On October 6th, 2022, 18 climate-oriented funders gathered at the Olivewood Gardens & Learning Center on a cloudy and cool day in San Diego to launch a new funder learning space, the Climate Funders Collaborative (Baja/Imperial/San Diego Region).
The genesis for the gathering built on years of conversations among these funders and coalesced earlier in the year when our parent organization, The Funders Network, held its annual conference in San Diego, highlighting the many opportunities and strong leadership in the region. During the conference, Smart Growth California partnered with Catalyst of San Diego & Imperial Counties, San Diego Foundation, International Community Foundation, and The California Endowment to host a dinner to explore the idea of launching a Funders’ Collaborative in the region. Given the enthusiasm from the number of funders that came, we knew there was enough momentum to proceed.
Half a year later, we launched the new working group with a half-day gathering. The retreat started off with informal networking and a delicious lunch outside. Christiana DeBenedict from San Diego Foundation, who helped plan the gathering, shared what brought this group together and its larger purpose: to build funder knowledge in a supportive, interactive and generative environment to collectively learn and enable action on critical climate-related issues. Like other Smart Growth California Working Groups, this group will identify and align areas of work where philanthropic resources can be activated to support communities impacted by climate change. In doing so, they hope to strengthen connections and uplift locally-driven solutions that build climate resilience. Integrating a trust-based and racial justice lens is key to this work.
Megan Thomas, President and CEO of Catalyst of San Diego & Imperial Counties, who also played a key role in the planning of the retreat, shared a land acknowledgment and context for the history of climate funding in this bi-county, tri-national region, followed by Lety Martinez from the International Community Foundation, another funder active in the planning, who welcomed us to the site, which is where their foundation’s home base.
I too helped plan this gathering, and was thrilled to facilitate my first in-person gathering in nearly three years! Given we were meeting in three-dimensional, real space, I invited everyone to stand up in an open area and create a map of the region, asking everyone to select a place in the region in which they have supported or were tracking climate-related work. As someone who doesn’t live in San Diego, this helped build my own understanding of the region’s geography and the incredible amount of climate-oriented work already taking place.
After that, we formed three table conversations to explore intersecting issues, strategies and opportunities that exist in the region, giving everyone sticky dots to fill out categories that were initially shared at the funder dinner held earlier in the year. Each funder visited all three tables and afterwards, we debriefed, exploring possible synergies and potential gaps in what was shared. Needless to say, there’s a lot of funding taking place in the region, but there is very little funder collaboration currently taking place. It’s worth reiterating here as I mentioned at this gathering that not all funders need to be at the table together on each collaboration, but rather, having two to three funders find synergy on at least one issue/project and pursue it is what much of funder collaboration looks like within the Smart Growth California network.
After taking a networking break, we split up into two small groups, with me facilitating a conversation on values to guide our work, and Megan from Catalyst exploring ways in which we want to work together moving forward. I’m a big fan of co-facilitation and appreciated Megan’s help here, and it was also nice to have smaller groups to go into a deeper brainstorm together.
Wrapping up the day, we circled up under the shade of a beautiful tree to reflect on the day, and consider next steps moving forward. Folks expressed appreciation, shared their suggestions and expressed a unanimous desire to serve in this emerging workgroup, just as the sun started peeking through the clouds! Christiana DeBenedict from San Diego Foundation and Juliet Flores from The California Endowment will serve as the inaugural co-chairs with the group, which I’m very excited about!
We wrapped up the day with an informal happy hour and some delicious appetizers. Folks lingered awhile longer, and after everyone left, our planning team (myself, Christiana, Megan, Lety and Everett Au from San Diego Foundation) met to debrief. We brainstormed what a design might look like for this group, which could include quarterly in-person gatherings where we learn from people and place, while also connecting and strategizing. In between those sessions, we’re exploring putting together some groups that take a deeper dive into some intersecting issues to help shape future learning, alignment and collaboration.
If you’d like to join this emerging group of funders, please contact me. The next meeting for the group will take virtually on December 8th, from 11am to noon, PT. Thanks.