Aimee Witteman: Foundations rally around regional strategies with global implications

Last week, representatives from 14 foundations with interests in energy policy and climate change gathered at The McKnight Foundation for a daylong meeting to explore how we might better collaborate around efforts in the Midwest.

The Energy Foundation works to promote the transition to a sustainable energy future.

The Energy Foundation works to promote the transition to a sustainable energy future.

Convened by McKnight in conjunction with our key regional partners Energy Foundation and RE-AMP, the meeting was designed for the group to share program priorities with each other, diving deep into concrete examples of public engagement strategies that might prove to be useful models for Midwest states. The group also took the opportunity to explore how we might better coordinate our grantmaking and program strategies, for the biggest impacts moving forward.

For our part, McKnight’s Midwest Climate & Energy goal is to help the Midwest become an international model in addressing climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in all economic sectors, while employing a sustainability lens that both informs strategies and catalyzes action. We launched the program earlier this year with multiyear grants to Energy Foundation and RE-AMP, and we are currently developing additional grantmaking opportunities to be announced in 2014. Once our program is fully up to speed, we plan to provide support for grantees and networks advancing state-level policies and community-level efforts in the Midwest in renewable energy generation, efficiency, transmission, agriculture, and transportation; and to facilitate private-sector leaders and networks to develop, promote, and implement climate and energy objectives for the Midwest.

RE-AMP works to reduce global warming pollution economy-wide 80% by 2050.

RE-AMP works to reduce global warming pollution economy-wide 80% by 2050.

Inevitably with so many funders at the table, conversations reflected a wide range of perspectives — from foundations new to climate and energy work in the Midwest, to others who were early leaders in bringing the issue to the forefront of regional discussions. And a few participants represented new “human resources” dedicated to climate and energy work in the Midwest, including C. Scott Cooper, recently hired RE-AMP network CEO; Ryan Werder, in a newly created role as Midwest program director for the Energy Foundation (the Energy Foundation is headquartered in California, and Ryan is based in Chicago); and me, hired to direct McKnight’s Midwest Climate and Energy program when it was announced in May.

Although specific strategies vary from one foundation to the next, the most resonant story of the gathering was one of unity. Good news for our region, because there’s no time to waste. Despite the week ending with international scientists endorsing a “climate budget” that humanity can’t afford to exceed without risking catastrophic climate changes — and related global crises in food, health, and livelihoods — our visitors reported a measure of optimism from the group’s strong spirit of overall good will and cooperation.

Between meetings, we asked a few colleagues to share insights on their own work, the Midwest’s role in advancing policies to combat dangerous climate change, and the power of collaboration. Here’s what they said:

Midwest Climate & Energy: Funder Perspectives from The McKnight Foundation on Vimeo.

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