“Everyone is looking for a quick-fix solution to climate change.

“Everyone is looking for a quick-fix solution to climate change. However, what it needs are social movements that are community led as well as implementation of projects that are inclusive and participatory”, says Vidya Shah, Executive Chairperson, EdelGive Foundation. In this interview with our team, Vidya Shah reflects on how philanthropists can build their climate portfolios, build capacity in on-ground civil society organisations, what India is doing well on the climate front, and how to stay resilient as a leader in times of crises.

 

1. A growing number of philanthropists are starting to pay attention to climate action, evolving their grantmaking to account for climate-integrated development. How can funders begin building out their climate portfolio given existing developmental priorities such as livelihoods, education, women, etc.? Could you share a few learnings on what strategies have and have not worked while integrating climate risks, from EdelGive Foundation’s work on livelihoods and climate-smart agriculture?

 

Vidya: I would like to take you through the journey of our livelihoods portfolio to better explain our position. We started off our livelihoods portfolio working on both urban and rural livelihoods i.e., skill development in the urban context, and agricultural and allied sectors in the rural context. After a few years we found our niche in rural livelihoods primarily working on issues of water conservation and availability for agriculture. Over the years, we have realised that all our programmes — on adopting natural farming (ZBNF — zero budget natural farming), enhancing food security, collectivising farmers into Farmers Producer Organisation (FPOs), focusing on millets and other climate resilient crops, enabling access to social welfare schemes, and having women farmers as primary stakeholders in the programmes — have a climate action angle embedded in them. Our partners began integrating interventions on climate action to address the challenges of food security and to enhance their agricultural income.

Many of our partners started working on water-related projects such as lake rejuvenation without even calling/labelling them as climate related interventions.

 

In fact, two years back, we rechristened our portfolio from Livelihoods to CRCA, which is Community Resilience and Climate Action, to better capture the spirit of the portfolio. The transition, however, has been very organic, arising from the felt needs at the community level rather than just a strategic shift at our policy level.

 

In this regard, what works best is to address the immediate needs and challenges of the communities who may or may not attribute their challenges to climate change. An important strategy to note is to develop climate adaptation strategies that not only benefit the environment but have immediate benefits to the communities living nearby. Examples include developing environment-friendly community resources such as water harvesting structures that are then used and maintained by the societies, and forest regeneration and bio-diversity conservation activities that also lead to value addition in income source.

 

We have realised that climate action is cross-cutting in nature. Be it issues of women empowerment, livelihoods, or education, climate as an underlying theme undeniably exists. There is not a single sector unaffected by extreme weather events. Climate change directly affects livelihoods, infrastructure, causes forced migration, and impacts supply chain networks. Further, it is a political and social issue and linked to social, economic, and gender inequalities. The ones who are worst affected are also the ones who have contributed the least to the current climate crises. It is as much an environmental issue as a “systems level problem” that requires a political and economic approach. Developing a climate approach/portfolio is not an option today but a necessity.

Vidya Shah, Executive Chairperson, EdelGive Foundation

2. What ecosystem-level challenges do philanthropists face while funding climate? What levers must be unlocked to make climate more fundable for philanthropists, and conversely, how can philanthropic capital unlock opportunities in the ecosystem for increased finance to flow?

 

Vidya: There are many entry barriers for funders to enter the climate change space, especially foreign funders. The challenges play out at the level of the philanthropies, NGOs and communities.

 

Funders do not have access to the breadth of climate solutions. Also, we as Indians need to tell our own story; we need to make our narrative more relatable to the external world. How do you help a funder sitting in the USA see the challenges faced by a fisherwoman in the Sundarbans delta of West Bengal? We can help with better articulation and speak the language that global funders understand to garner greater attention to the needs of communities in India.

 

In general, adaptation as against mitigation solutions finds lesser resonance with funders. Adaptation aims to manage climate risk to an acceptable level, taking advantage of any positive opportunities that may arise. Adaptation solutions are very territorial and hyperlocal in nature and only impact the local communities. Also, every climate setback means that the funds pumped into the adaptation efforts get nullified.

Through our journey we have also realised that many NGOs and communities do not understand that the work they are doing on the ground falls directly under climate adaptation to build resilience in the lives of the communities. Through our efforts we have helped NGOs flesh out the climate action angles better while creating their proposals.

 

While interacting with the communities, we have realised that communities often do not have the vocabulary in the local language to connect their lived experiences with climate change. This is disempowering. We need to strengthen the vocabulary for climate change in vernacular languages. How do we consistently communicate about climate change? How do we do attribution analysis and attribute certain events to climate change? For the village woman, it is really the God’s wrath that has befallen her community. But we need to cover climate change from the lens of science, human rights, finance, livelihoods, etc.

 

Philanthropic capital can unlock many opportunities as it is patient and able to take risks that the private sector or the government will not directly take. Considering the diverse solutions at the grassroots level, philanthropic capital can boost innovation and help incubate micro-level CSOs in developing community-led solutions. As per the global narrative, everyone is looking for a quick-fix solution to climate change. However, what it needs are social movements that are community led as well as implementation of projects that are inclusive and participatory.

 

3. No individual organisation can solve a crisis of this size — and so collaborative philanthropic alliances are emerging across the world to tackle the climate crisis. EdelGive Foundation’s GROW (Grassroots, Resilience, Ownership and Wellness) for Climate Fund, for example, aims to build the capacity and resilience of on-ground CSOs working on climate action, to develop long-term institutional sustainability. Why is institutional readiness crucial to take on the climate crisis, and what is your vision for the Fund by 2030?

 

Vidya: The Grassroots, Resilience, Ownership and Wellness (GROW) Fund is a first-of-its-kind initiative aimed at building the capabilities, resilience and future readiness of grassroots organisations, in turn facilitating their efforts to effect change at the grassroots. GROW for climate is aimed to highlight the focus on climate action and enable the organisations to mainstream it.

 

Grassroots & Resilience: Climate change is cross-cutting in nature and involves long term planning and involvement with communities to build resilience in their lives. The first step towards achieving that is to strengthen the NGOs that are the fundamental institutions working shoulder to shoulder with communities. Hence, capacity building of NGOs to build local vocabulary around climate change, and support articulation of their problems in funder proposals is very critical. Even more important is that NGOs are able to bring out the indigenous knowledge of the communities and revive local wisdom; and that NGOs are able to find local innovations and connect with academia and research institutions locally to solve for some of their problems. This requires NGOs to build their capacities in the areas of technology, human resources, finance, communications, fund-raising, etc.

 

Ownership: Given the nature of the GROW fund, ownership among the communities and NGOs is essential. With the 15th finance commission, the Government has provisioned for the GPDP (Gram Panchayat Development Plan), which decentralises resource management and gives panchayats the ownership to plan resources at the local level.

 

Whether in issues of water availability, deforestation, land degradation, or destruction of pastoral lands, the GPDP is a powerful tool where people can plan, seek resources, and execute themselves instead of waiting for government bodies to turn their attention to the local problems. NGOs and communities need significant capacity building to be able to create a plan of action, manage financial resources, hold service providers accountable and manage the execution of a project. EdelGive has worked with communities under CORO India, Utthan, and ANANDI in building their capacities in this area. NGOs and communities must feel empowered to solve their problems themselves through community-based resource management principles, which is how it used to be in the past. This requires significant capacity building and long-term planning, and behavioural change.

 

Vision for the Climate Fund by 2030:

 

CSOs: Our vision is to build a network of civil society organisations (CSOs) across India that covers all critical geographies based on the climate vulnerability index. These CSOs would be grassroots organisations with most of the functionaries being drawn from the community itself, thus possessing a higher sense of ownership and a deeper understanding of the local issues. These CSOs could be working on any cause area but they should be able to see the

inter-linkages with climate change and in what ways their work gets affected due to climate change.

 

Funders: Build a network of funders who take a long term, patient and caring view of climate change issues; who recognise that climate change is not just about responding to disasters but also helping people adapt best to their changing environments; who are ready to extend their funds for local innovations and take bets on the collective wisdom of the local community; who understand that each and every programme should be looked at from a climate lens and funding should be planned for such interventions.

 

Our vision is also that philanthropic capital will take the lead and show the path to usher in private capital, so that more blended finance instruments can be created to grow the fund pool available for climate finance.

 

4. With India’s G20 presidency and COP28 lined up, the coming decade presents a crucial opportunity for Indian leadership to ascend the world stage and set an ambitious, inclusive narrative for climate-integrated development. Given our diverse developmental challenges, what does India’s climate story look like at a national level? What is India doing well, and how can we bring greater visibility to the meaningful work CSOs are doing on-ground?

 

Vidya: India is among the countries most vulnerable to climate change. We have a very large number of poor people who rely on natural resources for their livelihoods. The current leadership of India in G20 provides a chance for us to showcase the work that is being done and discuss our unique challenges.

 

India is focusing on promoting climate smart agriculture (CSA) through necessary policy interventions. The promotion of CSA is a chance to revive our traditional agricultural systems as well as indigenous gene pool of crops that are climate resilient (like millets). Odisha is emerging as a leader in promoting millets at the national and international level. While we want to promote CSA at the farmer level, at the same time, adequate infrastructural support for marketing and encouraging the consumption of organic and local food must be given.

 

Initiatives like Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) showcase the acumen of communities to not only produce but also engage in business development. While implementation has its challenges, but overall, the focus of the Government of India on FPOs can complement the small and marginal farmers to collectivise their strength, maximise profits and minimise losses.

 

India’s flagship social security programme on MGNREGA has included a climate change component by inclusion of environment-friendly public works. If the micro challenges of MGNREGA of timely payments and being more participatory are sorted, it can really make a difference in mainstreaming climate action.

 

While the world is now glamourising nature-based solutions towards adaptation and mitigation, India has always had a nature-friendly approach to living. The Lifestyle for the Environment (LiFe) initiative of the Government of India and its focus towards sustainable lifestyle is not really new but rather a rejuvenation of our lost traditions and customs.

India’s G20 presidency is also a chance to showcase the innovation of CSOs on the world stage. CSOs work with minimal resources and come up with ingenious ways to maximise their impact at the community level. Their strategic innovations and contributions as frontline actors and communities are often less documented.

EdelGive is actively trying to invest in eco-sensitive areas and integrate climate action with economic resilience interventions.

 

5. With increasing climate risks compounding existing developmental challenges, the journey ahead for India is not going to be easy. What challenges have you faced while reflecting on the climate crisis and the resources and determination needed to solve it? Drawing on your experiences at EdelGive Foundation, can you share any lessons with us on how to stay resilient and yet flexible as a leader in times of crisis?

 

Vidya: As a funder, EdelGive has pivoted programmes, stood firm in our beliefs, supported local innovations and even taken hard calls to discontinue programmes. This demonstrates our resilience, steadfastness, and flexibility during tough times. This was particularly relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

For example, when there was extensive reverse migration during the pandemic back to Koraput, NGO Pragati extensively leveraged MNREGA and Government schemes to create livelihood opportunities for migrants that also strengthened local infrastructure such as dug wells, farm ponds, etc. We also worked with the Odisha Millet Mission, an initiative of the Government of Odisha, to create long-term sustainable livelihoods for millet farmers.

 

On top of the foundation of a strong network of single women cultivated over 6–7 years, we also supported CORO India to initiate the registering of 2 credit cooperatives during the pandemic; we realised that the most critical need of the women was access to livelihood opportunities and credit to finance their nano enterprises. Further, the Collaborators for Transforming Education (CTE) used a cadre of community grassroot leaders and youth volunteers to ensure continuity of education for children in 7 districts of Maharashtra. Post the pandemic, we are now going to scale up CTE to all 36 districts; this has been possible as we used the pandemic to strengthen the networks we have built with the government and local communities.

 

6. Can you share an image or a photograph that captures your passion for development and climate action, and can inspire action from others? What is powerful about this image, and what do you think it conveys?

 

Vidya: Adivasi women from Koraput Odisha today are not just relegated to the drudgery laden tasks of sowing and harvesting. They have come forward as Board members of the FPO (Chitridora FPC) and taken up positions of power to find better markets and prices for their produce, such as red rice (kala jeera). For example, an elderly woman farmer has shown the way by being the first to adopt System of Rice Intensification (SRI) and other climate smart agricultural practices and become the chairperson of the FPC.

Adivasi women in Koraput, Odisha

A women-led FPO

Leadership and youth in the community

This image encapsulates how community ownership of natural resources and encouraging youth in agriculture are two critical strategies towards climate action. The founder of Pragati Koraput, for example, is bringing the community together to maintain the community water infrastructure without looking for external help.

 

We need to bring pride back into agriculture so that the future generation does not feel forced to migrate out of villages in search of livelihoods opportunities. Harnessing the power of the rural youth is going to be critical to India’s climate response

 

 

Faces of climate change

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we think of climate change, it may not impact you or me directly. So, who are the true faces of climate change? They are the marginal farmers, fishermen/women, local weavers and everyone who has contributed the least to the climate change. The above picture is powerful as it prompts us to re-think our own actions and lifestyle. The tribal woman’s life is impacted by vagaries of climate change. Her already marginal income has reduced further due to crop loss, and her family members have migrated to an urban area to find some employment options. Still, she goes on trying other options and never gives up, while, at the same time, protecting and caring for forest resources diligently.

 

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