly moved by Cry You One.  These performers use music and story to highlight the disappearance of south Louisiana coastlands, an ongoing tragedy with links to land use and levees, petrochemical industry, disasters, and climate change.  Cry You One played retreat participants into a New Orleans funeral-style dance to mourn the loss of land and celebrate the spirit of its people.   [use CU1 Promo shot, credit Melisa Cardona]

Democracy Challenges as Backdrop

While a sense of New Orleans grounded the meeting, the federal government shutdown, which began during the meeting, provided a political backdrop.   A session providing updates on a Democracy Initiative project on money in politics drew an overflow crowd.  A panel and Wallace Global Fund-hosted reception focused on Divest/Re-Invest campaigns to shift institutional investments from fossil fuels into more ecologically beneficial sectors.  Other sessions linked environmental protection to politics in areas like youth leadership, agricultural reform, civic engagement, and regionally-directed economic development. 

HEFN Connections

HEFN hosted a morning breakfast conversation, providing updates on grantmaking “hot topics” like chemicals policy reform and fracking.  HEFN members Doreen Wang and Shenyu Belsky of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund hosted a side meeting of several HEFN leaders and a delegation of Chinese funders.  We shared stories about HEFN’s history and about ways U.S. funders are addressing public health and environmental concerns through grantmaking on issues like air pollution and asthma.

Ramtin and I also participated in a breakfast hosted by EGA’s Director Rachel Leon, bringing together affinity group representatives and EGA board members to discuss our individual and collective efforts in diversity, inclusion and equity.   [insert Sessions Leon Oct 2013 A]

Many funder meetings tackle big topics.  At this year’s EGA retreat, a sense of place and time set the stage for discussions of sobering realities and ideas for moving forward towards fundamental change.  

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