What Philanthropy Can Do For Climate Change

Shishir Soti, November 14, 2018

Philanthropy can play an important role in achieving India’s ambitious climate goals. Less than 2 per cent of global philanthropic dollars are currently being spent on the fight against climate change.  But things are changing. In September 2018, the philanthropic community announced a $4 billion commitment over a period of five years to combat climate change—the largest-ever philanthropic investment focused on climate change mitigation. This is an extremely encouraging breakthrough, but philanthropy must be prepared to invest more. For philanthropy to solve climate change, we need more funders willing to bring more resources on-board and work together effectively.

We spoke to Mr. Shishir Soti, Head of Partnerships at Shakti about the role of philanthropy in combating climate change in India.


Q) Why do you think that philanthropy must do more on climate change?
A) Climate change is often thought of as the defining issue of our time, an urgent global crisis that has far-reaching effects. But it does not attract adequate philanthropic funding. With the entire world facing the impact of warming in the form of droughts, heatwaves and rising sea levels, we should be putting climate change at the top our priority lists.

Q) What are the some of the challenges faced in procuring independent sources of funding for tackling climate change?
A) Philanthropy in India has tended to focus on its many social-economic and developmental challenges. Climate change comes much lower in the list of priorities. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), while offering a lot of promise by way of resources and corporate engagement, is more comfortable in the “input-output model” of giving. Investing in climate action is a long haul, which requires persistence and patience. The immediate results may not be tangible but in the long run they will certainly benefit the larger society.

Q) Where is India at right now in this space?
A) India recognises that climate philanthropy is a crucial step towards a more sustainable future. The India Philanthropic Initiative (IPI) is one such effort in this regard. IPI is a coalition put together by Tata Trusts, Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiative (APPI) and the Nilekani Philanthropy serving as a starting for philanthropies on how to contribute more in the climate change space.

Corporate giving is an important avenue as well, but it has traditionally been restricted to activities that are in and around the community, around the workplace, or for the benefit of employees. It seeks tangible outputs instead of outcomes. In the case of climate philanthropy, even while the beneficiary will be tangible, the process of achieving long-term impacts will require time and patience.

Q) How can we educate the philanthropic community on the need to invest in combating climate change?
A) Several attempts have been made in this regard. It was realised that with CSR contributions, corporates may not always be comfortable to invest large sums of money. The CSR Act allows corporates to pool in money and use the larger sum to drive action nationally and more importantly, draw impact at a larger scale. The issue faced by the corporates is that this money, once pooled, becomes anonymous. While in spirit, CSR activities should not be associated with their brand because they are non-business and purely for philanthropy.

Q) India’s philanthropic base has tended to be large donors and high-impact individuals. Is there anything we can do to target smaller donors or individual donors?
A) Countries like the United States offer facilities like Donor Advise Funds (DAFs), which can offer small contributors an opportunity to participate in common objectives for large-scale and impactful changes. This provision has not matured in India yet. Technologies like the blockchain can bring in transparency and greater accountability in philanthropic spends. India is also witnessing a rise in crowdsourcing. Can crowd sourcing platforms be used to catch attention of common people from everyday walks of life? For example, on a public issue like air quality, to lead to positive citizen engagement. These are some interesting opportunities to explore.

Q) What is the kind of communication required to target strategic funding for action in India?
A) Addressing climate change must be tackled at a policy level—because the impact of interventions must be long-term and wide-reaching. The challenge is that policy intervention is not tangible in nature. Regular philanthropies need to be made aware of the benefits that this kind of model can bring in to their businesses. To streamline the process, it is crucial for them to understand how to draw out aligned strategies with their existing portfolio. One way to bridge this gap is to assess and communicate the human impact of climate change more effectively. Climate change and global warming is no longer a problem of the distant future. Its effects can be felt now as it impacts —human health, agriculture and food security, availability of water, transportation, bio-diversity, oceans and many others. If there ever was a need to communicate the enormity and the immediacy of threat of climate change, it is now.

(The views expressed in this interview are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation)

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