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Three Lessons on Advancing a Bold Environmental Agenda Under a New Administration

Friday, April 9, 2021

The piece below was based on SCG's program "Urban, Green Infrastructure Under the New Administration" hosted on Friday, February 19, 2021. We encourage you to watch the recording above for the full discussion.



Radical ideas challenge our norms. Making lasting environmental change calls on us to pull away from traditional solutions and shift toward systems change, which will allow us to think deeper and act boldly. Looking beyond the Green industries to lead us into the future is an opportunity to approach an environmental agenda as it truly is - an economic development, workforce development, and regional plan. This interconnected structure paves the way for leaders across sectors to identify the intersection of engagement and provides an avenue to address how racial, social, and economic realities show up in those areas, applying a community-centric lens to environmental change.
To illustrate this approach, SCG called on Alfredo Gonzalez, program director for the Resources Legacy Fund; Calvin Gladney, president of Smart Growth America; Kate Gordon, Director of the Governor's Office of State Planning and Research; and Cecilia Estolano, CEO and founder of Estolano Advisors. The panel brought forth thought-provoking yet practical solutions to what is likely to be a one-shot opportunity to enact a radical approach to environmental change. Looking at California as a model and deconstructing traditional methods to approach environmental solutions at the federal level, philanthropy has a unique opportunity to shift the power dynamics to community organizations that operate in related but different fields.



Amplify the multiple benefits of environmental initiatives by supporting the connection between transportation, climate change, public health, racial justice, economic inclusion, and social equity in your funding priorities. By championing organizations enacting inclusive solutions, funders are illustrating the inherently interconnected system that relies on every sector and region to play a role in realizing a shared vision. Groups implementing a water quality project and including educational workshops to help communities understand how they can actively help decrease the heat island effect are doing more with each public dollar while engaging meaningfully with communities. Transportation for America, an advocacy-based organization, made up of local, regional, and state leaders - called for Congress to stop funding like its 1982. Their work challenged the archaic 80/20 transportation funding structure by centering the need of 2.8 million essential workers who rely on transit, supporting a recent resolution presented by Congress members to introduce equal funding between public transit and highways.



Fund your values by trusting community organizations. In honoring their lived experience, funders make space for organizations to feel they have the freedom and capacity to act on solutions that directly reflect, support, and benefit their communities. Ensuring organizations lead the way creates ownership, attracts and fosters authentic engagement, and reinforces shared values. Providing multi-year, unrestricted funding to fuel the organization's ability to apply its dollars to the areas it needs most supports the belief that organizations best understand how inequities may impact their ability to build resiliency and deliver on their mission. Rather than imposing external ideas onto organizations, we can honor their experience by shifting that power dynamic so they may determine how and if they are serving their communities in the best way.



Encourage community organizations to build reflection and experimentation into their work, rather than explicitly telling folks what they need to know. When funders support organizations at this level, they are encouraged to approach methods most authentic to their experience. They challenge perceptions around the role of failure - by way of reflection and experimentation. Empowering organizations to design their path invites them to look at failure as a viable strategy to approach challenges, find solutions and reach goals. It provides the freedom and flexibility to lessen unnecessary burdens and unleashes a sustainable path to learn, evolve and innovate.


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