Building Social Justice in East Africa Through Climate Action

The Climate Justice Resilience Fund reached an important milestone in its development in June, with decisions to support seven new grants in Kenya and Tanzania.  In only its second year of operations, the Fund now has active grants in all three of its focal regions: the Bay of Bengal, East Africa, and the Arctic.

The newly approved East Africa grants foster climate justice through resilient land management, sustainable livelihood innovations, and policy advocacy.  Heather McGray, Director of the Fund, said, “These are grants that give voice and power to women, youth, and indigenous people in some of the places hit first by climate change impacts.” For example, with CJRF funding, Christian Aid Kenya will work with pastoralist women and young people in Northern Kenya to strengthen their participation in county climate planning, budgeting and governance. Another new grantee, IMPACT, will use CJRF funding to build a vibrant pastoralist movement to secure and promote community land rights and promote climate-resilient land management.

To launch our inaugural round of East Africa grants, CJRF hosted a workshop for new grantees on June 22 in Nairobi, Kenya. Workshop participants spent the day getting to know CJRF staff, the projects in the portfolio, and making connections and linkages between their respective work. Successful partnerships emerged as a strong area of interest among the workshop participants. Emily Wanja of new grantee Docubox highlighted the power of linkages: “For us as filmmakers, we…realize the film [Thank You For The Rain] is even more powerful if you work in partnerships with other organizations that are already in the field. What we can do is partner and bring our different strengths together in achieving the same goal, which is empowering communities to adapt and become climate smart.”

  From Left to Right Bottom Row:  Kisilu Musya ( Thank You For The Rain ), Agnes Leina ( Il’laramatak Community Concerns ), John Tingoi ( IMPACT ), Violet Shivutse ( Shibuye Community Health Workers )   From Left to Right Top Row:  Hilary Heath ( CJRF ), Nicholas Abuya ( Christian Aid Kenya ), Heather McGray ( CJRF ), Yussuf Bashir ( Haki Na Sheria ), Jane Meriwas ( Samburu Women Trust ), Gino Cocchiaro ( Natural Justice ), Elizabeth Silakan ( IMPACT ), Dr. John Kitui ( Christian Aid Kenya ), Emily Wanja ( Docubox ), Rita Kahurananga ( Oak Foundation )

From Left to Right Bottom Row: Kisilu Musya (Thank You For The Rain), Agnes Leina (Il’laramatak Community Concerns), John Tingoi (IMPACT), Violet Shivutse (Shibuye Community Health Workers)

From Left to Right Top Row: Hilary Heath (CJRF), Nicholas Abuya (Christian Aid Kenya), Heather McGray (CJRF), Yussuf Bashir (Haki Na Sheria), Jane Meriwas (Samburu Women Trust), Gino Cocchiaro (Natural Justice), Elizabeth Silakan (IMPACT), Dr. John Kitui (Christian Aid Kenya), Emily Wanja (Docubox), Rita Kahurananga (Oak Foundation)

Beginning in August, additional details for each grant can be found on the Current Grants page of the CJRF website. The website also will feature interviews with workshop attendees in the upcoming months. Look for these features on our News page.

Grant Opportunity for Climate Change Adaptation/Resilience Communications in Alaska

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world -- an astounding 5℃ in the past 100 years. This extreme warming pattern has dangerous consequences for many people in Alaska, including risky travel across melting ice and tundra, and severe coastal erosion that is forcing whole communities to relocate. Indigenous populations are especially vulnerable, since their culture, identity, language, traditional foods, and ways of life all rely heavily on Alaska’s land and waters. As warming proceeds, indigenous communities also must contend with growing in-migration and the expansion of the cash economy that comes from increased industrial and commercial activity. The Climate Justice Resilience Fund (CJRF) seeks to help indigenous communities strengthen their climate resilience by building leadership and decision-making capacity; maintaining, updating and augmenting traditional knowledge; and establishing political advocacy processes. We believe that – in Alaska and elsewhere – the best climate solutions will emerge “bottom-up” from communities, and that respect for human rights should underpin all resilience-building efforts.

As part of CJRF’s grantmaking on climate resilience in Alaska, we have identified communications capacity building as a priority for investment. Consistent and effective communications are a key component to any successful leadership, advocacy, or knowledge-sharing effort, but for climate change advocates, communicating effectively often presents challenges. Many audiences see climate change often as an abstract and distant problem for the future, without day-to-day implications for their lives. The issue also carries both scientific and political “baggage” that complicates messaging and can be a turn-off for some audiences. Moreover, climate solutions – especially adaptation solutions – can be complex and counter-intuitive for those not familiar with how climate change can impact food, water, livelihoods, and infrastructure.

Alaskan advocates have important opportunities – and urgent needs – around climate communications, since the issue is not abstract or distant in the state. With this call for letters of inquiry, CJRF seeks innovative ideas for building climate change communications capacity within Alaska’s non-profit sector. We aim to empower communities by strengthening the ability of non-profit organizations to effectively and strategically communicate about climate change adaptation to a diversity of audiences. We believe that strong climate change communications – about both problems and solution sets – is an essential ingredient for effective adaptation action at community, state, and national levels. Focus will be onAlaska Native organizations and those working on climate adaptation/resilience activities with indigenous communities. Potential outcomes of this call could include (but are not limited to):

  • New organizational strengths in communications, with specific attention to strategy and messaging around climate resilience and adaptation
  • A cohort of young indigenous leaders with strong communications skills and clear narratives around social justice approaches to adaptation and resilience
  • New, more effective climate resilience communications strategies, narratives, or tactics shared among advocacy networks and alliances
  • Improved communications systems for knowledge exchange among communities actively grappling with the impacts of climate change

Applicants may propose activities up to three years in length, with budgets between $100,000 and $400,000. Letters are welcome from individual organizations; CJRF is also interested in supporting collaborative efforts among multiple organizations.

Interested groups should submit a letter of inquiry (LOI) to by 11:59 pm Alaska time on Thursday April 26. Letters may not exceed three pages. They should summarize the proposed project's objectives, intended outcomes, budget, partners, and any co-funding. Successful applicants will be invited to make a full proposal for a June deadline. This call for communications LOIs is separate from CJRF’s main April 13 call for Arctic LOIs. Submission of a letter to one call for proposals will not disqualify an organization from submitting for the other call.

Please see information about the CJRF and its strategy at Please note that CJRF aims to fill a funding niche on the adaptation side of climate justice, so we do not support work focused on greenhouse gas emissions reduction.

Kendeda Fund Awards 3-year Grant to CJRF


In November 2017, The Kendeda Fund awarded the Climate Justice Resilience Fund (CJRF) a 3-year, $900,000 USD grant. This makes Kendeda CJRF’s second ‘member foundation,’ joining the Oak Foundation, which launched the CJRF in 2016.

The Kendeda Fund is a private grantmaking foundation that invests in transformative leaders and ideas, empowering communities across the U.S. and around the globe to enhance equity, vibrancy, resourcefulness, and resilience. Kendeda’s support to the CJRF represents their first grant in a new Girls’ Rights and Climate Change portfolio, which integrates two Kendeda programs: Girls’ Rights and People, Place, and Planet

Kendeda Executive Director Dena Kimball said, “The Kendeda Fund is excited to invest in CJRF as our first grant in a body of work that attempts to answer the question, ‘How can we support girls’ leadership in climate resilience as a means to build their overall rights, empowerment and options within their communities?’ We believe the values, orientation and approach of CJRF make them an ideal partner in this learning journey.”

Kendeda’s investment in the CJRF takes the form of a flexible grant that supports of the overall CJRF portfolio. Rather than earmarking the grant for specific girls’ rights projects or activities, Kendeda and CJRF have agreed to track a set of Fund-level benchmarks related to gender and girls’ rights. For example, CJRF has committed that 100% of its grants will recognize gender-based differences, and 15% will aim specifically to produce transformations in girls’ empowerment.

CJRF Director Heather McGray said, “We are grateful to Kendeda for their trust, and for their spirit of ‘learning-by-doing.’ Kendeda’s grant takes an innovative approach that I believe  will strengthen the whole CJRF.”

The Kendeda Fund helps underrepresented but trusted voices build social and community capital by supporting experienced, and emerging, leaders who have the vision to see problems differently and the courage to challenge conventional thinking. Kendeda’s current geographic priorities overlap with CJRF’s in Bangladesh and East Africa.  Learn more at

CJRF Co-hosts “Building Coalitions for Climate Justice: A Funders’ Roundtable”

  Pictured from left to right: Hilary Heath, Heather McGray, Mary Robinson, Agnes Leina, Heather Grady, and Anne Henshaw

Pictured from left to right: Hilary Heath, Heather McGray, Mary Robinson, Agnes Leina, Heather Grady, and Anne Henshaw

Together with Mary Robinson Foundation Climate Justice, Oak Foundation, and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, the CJRF hosted a roundtable to bring together funders to explore climate justice as an emerging field of practice in philanthropy. The group met on September 20 on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York, hosted by Wellspring Advisors at their Manhattan office. Funders from over 20 different organizations attended the roundtable, representing a range of different interests and sectors, from water to energy, gender, indigenous rights, and more.

Heather McGray, Director of the CJRF, shared opening remarks that framed the issue of climate justice and set out objectives for the meeting. She also briefly shared the work the CJRF is doing to explore climate justice through grantmaking, and to strengthen its adaptation and resilience dimensions. Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, provided keynote remarks. She described her experience as a global advocate for climate justice and introduced the Principles of Climate Justice developed by her foundation and their partners.

As inspiration for the roundtable participants, three grassroots activists spoke about their experiences working “on the front lines” of climate change. Selina Neirok Leem, a college student from the Marshall Islands, described her activism as a young leader, and shared a poem that clearly expressed the frustration and sense of loss – but also determination to take action– that she and many islanders feel as they grapple with sea level rise. Austin Ahmasuk, the Marine Advocate for Kawerak, Alaska, shared his experience with the rapidly warming climate in Alaska, including the profound changes that warming presents for indigenous communities such as his own.  Lastly, Agnes Leina, from Illaramatak Community Concerns in Kenya, voiced the power of local grassroots activism and the importance of environmental justice and land rights for pastoralist communities. In listening to the voices of those on the frontlines, funders were able to gain a better understanding of the value of climate justice and the importance of a human-centered approach to climate change adaptation.

Funders assembled at the roundtable shared the work they were already doing which intersects – or could potentially intersect -- with climate justice. Human rights were a theme that cut across much of the conversation. Specific issues discussed included: indigenous rights, climate displacement and relocation, land and natural resources, capacity building for front-line NGOs, the role of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and promoting women’s leadership.

The CJRF roundtable was a unique opportunity to bring together the funding community and those on the frontlines of climate change. It created a starting point from which CJRF seeks to build an on-going dialogue among funders.  We are now working with our partners to identify specific topics for additional discussion, and plan to hold at least two additional funder events in the coming year. A report from the event is available for download here.

Listening to Youth Voices on International Youth Day 2017

By Hilary Heath

International Youth Day, held 12 August every year, presents an ideal time to reflect on the importance of building the adaptation and resilience of youth to climate change. Today’s youth, as well as future generations, will inherit climate change problems that they did not cause. If the world continues on its current emissions trajectory, a 16-year-old in 2017 will witness between 3.3 and 3.9 ℃ of global warming and as much as 1.2 meters of sea level rise by the age of 70. Given this stark context, youth have a huge stake in building climate resilience. 

The CJRF strives to raise the voices of youth and support youth-led solutions to climate change. In support of this aim, the CJRF co-hosted a panel at the 20th Session of the Youth Assembly at the United Nations entitled “Dialogue for Change: Bringing the Youth Perspective into Global Decision Making.” CJRF collaborated with IIED and Climate-KIC to create a space where youth attendees could share their opinions on how organizations and politicians can effectively engage youth at a local, national, and global level.  The session was attended by about 130 young people, ages 16 to 28.

Heather McGray (CJRF), Liz Carlile (IIED), and Janet Murray (Climate-KIC) posed two questions to the youth attendees:

  1. What is the best way to engage young people in politics and public decision-making?
  2. In terms of innovation and business, what are the most powerful ways to unleash youth creativity and potential?

Panel attendees broke into small groups to brainstorm answers to these questions. When engaging youth in politics and public decision-making, attendees highlighted the importance of strengthening youth voice; bridging the knowledge gap between generations; creating platforms for youth to connect with one another and collaborate; and creating a space for young people to learn, about both the engagement process and specific issues. When it comes to youth creativity and innovation, attendees discussed the importance of building youth skills; providing education, training, and mentorship opportunities; and creating official channels for youth to engage locally, nationally, and globally with senior leaders.

The session at the Youth Assembly highlighted that today’s youth have the creativity and energy to engage effectively in international platforms. CJRF believes in harnessing this creativity and energy to bring youth into climate change decision-making. Young people’s perspectives, ideas, and actions are critical for building an equitable, resilient world where everyone can thrive.

Climate Justice Resilience Fund at CBA11

CJRF Director Heather McGray attended the 11th International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation (CBA11) in Kampala, Uganda. This year's conference highlighted the benefits and challenges of using natural resources and ecosystems as part of adaptation work. CBA11 featured plenary and parallel interactive sessions, hands-on learning opportunities, group discussions, high-level speaker panels, video competitions, poster presentations and more. CJRF is pleased to have acted as a sponsor of CBA11

In keeping with CJRF’s focus on youth, our grant helped CBA11’s organizing partners facilitate links between CBA11 and the CBA11 Youth Conference at Makerere University. CJRF Director Heather McGray led a session entitled: “Youth, Climate, and Livelihoods: Bringing Innovation to CBA Youth Engagement, and Youth-driven Innovation to CBA Practice.” The session included presentations by Prof. Clara Decent Atuhaire, Mbarara University of Science and Technology; Dr. Tehut Tesfaye, CEO, Ethiopia Climate Innovation Center; Ms. Daphne Stella Nansambu, International Water Management Institute; and Mr. Edwin Muhumuza, Youth Go Green Uganda.

The CJRF session examined how to involve youth as active agents of change in community-based adaptation, through the following questions:

  1. How can CBA programs engage youth in ways that help to realize their aspirations?
  2. How can youth help to bring innovation and entrepreneurial spirit into the climate-sensitive sectors central to CBA and EBA?
  3. What market opportunities are on the horizon for youth interested in adaptation? 
  4. How can capacity building practices evolve to support youth to integrate climate resilience into their livelihoods?

The session sought to answer these questions by making use of an innovative, walk-and-talk format, through which audience members were encouraged to move around, meet new people, and reflect on the contributions of each of the panelists.

A programme (PDF) can be downloaded showing details of each session and the speakers. You can find complete coverage of CBA11 here.


New Climate Justice grants to support Alaska native communities facing sea level rise

Two new grants to support Alaska Native communities in developing strategies to adapt to climate change were announced today by the Alaska Institute for Justice (AIJ), the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), and the Climate Justice Resilience Fund (CJRF). AIJ received a $752,000 grant from CJRF and a $55,000 grant from UUSC to work with 15 communities along the Alaska coast. The funds will support AIJ’s efforts to develop community-based adaptive strategies that protect the health and well-being of Alaska Native communities experiencing the impacts of climate-induced environmental change. This funding announcement coincides in timing with the last meeting of the Arctic Council during the US Chairmanship, scheduled to occur in Fairbanks, Alaska on May 11.  During the two-year U.S. chairmanship of the Arctic Council, the council prioritized climate change, its impacts on the environment and projects to help Arctic residents respond and adapt.   The funding awarded by CJRF and UUSC will continue this important work.

As the Arctic disproportionately bears the consequences of a rapidly changing climate, Alaska Native communities are facing an urgent need to relocate due to erosion and sea level rise.  CJRF Director, Heather McGray, sees the social justice opportunity to “help indigenous people build a movement, amplify their voices, and build resilience for their communities.” Launched in September 2016 by the Oak Foundation, the CJRF supports people on the “front lines” of climate change to assert their rights and develop community-led climate solutions.  The grant to AIJ represents the CJRF’s first-ever grant in the Arctic region, and its first multi-year grant.  The CJRF is a project of the New Venture Fund, a 501(c)(3) public charity. The New Venture Fund (NVF) hosts and incubates a wide range of conservation, education, global health, and other charitable projects. 

UUSC recognizes the grave danger that climate change poses for the world’s most vulnerable populations. Their funding promotes environmental justice and protects human rights, with a specific focus on protecting the rights of people that are forcibly displaced by climate change in the South Pacific and in Alaska. Salote Soqo, UUSC’s Senior Program Leader for Environmental Justice & Climate Action emphasizes the urgency of this crisis, “These are indigenous communities and what they are experiencing is directly impinging on their basic human rights and their values as indigenous people. Governments must urgently respond to this crisis to protect the rights and dignities of their communities.” UUSC provides grants to grassroots partner organizations to strategically organize and build the capacities of affected communities to advocate for rights-based solutions and protection. In addition to providing flexible financial support, UUSC contributes various forms of innovative collaboration and technical assistance to our partner organizations.

Robin Bronen, senior research scientist at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks and co-founder and executive director of AIJ, stated, “This funding will have a monumental impact on our efforts to help Alaska Native communities as we face one of the biggest humanitarian challenges of the 21stst century.”  With Arctic communities at the forefront of global environmental change, AIJ’s efforts will be critical to the development of long term adaptation strategies for affected communities. “Our groundbreaking research to work with Alaska Native communities and design and implement a community-led relocation process that protects their livelihoods and health may provide a template for other communities faced with this extraordinarily difficult decision.” 

For more information, please contact:  Robin Bronen – 907-441-5917 or Salote Soqo – 617-301-4364

Oak Foundation Launches $20 Million Climate Change Fund


The Geneva-based Oak Foundation has announced a six-year, $20 million grant to the New Venture Fund to establish a fund that will invest in communities on the frontlines of climate change.

The Climate Justice Resilience Fund will award grants to organizations working to help communities in East Africa, the Bay of Bengal region, and the Arctic identify and implement approaches to climate change adaptation and resilience, acquire advocacy skills, and access information they can use to influence policy at the local, national, and international levels. Read more from Philanthropy News Digest.

A Global Green Funder Tries its Hand at Community-Level Climate Justice

The growing Oak Foundation has been on the move this year, making big shifts within its environment program. The latest development sets aside $20 million for the underfunded cause of climate justice. Read more from Tate Williams at Inside Philanthropy.

Introducing the new Climate Justice Resilience Fund: investing in communities on the frontlines of climate change

 © Anne Henshaw/Oak Foundation

Climate change has become one of the most contested terms in the English language today. The term inspires debate and fear. Why? Because a changing climate affects everyone in some manner – increased risks of storms, droughts, floods and other natural disasters, rising sea levels and changing temperature patterns are just some of the possible consequences. Without action, climate change could radically affect the world we know today, and could completely devastate some communities.  But together we can ensure people are protected from the greatest impacts of climate change. Read more.