In October, Rachel’s Network hosted one of our most popular webinars of the year about working conditions in the environmental movement. The Just Culture report, commissioned by the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, showed that many frontline environmental groups have deeply motivated leaders and staff who are often working without compensation or health benefits. Some leaders are self-funding their organizations with other jobs or personal assets. In short, we are in danger of burning out our best leaders at this critical time when the climate, biodiversity, and toxics crises are intensifying.
The report findings were familiar to us since they echo the experiences of so many of the women who apply to the Catalyst Award. Behind the many successes they’ve achieved—whether it’s launching an impactful community organization, organizing resistance to toxic industries, or helping draft environmental policies—these leaders must juggle crucial community and family needs with limited resources against a backdrop of disinvestment and discrimination.
Rachel’s Network believes that philanthropy should support not just organizations, but the well-being of leaders who run those organizations. That’s the philosophy behind the Catalyst Award, which we launched in 2019. Since then, we’ve recognized 85 women leaders of color committed to protecting the health of our environment and communities. We’ve also grown the award from a one-time grant to a three-year engagement.
Our funder members support this work not just through the award, but also their individual funding—they are engaged in supporting grassroots organizations led by women across many issues from toxics and regenerative agriculture to conservation and climate change. Rachel’s Network provides the space for members to learn and grow into deeper and more impactful philanthropy. In 2022 we hosted 15 events (both online and in-person) to facilitate and support women’s leadership in the environmental movement.
We are supporting our leaders internally as well. From two-week sabbaticals and half day Fridays for our staff, to paying Indigenous land taxes and stipends for our event speakers, we are continually striving to live up to our mission of supporting women environmentalists.
Illustration by Sophie Sarkar