Showcasing the catalytic potential of philanthropy through X’s journey

As climate risks intensify in India and hinder development progress, India’s climate story can seem daunting. Yet, the India Climate Collaborative (ICC) has found immense hope within the ecosystem. In addition to supporting extraordinary solutions on-ground, co-created by civil society and communities, the ICC is enabling visionary philanthropists to anchor India’s climate progress, in line with the country’s sustainable economic development and net-zero goals.


While awaiting the promised USD 100 billion and technology transfer from developed countries for our mitigation ambition, and without a proven template for low-carbon development, India needs resilient, flexible leaders willing to make bold bets on path-breaking solutions. Working in partnership, and inspired by the Climate Leadership Initiative, we have built the India Climate Leaders programme. Through this, we will platform this next generation of Climate Leaders who believe in the catalytic power of philanthropy and have the resources and stubborn optimism to rewrite our climate story as one of opportunity.


Based on a leader’s theory of change, we guide their journey in a variety of ways to amplify impact. We partner with them to evolve their climate lens, connect them to experts in the ecosystem, and identify credible solutions that align with their interests and need critical support.

To make this more tangible, we want to share the journey of Climate Leader X (names withheld for privacy), a sustainability investor with a strong scientific background, and a history of giving to sectors like education and health. Having directed more than INR 120 crores towards climate action till date, and with a sizeable amount in the pipeline, we started working with them a year ago to expand their climate portfolio.


While generally sector-agnostic, they wish to mirror India’s emissions map, by focusing on technology and innovation. This is crucial for India’s climate ecosystem. Adaptation has traditionally attracted more domestic philanthropic attention over mitigation, despite there being an urgent need to avoid future emissions as well as channel risk-free capital towards early-stage innovations and take them to market.


X’s flexible investment philosophy reflects this urgency. Instead of focusing on returns, they have adopted an experimental problem-solving approach — using different financing instruments to influence promising climate solutions. They are willing to embrace high-risk opportunities with potentially negligible returns, whether grantmaking in the non-profit sector

or high-risk equity investments in commercial enterprises, with a long-term theory of change. Their toolkit is expansive, moving beyond debt, equity, or grant capital. For example, another tool in X’s arsenal is their willingness to support capital expenditure that traditional venture capitalists hesitate to, like manufacturing units for sustainable enterprises.


Driven by curiosity and this problem-solving approach, they look for emerging startups that offer the potential to reduce GHG emissions and need growth capital to scale in India and across the globe. They have successfully funded innovations across energy efficiency and biofuels, among others. They are also keen to pre-empt challenges that technological innovations may face when they hit critical bottlenecks and explore the use of philanthropic capital for such tipping points.


Through research advisory on impactful solutions, networking opportunities, and access to industry experts, we have helped diversify X’s climate journey — increasing flexibility with levers of impact and capital. This aligns with their impact-first lens, to explore how different financing instruments can be leveraged, and how to apply relevant capital all while breaking the silos of philanthropic and returnable capital. For example, X came to us a year ago seeking levers of impact beyond technology, and has since given substantial grants to policy, research, and communications organisations. X also recently provided debt to a climate-related fund to test new business models, help scale environmentally responsible projects and startups, and unlock other forms of capital.


Apart from mobilising climate capital, this has opened several new doors for X — through direct and indirect relationships in the sector that lead to actionable results for their investments. These relationships also build new pathways for knowledge-sharing, blended finance, and potential public-private-philanthropic partnerships across sectors, facilitating multi-disciplinary approaches to climate funding.

Learnings from X’s journey reinforce our dual goals with the India Climate Leaders programme. In addition to accelerating climate action, we hope to bring Indian philanthropic perspectives on innovation and equity and their learnings to global platforms like the World Economic Forum, UNFCCC’s COP28, and the Global Stocktake later this year. As India emerges as a leading voice in the Global South, the significance of such leadership cannot be understated. India’s success in addressing the intertwined challenges of developing while decarbonising will likely determine the fate of other emerging economies in the Global South.

Written by Shloka Nath, CEO, India Climate Collaborative, and excerpted from Climate Capital Network’s The India Climate Finance Report, 2023.


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