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2021 Year End: Pieces Coming Together

building blocks being placed on top of each other

The urgent need to invest in climate resilience and adaptation alongside climate mitigation gained greater traction in 2021. As global players at COP26 and other fora discussed the size and scope of bi- and multilateral resilience investments, we, at the Shockwave Foundation, have honed in on our role as funders in the climate resilience space. Our role is to elevate the work of our action partners, act as conveners, facilitate collaborations, and continue to make catalytic investment in organizations with the potential for outsized impact. To that end, we partnered in a number of co-funded initiatives to leverage greater impact and knowledge, continued to invest in community-led and multi-sector initiatives, and pushed to make philanthropy more bottom-up and transparent.

In collaboration with the Roddenberry Foundation, the Sall Family Foundation and the Vitol Foundation, we launched the +1 WASH Fund, patterned after a model developed by the Roddenberry Foundation that relies on trust-based networks to identify under-the-radar social entrepreneurs and innovators working in vulnerable and last-mile communities. The +1 WASH Fund is an ambitious, collective effort to transform the way WASH organizations are “discovered,” funded and supported. The nomination-based framework localizes decision making, reduces burdensome grantmaking processes, supports new cohorts of community-led WASH organizations, and most importantly, shares power with frontline communities. We awarded our first round of grants at the close of 2021 and will run several more rounds in 2022 as we improve upon our methodology. It’s our aim to not only fund these promising organizations, but to elevate their work to other funders and support them with capacity strengthening activities.

We also partnered with the Confluence Institute to co-fund the Foundation for Community Development and Empowerment (FCDE) to enable them to identify, strengthen and network three locally led, high-potential climate resilience organizations with proven track records in rural Ugandan communities. Our unrestricted funding will allow the organizations to invest in improvement critical to growth and neutralize the nonprofit starvation cycle imposed by project-restricted funding. Co-investing in locally led climate resilience partners with an organization like FCDE that is deeply embedded in the community increases our impact and our confidence that decisions are being made by those most closely rooted to the issues we’re trying to address.

Understanding that sustainable climate resilience requires a multi-prong approach, we partnered with organizations working at the nexus of agriculture, WASH and livelihoods. We invested in the Blue Harvest Project of Catholic Relief Services which transforms livelihoods and restores land and water resources through Water Smart Agriculture (WSA) in the coffee lands of Central America. They capitalize on the symbiotic relationship between well-managed coffee agroforestry systems and good watershed management to increase climate resilience, productivity, and profitability for farmers while reducing landslide and flooding risks and contributing to sustainable water access for communities downstream. We also partnered with Women’s Climate Centers International (WCCI), a “one-stop” women-led climate center based in Uganda. WCCI addresses climate resilience in a holistic way, tackling gender inequity, environmental degradation, and climate change in at-risk communities. In a concept that is designed to scale, this model recognizes that part of the answer to climate security lies within developing the local and indigenous knowledge of women who farm, raise families, and build communities. Using a peer-to-peer model, they train communities in climate smart technologies, WASH, bio-intensive farming, conservation and restoration, and entrepreneurship.

Because we believe philanthropy needs to be transformed, we not only invested in new approaches like the +1 WASH Fund, we invested in methods to increase transparency and foster open philanthropy. Our investment in New Philanthropy Capital (NPC), a think tank and consultancy for the charity sector, will enable them to find and develop open approaches for every stage of the philanthropy operating cycle. The aim is to prototype open versions of these processes and to use those practices to do real philanthropy within our selected focus areas.

In addition to finding new partners, we doubled our investment to existing partners doing exceptional work. Blood:Water is a capacity strengthening organization that partners with African grassroots organizations to address the HIV/AIDS and water crises. This past year, they developed the Leader Collective, a community of practice that exists to convene, cultivate and amplify African leadership driving health, development and social change. Developed for both Blood:Water’s partners and aligned organizations, this initiative builds connections, expands access to resources and tools, generates and shares best practices, and influences the practice of development and the philanthropic sector by promoting African-led and community-driven partnership models. This initiative demonstrates impressive vision and responsiveness. In addition, it will enable them to have an outsized impact on the vulnerable communities they serve. Another partner that exceeded our expectations is Saha Global, an organization that utilizes a female-focused entrepreneurial model to bring clean water to communities in Northern Uganda. During a challenging year when they had to shift their model to comply with Ghana’s free water mandate, they used the opportunity to better understand the barriers and drivers to clean water consumption. We believe this learning mindset is essential for organizational growth.

Additionally, our long-term financial corpus is invested almost entirely in values-aligned mission related investments, such as clean energy innovations, water systems improvement, regenerative agriculture, and sustainable commodities. Our latest programmatic investments include change:WATER Labs and Burnt Island Venture’s first water technology fund.

change:WATER Labs is developing a low-cost, compact, waterless toilet for non-sewered households and communities. They provide a unique solution for improving sanitation health outcomes for unsewered communities by safely evaporating and concentrating human waste into an easy to transport product that can be used for energy or composted. This reduces costs and greenhouse gas emissions and is a commercially viable product with an exciting future. who are off-grid, either due to a lack of adequate sewage carrying infrastructure or due to an emergency.

Burnt Island Ventures makes targeted investments in water infrastructure projects with a strong focus on reducing water waste and improving recovery, which also has co-benefits in reducing energy use and making small infrastructure producers more efficient.

Our program-related investments over the past year shows us what’s possible when we think about and do philanthropy differently. By collaborating with other like-minded funders who understand the value of community-led approaches, we increase our impact and catalyze sustainable action from the ground up. By investing in multi-sector solutions, we demonstrate the value of complex and layered initiatives. Looking forward, we strive to raise a sounding call to other funders around the need for investment in climate resilience and adaptation solutions. Together, we can chip away at the audacious goal of creating a future where people and ecosystems are resilient in the face of climate change.