David and Lucile Packard Foundation place equity, justice at the forefront of its ocean grants

Packard Foundation Ocean Director Meg Caldwell

Trustees of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation have approved an initiative to make justice and equity central tenets of the organization’s ocean grantmaking efforts.

The initiative, which aims to provide more equitable and durable support – both regionally and locally – to Indigenous peoples, fishers, and other communities dependent on the ocean, is currently in a transitional phase as it consolidates several strategies into a single, integrated ocean initiative structured around three primary portfolios of work: global fisheries, ocean habitats and communities, and ocean-based climate solutions.

“This new initiative is a reflection of the foundation’s explicit commitment to equity and justice and something we’ve been integrating into our work over the last few years,” Packard Foundation Ocean Director Meg Caldwell said. “It’s really an extension [of our work] and being explicit about centering the communities that depend most on a healthy ocean.”

The Packard Foundation has supplied ocean grants since 1968, lending resources to such initiatives as the sustainable seafood movement, preventing the extinction of marine bird species, and enhancing marine biodiversity in several countries.

However, one self-acknowledged gap in its grantmaking efforts has been the numerous communities of people excluded from the process of devising and implementing these solutions.

“[This initiative is] not only a value-based shift, but it is also a recognition that this is part of the theory of change for the entire foundation and that only through just and equitable systems can we achieve a healthy planet that supports the well-being of people and communities,” Caldwell said. “There’s a growing body of literature that is establishing this as a known fact: We’re able to achieve more equitable and durable outcomes if we are centering people who are most directly affected in the process.”

According to the foundation, approximately 3.3 billion people rely on seafood as a primary food source, while around 40 percent of the world’s population benefit from the protection offered by ocean coastlines.

To optimize grantmaking efforts, direct funding for the initiative will focus on four specific countries: Indonesia, the United States, Chile, and China.

“The four priority geographies were selected in part for their potential for integrated work on fisheries-based conservation and co-management and, to some extent, on ocean-based climate solutions,” Caldwell said. “We looked at global significance, feasibility of working in that place, and our foundation’s own history of work and relationships in a number of countries.”

A key grantee of the foundation’s and an example of the types of organizations that the initiative is looking to target is Azul, a grassroots organization based out of Oakland, California, U.S.A. that works with the Latino community to conserve marine resources primarily within the U.S., but with a burgeoning international focus.

In 2022, Azul co-led the launch of the Ocean Justice Forum, which focuses on establishing inclusive and equitable policy solutions for people of color in coastal communities.

“A number of grantees were involved in developing that platform that has now been embraced by the federal government and helps focus everyone’s attention on ocean conservation work that is just and equitable,” Caldwell said. “We’re not dictating anything with respect to their work; we’re just supporting them as an organization.”

Another example that would fall under this initiative is the foundation’s ongoing efforts to establish standards and governance in the emerging field of ocean carbon dioxide removal (CDR). A marine CDR initiative led by the ClimateWorks Foundation, launched in 2019 with the Packard Foundation’s support, explored various methods of CDR related to the ocean, resulting in a comprehensive report assessing the feasibility and effectiveness of different ocean-based CDR approaches.

“It is an excellent report that provided a landscape assessment and analysis of ocean CDR removal approaches that were being pursued by different researchers and evaluated them based on effectiveness, feasibility, and potential impact and benefit criteria,” Caldwell said. “It set up a research agenda for the field and for governments to help fund and better understand the potential of these different approaches.”

The total annual budget for grantmaking under this initiative will remain consistent at about USD 40 million (EUR 37.8 million), but the number of grantees and grants is subject to change. The Packard Foundation has developed draft portfolio plans that are currently under review by external stakeholders, and Caldwell said she expects the consultation process to extend into the beginning of 2024.

“We’ve undertaken a lot of external engagement over the last couple of years, and this is now going to our external stakeholders, including existing grantees, potential new grantees, and experts in the field,” Caldwell said. “We aim to get their feedback and to solidify our portfolio planning so that we can move forward with full implementation.”

Photo courtesy of David and Lucile Packard Foundation 


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