Anyone who has funded or worked for environmental protection or social justice has at one point or another probably been overwhelmed by the scale of it all. When the problems are so multi-faceted and the system so entrenched, where is the best place to put our time and resources? A recent piece in Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR), “The Relational Work of Systems Change,” suggests an answer: it’s the connections between people and institutions that are capable of changing systems, not the parts in isolation.
Building those deep connections requires us all to change from within, examining our assumptions and blind spots and practicing today the world we want to see tomorrow. As the authors say: “the process is the solution.” As a network that connects women changemakers, we strive to embody this lesson. Our founding intention was to bring funders together to share ideas and friendship. Over twenty years later, we continue this mission. In 2021, we traveled to New Mexico to hear from local environmental leaders, hosted two book clubs (Braiding Sweetgrass and Farming While Black), held educational and conversational webinars on a variety of environmental and philanthropic issues, and combined our resources to fund grantee-partners doing important work.
Our signature program, the Catalyst Award, is building and strengthening relationships too. Apart from the award’s financial support for women environmental leaders of color, we’ve fostered community among the awardees, and provided a harbor for advice and support. In addition to the awardees, the program engages our whole community of members, liaisons, advisors, former awardees, and friends. Our members who have participated in the Catalyst Award are funding more BIPOC-led organizations than they did before participating.
Progress can’t happen without the inner work described by the SSIR authors. That’s why we are dedicating resources to educate ourselves as funders and as an organization about systemic racism and how to combat it. You can read about our commitment to racial justice on our website. More is still needed to support the women leaders of our movement. So many across the country are doing vital work for the planet and their communities without adequate support or recognition. In the years ahead, we intend to provide more sustained and holistic support to Catalyst awardees and build deeper opportunities for connection and service among our members. Thank you for believing in our mission and for joining with the terrific women across our country building a healthier, safer, and more just world.