Greengrants: Participatory Grantmaking as Path to Greener Future

When corporations divert rivers, when governments displace communities, and when the constant human desire for “more” disrupts the safety of our environment, women and children are often the first to suffer. Access to clean water, a full belly, and a safe place to sleep at night are rights humans should have at birth.

What can we do when these natural rights are violated?

Recently retired CEO Terry Odendahl and GGF activist Eva Rehse in London at the pre-COP21 climate march. (Image Credit: Global Greengrants Fund)

Global Greengrants Fund, also known as Greengrants, seeks to answer this question by taking action. By committing to a program based on participatory grantmaking, Greengrants connects under-served and under-funded communities with the resources and mentorship they need to fight for justice.

Over the last twenty-six years, Greengrants has acted as an intermediary between large-scale funders and grassroots activists all over the world who campaign for environmental and social justice. By redistributing large grants into direct funding opportunities for local campaigns, Greengrants connects individuals and organizations that would not otherwise receive funding with unique support opportunities — 71% of which directly support women and children.

The organization’s average grant is around $5,000–a drop in the bucket compared to some larger-scale funding opportunities that measure in the millions of dollars. The grants themselves are small, but they’re guaranteed to have the widest impact possible. By providing funding to organizations and individuals working on the most local levels — around 40% of which have never received funding before — Greengrants helps communities build movements, fund campaigns, and gather the resources needed to enact real change.

Greengrants accomplishes its mission with the help of a wide network of around 170 volunteer advisors. Professors, activists, and advocates who are well-connected in global environmental movements, these volunteer advisors help find and source potential grant opportunities. Unlike other foundations, Greengrants does not rely on a “traditional” application process.

Instead, the advisors act as liaisons for grantees that may not have access to other funding outlets. Conquering hurdles like literacy, language barriers, and lack of bank accounts, electricity, or Internet access, volunteer advisors help community leaders submit a single-page proposal for funding. During every step of the process, the advisors act as a local connection on the ground. Many help set up bank accounts or deliver wire transfers directly to community organizers.

This trust-based model has led to inspiring movements and hard-fought victories that would not be possible under “traditional” grantmaking models.

For example, Greengrants recently celebrated a victory resulting from two decades of support in the Mekong Delta. Over the past twenty years, Greengrants committed more than 20 small-scale grants to local groups in Southeast Asia fighting projects that would dam, divert, or otherwise threaten the livelihood of the Mekong River.

In early February, the Thai cabinet announced its decision to terminate the Lancang-Mekong navigation channel improvement project, a project that would have had a devastating impact on the women, children, and communities that rely on the Mekong River for survival.

Calling the project cancellation a “momentous win,” Greengrants Director of Communications Alex Grossman attributes this success to “decades of campaigning by communities [and] civil society groups, some of which are our grantees.”

“The success is a result of the tireless and fearless efforts of our grantees and partners, and the extensive network of community-led activists in the region – many funded through our partnership with International Rivers,” Grossman writes. “[The] ruling against the rapids-blasting project gives us hope that those living on the banks of the river do have the power to change the course.”

Just this week, Greengrants announced the appointment of Laura Garcia as the new President and CEO, taking over for Terry Odendahl. Garcia’s previous service as Executive Director of Fondo Semillas–a nonprofit organization known for its commitment to empowerment of Mexican women–shows an exciting opportunity for Greengrants to reaffirm its commitment to feminist campaigns.

This week, Laura Garcia takes over as President and CEO of Global Greengrants Fund. (Photo Credit: Global Greengrants Fund)

Since 2014, Global Greengrants has increased grantmaking to projects “that address the unequal and gendered impacts of environmental damage.” Today, 71% of Greengrants’ general support budget is committed to campaigns that support women and children, more than 300 of which are women-led. Through their Women’s Environmental Action program, Greengrants advocates for women and children in the philanthropic community, offering resources and educational materials that help philanthropic organizations find the best ways to support women’s environmental initiatives.

One such publication — “Our Voices, Our Environment: The State of Funding for Women’s Environmental Action” — offers three steps funders can take to effectively support gender equality and environmental justice work:

  1. Leverage greater resources for funding and supporting women’s and environmental justice movements.
  2. Develop a gender and environmental justice analysis of grantmaking portfolios, and support organizations and initiatives doing this work.
  3. Partner with grassroots funders.

This last step epitomizes the Greengrants mission. Grassroots funding, participatory grantmaking, and a system based on trust rather than hashtags or exhausting application processes lowers the barriers between community organizations and the real, effective change they seek to create.

It isn’t always about “how much” money we commit to feminist campaigns–it’s about how that money is used, and finding the best way our organizations can have an impact. Often, it starts with the people who know these areas best–community leaders, mothers, families, and activists who are ready to take the next step toward a more equitable future.


To learn more about Global Greengrants Fund, visit their website at


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Author: Maggie May

Maggie May is a small business owner, author, and story-centric content strategist. A Maryland transplant by way of Florida, DC, Ireland, Philadelphia, and -- most recently -- Salt Lake City, she has a passion for finding stories and telling them the way they're meant to be told.

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