bill brower Posts

The response to climate change: apparently it’s up to the little guys

It’s looking unlikely that the U.S. government is going to take serious action on climate change any time soon.

Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday that the Senate wouldn’t consider a significant climate bill before their upcoming summer recess. This doesn’t leave much time before the November elections, in which Republicans are expected to make big gains.

This lack of political will in the U.S., the questionable actions by multinational institutions in the name of fighting climate change, and the failure of the global climate negotiations in Copenhagen show that the world can’t leave the response to this grave challenge to big fixes.

As Mari Kuraishi, Co-Founder and President of GlobalGiving, and I write in a white paper, this is a global problem, but the response, for most–particularly in developing communities–will be at a local level.  Social entrepreneurs, local leaders and community-based organizations have a great opportunity to not just “leapfrog the dirtier phases of development” as President Obama has said, but to blaze new, globally responsible paths to socioeconomic prosperity.

For this approach to sustainable development to work, there must be an effective translation of demand for these solutions to those on the ground. What is needed are clear metrics that allow donors, but perhaps even more critically–the social entrepreneurs–to  understand how changes at the local level can translate to this hitherto unknown path to development. This has the potential to harness currently decentralized resources and creativity for this huge challenge.

GlobalGiving’s Green Score is a first attempt at such a metric.  The Green Score evaluates our projects’ climate attributes, as well as a range of aspects of sustainable development.

The score is highly weighted on “additionality,” or how much benefit the project will bring that wouldn’t have happened otherwise and how much additional impact donors’ dollars will facilitate.

It also rewards projects for things like including women in planning and implementation—the importance of which is being more widely recognized.

We are currently holding a Green Open Challenge exclusively for organizations who are new to GlobalGiving and have passed our green assessment. You can support these organizations as they lead the grassroots response to climate change at

Read the full White Paper on Green.

Bill Brower is a Field Program Officer at GlobalGiving.

Other “levers” to invoke behavior change

Many NGOs, particularly environmental NGOs, are in the business of seeking to change people’s behavior. As anyone with experience trying to do so will tell you, this can be no small order. There are only so many “levers” that one can manipulate to try to influence what someone chooses to do or not do.
Often the biggest lever, and sometimes the only one of consequence, is financial. Farmers in developing countries aren’t going to adopt organic practices unless it saves them substantial money on inputs and/or gives them access to a premium market. People aren’t going to stop poaching endangered animals as long as there is a healthy market for them.
What I find really interesting are the other levers. In addition to making something a status symbol, appealing to parents’ concern for their children’s health, making something “cool”, passing relevant laws, etc. I’ve heard of a couple others recently that I hadn’t come across before. I spoke a couple months ago to a woman who had spent time in Somalia with an organization aiming to reduce the practice of open-field defecation (i.e. promoting the use of toilets). When their initial efforts were disappointing, they started essentially a marketing campaign saying how distasteful of a practice it was to not use a toilet. The message caught on and people started using toilets much more, mostly because they now felt ashamed not to. Obviously shame is not a lever to use lightly, particularly for an outside organization, but it is a potentially powerful one.
The other I just heard about just today. There is a protected forest, Bajra Baharahi, near a school I was visiting outside Kathmandu, Nepal. The woman from Sarvodaya Nepal that I was meeting with told me that growing up everyone said that if you took anything, even one dead leaf, from that forest that you would have bad luck. When she later came to work in that community, she found out that rumor was started as part of conservation efforts. Superstition! I love it.
What levers have you found effective?

Creative financing

In the workshops on online fundraising I’ve been holding around Southeast Asia the past few months, I encourage the participating NGOs to think beyond the typical fundraising approach of writing endless grant proposals. Specifically I encourage them to develop their online network of individual supporters. But the implementing partner of the Smile Train, a GlobalGiving project partner organization, in Manila is a great example of an organization thinking creatively about how to support itself financially.

The Philippine Band of Mercy provides free cleft lip and palate surgeries to primarily children in low-income families. They started a fellowship program, which helps send surgeons to get special training in plastic surgery. After the training, the fellows go on to have very lucrative private practices, and in exchange they volunteer to do free surgeries at the clinic one day every week or two. Their financial support to these specialists pays a huge return in social capital and future services.

This pro bono work obviously significantly reduces operating costs; I was even more impressed with how they cover the rest of their expenses. Their office and clinic complex are centrally located in Manila, and there are a few popular restaurants nearby and adjacent to their property. Seeing a demand, they started selling parking space on their lot. Between that and renting out a bit of extra office space, they are able to completely cover their expenses. So many of the organizations I speak with are forced to spend much more time than they would like on fundraising; it was great to meet with one that is able to focus more completely on its programmatic goals by realizing the potential of all of its assets.

A Tough(er) Sell

Poor kids, sick people and threatened animals. As is the case in much of the development sector, projects that deal with any one of these tend to have an easier time raising funds on GlobalGiving. The problem is easy to grasp and a remedy is obvious (at least conceptually in the short run): Give food; provide medicine; build an animal rescue center. These are big problems that warrant significant attention. But a recurring concern as I meet with organizations throughout Southeast Asia is how to engage donors for everything else. Some NGOs are particularly frustrated because their projects address the root cause of the problems of or have an indirect benefit to the hungry, ill and furry. But that takes time to explain—something they’re not likely to get much of from the quickly browsing Internet user.

Lesley Perlman and Nick Marx of the Wildlife Alliance talk about how they have a relatively easier time raising funds for the care of tigers and elephants(!) than for the protection and restoration of their natural habitats. Jo Owen and Thomas Hansen of HOPE speak of the drop off in funding for orphans as they get older. Kim Sokuntheary of the Cambodia Health Education Media Service says it can be difficult to raise funds for TV shows like the ones her organization produces which seek to educate the public and prevent gender-based violence. An organization working after the fact with abused women would have an easier time, I would imagine (not to say it’s “easy” for any non-profit).

Before I left for Southeast Asia, I was heading up GlobalGiving Green for projects which address climate change in a sustainable manner. All of this reminds me of the financing available to climate projects. Carbon offsets and an alphabet soup of schemes (CDM, REDD, VCS) only provide funding to efforts that directly reduce the amount of greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere. But there are so many necessary activities to which it’s impossible to assign an exact number of tonnes of CO2 because the impact is indirect. Educating children about the environment, training farmers in organic agriculture or helping youth start eco-businesses can have an enormous impact over time but such things are not eligible for the typical climate funding.

During the tea break of the workshop I held in Bangkok yesterday morning on online fundraising, Vena and Somkid of Foundation for Life (FFL) told me about the great work their organization is doing to empower the next generation by engaging young people from a wide cross-section of society and teaching them about leadership and the power and benefits of volunteering and service. I said, “That’s great. Now the challenge is to take that 10-minute conversation and distill it down to four or five words.”

Like President Obama, I think some organizations are rightfully reluctant to rely on a few words to describe the nuanced work they are undertaking to address complex problems. But messaging, particularly online, needs to attract busy eyeballs and be easily understood by a brain that’s quickly sifting through an enormous amount of information for anything interesting or relevant.

I wish I had an easy answer of how to accomplish that for the more nuanced projects. One approach could be to tie the primary pitch to the meta-goal and holding off on details of “how” until after attention has been grabbed. For instance, with FFL we took the title of their project on GlobalGiving from “Character and Leadership Training for Thai Youths” to something like “Empowering Tomorrow’s Leaders in Thailand”. It seems catchier, but only time will tell if donors agree.

International Day of Climate Action

As you may have heard, this Saturday is the International Day of Climate Action. Thousands of imaginative activities are planned in the U.S. and over 100 countries around the world. There will be a huge rally in Washington D.C., tracing of the new waterline given a 1 meter rise in sea levels in Santa Cruz, tree plantings in Ghana and much more. Check for activities near you.

Getting creative in the streets is one way to show your solidarity with people all over the world for global action on climate change. Another important approach is supporting projects in communities around the world working to encourage new, low carbon paths to sustainable development. GlobalGiving Green projects are making significant contributions to reducing emissions, promoting new clean technologies and helping communities adapt to local manifestations of climate change. Consider taking time out from your underwater scuba-assisted protest to donate today!