Practical Philanthropy: 'The Big One' with Sophie Marple
Never has the need been so great and the time been so short to create change. In our latest episode of Practical Philanthropy, Lyn Tomlinson speaks to Sophie Marple of Gower Street - a foundation which funds initiatives to mitigate against the effects of the climate crisis.
In the episode, Sophie shines a light on climate philanthropy and the eye-opening statistic that less than 2% of philanthropic funding globally goes towards combating the climate crisis.
Their conversation covers why she felt compelled to fund non-violent social movement group Extinction Rebellion, the role the media has to play, and of course, what practical steps you can take if climate philanthropy is something you’re considering.
Listen to the podcast to find out more.
The views expressed in the podcast and transcript below are those of the speakers and not those of Cazenove Capital. This podcast is intended for information purposes only and should not be deemed to constitute the provision of professional advice in any way.
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Below is a transcript of Lyn Tomlinson and Sophie Marple's conversation.
Helpful resources mentioned in the podcast:
- The Climate Lens - AEGN
- Spotlight on Climate Funding Strategies: Active Philanthropy
This is Practical Philanthropy with me, Lyn Tomlinson, the podcast where inspirational people share their experience of giving, their time, money, or skills to have transformational impact on society.
Hello, and welcome back to Practical Philanthropy. Episode three is called The Big One, and for good reason, because we are exploring the roles philanthropists play in tackling climate change. In this episode, I talked to Sophie Marple of Gower Street. Sophie and her husband Nick have been funding in the climate sector for over six years. This followed a strategic review of their giving in 2017, which was guided by the brilliant and always challenging Jake Hayman from Ten Years' Time. I'm really looking forward to talk to Sophie, because climate is an increasing area of focus for philanthropists and our clients, for obvious reasons. It's one of the biggest crises facing humanity, but it's also a really hard sector to fund. It can be really overwhelming and a difficult place to be; so I can't wait to learn from Sophie's experience. Welcome to practical philanthropy Sophie.
Thank you for inviting me. It's nice to see you Lyn.
So, before we get into the weeds on the role that philanthropy can play in helping to limit temperature rise, can you tell us a little bit about your journey? Because I think it's a really interesting one – you weren't always funding climate related issues, were you?
No. So my husband Nick and I set up our trust in 2007. And we set it up and set up a strategy within a year that was focused on education, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa and also in the UK – nearby, where we were living – mainly Islington actually. And in sub-Saharan Africa, there was a focus on outperforming for girls, low barriers to entry and keeping them in school. And we continued on that strategy for about ten years. And during that time we had kids, we took our eye really off the trust, to be honest, because we were doing other things. And and then when our youngest daughter went to school, which was when she was five, which was around 2017, we then spent some time doing a strategic review, which we did with Jake Hayman at Ten Years' Time. And that helped us really understand how to be a good funder and how to make impact as a funder. And also at the same time, we were aware that the world was changing, and we were coming more and more aware of the climate crisis. A number of our grants were actually coming to an end after many, many years of funding, and it was the perfect opportunity for us to begin to shift into what is the biggest crisis facing humanity.
Fantastic. And you talked about, when we met previously, you talked about the sort of value of that advice that you saw from Jake Hayman. Could you just dig into that just a little bit more for us?
So it was really interesting meeting Jake, because my husband heard about him. He'd read an article about him in the Financial Times, and he was quite combative, actually. Quite challenging in terms of the way philanthropy, and way philanthropists tend to work, treating it as a hobby and not really understanding the impact they were trying to make. So therefore, a lot of philanthropy ends up being a waste of money. So we decided to have a chat with him because at this point, as I said, we were ready to make some changes in what we were doing and really start digging in. And he came to meet us; and it was funny because he takes you, at Ten Years' Time, they take you on a learning journey and you say what the subject area is, and they really do go under the skin of it. But you do not know in advance what it's going to look like, and nor should you, because ultimately, a learning journey, that's what it is absolutely bespoke to what you're trying to do. So he came to meet us and sort of told us that there would be a price tag of sort of £25,000 that would be connected to this. And we're a bit like, "Oh, I'm not really sure that's a grant".
It was incredible. It was transformative what Jake did, because I think it was as much as anything, was the time we spent with him talking about how you can give more effectively and for longer and also really follow your interest. Because I think he is all about how you make the most impact you possibly can. And to make the most impact you possibly can, you've got to be interested in what you do, otherwise you just give up. And it's difficult, if it's really super challenging... I mean, if you do not like policy and you do not like reading policy documents, don't fund in policy because you're going to have to read a lot of policy documents, you're not going to do it for long, because you're not going to want to do it. So, clearly, there is a balance between interest and impact, and he talks a lot about that.
He also just taught us about understanding the field in which you're funding into, because if you don't understand it, you don't know where to put your grants, you won't make the decisions, you won't get the money out of the door and ultimately as a foundation, that's your job. Your job is to get the money out the door.
Exactly. And I think that point about understanding is critical, particularly in relation to climate because there's probably nothing more complex. So you mentioned since 2017, you did that strategic review and started funding Climate. So that learning curve must have been really steep and then out of that you've decided to focus on three core areas. They're the ones that, with your experience and expertise, they're the ones you think that will make the biggest impact and the ones that people should be funding. So can you just talk us through what they are and why they're so important?
What I would say first is again, we would say that we fund the areas that we have interest in much as anything we do. It has impact where we've chosen to fund. But again, as you said, it's like a really complex sector. There is so much going on and I think that's why often people shy away from it. There's lots of other reasons that we can dig into at any point about why people shy away from climate but one of them is because you look under the bonnet, you go oh my goodness, how much stuff is going on here and where am I going to make the most impact? And what we felt was that yes, you need to make the impact but you've got to do it where you feel most comfortable spending the time really. We have an overall umbrella of what we're trying to achieve and that is – if you're always thinking about the vision for the world – that is fossil fuels in the ground, because ultimately climate change is completely driven by our extraction and burning of fossil fuels. So that would be our overarching umbrella. And then within that we are looking at ways that are most effective to make that happen.
And one of the main areas that we fund in is social movements and community work. And it's notoriously underfunded, but getting people to understand that driver of climate change and then being able to speak truth to power and say "We don't want a world that is based on fossil fuels", we think it's an extremely strong and effective way of making change. So we work a lot around that, we work a lot around that narrative, we also work a lot around natural climate solutions. And actually the reason really around the natural climate solutions, a lot of that is because it's a nice place to be. Because the clue is in the name, in the word 'solution'. Quite often when you're talking about keeping fossil fuels in the ground and you're talking about social movements, you're talking about "no, we don't want it". But when you're talking about natural climate solutions, you're seeing change, you're seeing people who are really thinking about the regeneration of our world, and that is a beautiful place to be. So sometimes you need to balance what you're doing on one side, with something that you really feel that recharges you. It's hard work, it's hard. To decide to fund in this area is to really understand what we're doing to the world and the future for our kids, which is not good, it is bleak and sometimes that can be quite a hard place to be.
Yeah, well, done you, for keeping at it – it's absolutely fantastic. So one thing about funding climate, I think, from people on the outside, is that you think it's typically associated with really large or multi-million dollar grants, that sort of thing. But that isn't the reality of it because you fund grassroots organisations where your money could really make a difference. So can you tell us a bit about this sector that you sort of references, growing up to accept the funding from some of these other larger grants?
I think that probably the statistic that really did push us more than anything to get into the climate sector, was the statistic that less than 2% of philanthropic funding globally goes towards climate, which again, I'd say is the biggest crisis facing humanity. It's tiny.
And I think also we had been skirting on the edges of climate because when we worked in education – and we still do work in education, educating girls and women is a climate pillar of ours – but when we were working solely in education, we would often come across people who were funding, who would say, "would you fund this climate work?" And we would go, "No, we are not climate funders." And I think we were shocked. We were saying we weren't climate funders because we just had this view that billions – I mean, this is the biggest crisis facing humanity – clearly billions of governmental money, billions of corporate money must be going into this. And then to really realise actually that was not the case at all. You know, it was this no-go area that people were just not really funding in and that was quite a shock to us.
But the benefit was of course, was when we started looking at these organisations that we did want to fund, that our size of grants, which are usually between about £25,000 and £40,000 as a yearly grant, could really make a difference. And then over time, what we've done is really hone our strategy into how we can really make the most impact by giving that level of grant. Understanding where we would sit within this sector. And we realise that we sit in where small organisations can come to us and they're trying to prove their product. Basically, it's like getting a minimum viable product. So we help them along the journey and help them grow the capacity that they have. So get the governance, etc, in place so that they are in a position to go to the bigger funders like Esmee's (Esmee Fairbairn Foundation), the QCF’s, the CIFFs (Childrens Investment Fund Foundation). We're never going to be able to offer them funding that matches anywhere near that level of funding, but we can get them on their way. So we start very much at the small organisations: the people doing different stuff, the people that because we've gotten to know the sector so well, you can hear ideas and go, "oh yeah, do you know what, that's got a chance" or "their impact is incredible, so therefore it's worth the risk".
Sophie's highlighted that her motivation for financing climate was this realisation of the sheer lack of funding that is directed towards the sector. Historically, less than 2% of funding has gone into nature based solutions. Encouragingly, this has doubled over the past year or so, but it's still woefully short of what we need. Another reason for the increased focus towards climate related funding, in my experience, is this rising awareness that climate change and outcomes for people and nature are inextricably linked. For example, we cannot eradicate poverty without limiting temperature rise, given that climate change disproportionately affects the poorest people in the world. Even seemingly unrelated issues such as heart disease are linked due to the role air pollution plays in causing this disease. It's estimated that 62% of all climate related deaths are attributable to cardiovascular disease. And those focused on funding issues connected to youth and children may want to consider the impact on their mental health. With a recent survey of 10,000 students highlighting that over half reported feeling sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless and guilty over climate change. And 75% of them found the future frightening due to the world they are likely to inherit.
And given that virtually every area of funding has some intersection with climate change, this therefore means that it's possible to apply what we call a climate lens to your philanthropy, irrespective of the area you are funding. And there's some great resources out there for those who want to dig deeper into this: the Australian Environmental Grant Making Network – www.aegn.org.au – has an excellent section on applying a climate lens, and it's been developed, of course, for the Australian grant makers, but the general principles can easily be adopted for other countries. And closer to home here in Europe, Active Philanthropy have provided an excellent guide called 'Funding the Future: how the Climate Crisis Intersects with Your Giving'. I'd recommend both of those if you want to dig deeper into this area.
Last month, I spoke to Mary Rose Gunn, The fore, who I'm sure you know, and that's very similar approach to them. And one of the things that she was talking about which really resonated with me, because when I was reading your website, I saw this amazing statistic which I loved, which is 'last year you had 36, or invited 36 charities to apply for grant funding and you actually granted money to 33 of them'. And I think that's really amazing just because she was explaining to me how brutal the landscape is for those people who are trying to raise money and just how much of their time is taken in funding applications. And that really detracts them from delivering the projects that they set out to sort of deliver. So, could you just give us a little bit of context as to how you manage that funding process and why that's so successful?
So a book that we read across our trust, and Jake gave it to us actually in 2017, was a book called 'It Ain't What You Give, It's The Way That You Give' by Caroline Fines. And it was absolutely transformative for us. And I think as a funder, everyone, if I was the charity commission, I'd say "if you're setting up a foundation, you have to read that before you're allow to give a penny away". And that's because it talks about how much money as funders we waste because we are asking for more and more information.
We go for these long processes and during that time we are taking those committed people away from the work we actually want them to do to help on whatever they're working on. So in our case, we are against the clock in climate. So I don't want to spend a year deciding on a grant because that year is a year that that person is not working on their product and what they're trying to actually achieve. We were very strict. So that helped us think about our process – and we have a pretty simple application form. We also do our due diligence upfront. We do not take anyone through to a meeting, to a trustee meeting, unless we are 90% sure that we're going to fund them.
For us, we have two members of staff, they spend time up front, like having conversations with, something will come to us. We think it's a good idea. We go and have a quick conversation with them to find out whether they're in the ballpark of what we might fund. Once we've got to that point, we do all the checklist of are they the right type of governance organisation, etc, that we can fund them. And then only at that point would we say, you can fill in an application form. And then when we do that, we will work with them really to make sure that the application is something that the trustees are going to approve.
And I don't mean for them to say something that they're not. That's the process. We're really trying to work with them to make sure that actually it's something that will be successful in funding so that we have made sure that they've got the best chance of success. We're a very collaborative trust. We talk a lot to our trustees. There's very rarely any surprises.
Yeah, fantastic. And I did want to talk to you about collaboration. It links back to that point you've said about you look under the bonnet of climate and you're like "oh my God, this is so huge!", and I think one of the challenges specifically is that you've got people who are fighting against you, which you probably don't get in other sectors. So I'm thinking, for example, the amount of funding that goes into the big lobbying machines and how that can slow down policy and regulation and these small groups of people have got to collaborate and really stand up against that. And it's really important because I read something in the Guardian which was absolutely horrendous around lobbying, which is that at Cop 27 I think there were over 650 fossil fuel lobbyist delegates and that was more than the delegates from the top ten countries who are actually affected by climate, by climate change, by global warming. And we saw the same thing at Cop 15 where there was so much lobbying going on to sort of delay and block really important biodiversity progress. And I think Influence Map said only 5% of the support was actually positive at Cop 15. And that's all because people are lobbying and diluting and 'messaging down', etc. So, if we need to collaborate at scale within the philanthropy sector, can you just tell us how we do that or how you do it or how you think it will work?
Well, I think first of all, just to your point in terms of it is the amount of lobbying against or keeping the status quo because ultimately what we are pushing for in the sector is for change and for a lot of people they don't want that change, even though changes are happening, whether you like it or not. And that change could be big. And going back to my first point about how we fund, that's why we do fund often the natural climate solutions, because that's the bit where you don't literally hold your hands up, hold your head and go "oh my God, really? Is this really where we're at?". Knowing on an international basis, Tony Gutierrez saying "this is the climate decade" and then you've got governments approving, well, our government. 600 oil licences, and we know we cannot explore or extract one more drop of oil – we just can't. So it's painful. I can tell you, that's what I mean – you need to keep your spirits up in this sector. But what I would say is it's the most collaborative sector that I have ever worked in, so I think a lot of that lies at the feet of EFN, the Environmental Funder Network who've done an amazing job of bringing massively, diverse number of funders together and we meet quite regularly.
And through that we are in quite a number of little co funding cohorts. And often, if there is an organisation, who we think "oh my goodness, they need to get some money quickly", we will go off and find that funding for them. So we'll go and talk to other people who are in the sector. Also EFN do a rapid response fund, which you get lots of different people who will fund under one idea and then obviously if that organisation needs funding ongoing they'll come back to that cohort and see if they'll fund again or fund more etc. But unfortunately, still there is just not the money being deployed quickly enough and in comparison to that massive lobbying groups. It's David and Goliath going on.
Absolutely. And it sounds like sort of radical bold actions needed and you seem very up for that. So is that why you personally funded Extinction Rebellion? And can you just tell us a little bit about that journey to do that and then I am right in that, that you funded it personally rather than through the charity?
Yes, we funded it personally. Well it was quite extraordinary actually. So it was Jake, you met with, if you cast your mind back, which is quite hard actually, to 2018, where there were NGOs working in climate. But it was really very much underneath, so there was Friends of the Earth, there was WWF, there was probably Greenpeace who was a little more overt but generally it's all very much under this kind of very centre right feeling of "we don't really fund climate, we just fund a bit of it". Suddenly Extinction Rebellion (XR) burst onto the scene and I was getting emails from and I was thinking "what is this?", but thank goodness someone's doing something. Someone is properly stepping up here and I was actually very excited by it. Jake went to meet them and then said would I go and meet them. So I went and met them and then we decided between us, we would do an event that brought together lots of potential funders for XR. And we did two, big round circles, about 40 people in the room, and Gail Bradbrook and Skeena Rathor, who are co leaders of extinction rebellion, came and did a question and answer session.
And after the second one, we went to the pub and I had no idea what they were planning. Even if someone had actually told me what that rebellion in 2019 April 13 would have been like, I kind of wouldn't have believed them, I don't think. But she said we're going to do this thing, it's going to be really exciting. And I'd heard about the block in the Bridges in November 2018 and she said but we need this money. And I remember Jake just saying to me "can you raise it?" And I went "I can try!".
So we put in, I think I think we put £5000 in early and then we put in another £5000, and then I went to a couple of other philanthropists that I knew and just said, look, if you're in Climate, this feels like it's the most exciting thing that's happening. You can see that they're bold, they're excited, something big is going to happen as a result of it. And so I encouraged some more money in and we managed to raise £40,000, which I think was the difference between not having some of that incredible iconic imagery – the pink boat and all the stuff that happened on Waterloo Bridge – that sort of enabled some of that stuff to happen. But, I mean, if someone had said to me about it, maybe I wouldn't have funded it. I don't know.
Sometimes you just have to take a risk. Really, when you're funding at our stage of the kind of development of an idea, you have to take risk. You just go "this person looks like they can do something brilliant, let's just go with it", because we're not funding later on, when it is proven. Extinction Rebellion went on and got SIFT money and much other bigger funders involved. They always still need money. So don't think that I'm saying that they don't, and we still fund now. So it's important that that continues. But, yes, you have to take the risk at the time.
Yeah. And any criticism, I suppose, that comes from that, which has been a frustrating one, isn't it? Because it's been divisive. But can you tell me a little bit about The Big One, which almost feels like an evolution of 'XR' (extinction rebellion), the recent sort of protests in London?
Yeah, I was again really pleased to see this because I think through 2019, and then we went into lockdown and it became very hard for Extinction Rebellion, because obviously the tactics were very much about lots of people on the street and that could obviously no longer happen. It became 'how could they stay relevant?', and I think it's really you cannot expect any organisation, particularly one that developed the way that they did so quickly, to just continue – what is the next step? It's very hard, particularly they're based on distributed organising model, and that's quite hard to keep that going and keep that relevant and keep everyone still doing what they're supposed to. It's hard. So I think there's been conversations inside about how they stay relevant and I think this is a great way of doing it, which is becoming a convening organisation. Whether that stays like that for long, I don't know, but just for this particular four days, it was such a joy to see so many civil society organisations come together and picket Parliament and say, this really is important. And I went on the Friday, which was all the pickets outside the parliamentary department, but then the next day was the big biodiversity march.
So I also run an organisation called Mother's Climate Action Network, and this organisation. We were part of the parents group, and so there was lots of activities for kids and so on, so I was there doing that. But then we went on to this march and the march was so well attended that we had to stand for an hour and a half before we could even get going, because the people at the end were finishing by the time we hadn't even started. So it become like a gridlock. Do you know the most frustrating thing in that?
Not any media coverage.
They get so upset when someone goes and throws soup at the glass that protects a famous painting. They get outraged – "how disgraceful this could happen!" – well, then when there is a legal – but they can't stop themselves reporting on it, it's all over the place – then do something legal where you've got 60 to 70,000 people stepping up for something, which as again, is the biggest crisis facing humanity, and hardly a word on it. Hardly a word. There's no surprise that young people who are desperate because they're thinking about their future just say, "right, I'm going to do the thing that is actually going to get attention and I'm going to throw some soup at Van Gogh." I'm absolutely stunned at the complicity of the media industry. It's a disgrace. It's absolute disgrace.
I did want to talk to you about that and it was sort of related to a little bit to the lack of funding and the role that the media perhaps does play in that. Because if you look at, for example, the floods in Pakistan, where you had 33 million people displaced, we've still got over 5 million people who are relying on contaminated water and water from wells and ponds, because the floods basically destroyed the water system. And we hear absolutely nothing about it in the UK. There's no reporting on it, or very little reporting on it. Is there anything that you've been funding aside from, obviously, the big movement piece around 'XR' (Extinction Rebellion), but something around the media blackouts? I had the similar conversation with Alexander Chapman from Ethiopiaid, because they have the same problem that there's no financing and no coverage of what's going on in that country.
We fund an organisation called Citizens UK. They are organisers. They came to us two years ago and I was a bit like, "what are these people coming to talk to us about? They're like a bunch of faith groups and whatever". Well, they came to us and said, in the mayoral hustings for the London mayor, they do three pledges, which is part of their mandate. And then they say and the third one, for the first time ever, was Climate. And I said, "Goodness me, how did you manage that?" And Daniel, who is from Citizens UK, said to me, "By not mentioning the word 'Climate'. What we said was the question we posed was, 'do you want clean jobs? Do you want clean air? Do you want warm homes?'" No one is going to say. No, I don't want any of those. So what we've been really failed to do in the climate sector is make it relatable, to make this crisis relatable. The co-benefits to climate action are just massive. They're massive. So if we just even think of those three: properly insulated homes, clean air, good clean jobs in renewable energy. Those jobs that you can really be proud of. That's the way we need to be talking about this, not using these abstract terms that people just don't understand and can't relate to. And can very easily shut off from. So yes, in answer to your question, yes, we don't specifically fund in the media, but we do fund communicators. Like, we found an excellent organisation called Heard, who work with broadcasters and print media to talk about how you talk about climate in a way that people will listen. And Heard particularly does a lot of spokesperson narrative training to help people who are talking in this this field. To talk about what is important and not get caught, not get hung up on individual actions and not get hung up on scientific targets, because while they're important, it just switches everybody off.
[The podcast includes an extract from a previously recorded interview with Chris Packham, sourced via YouTube]
We're in Trafalgar Square. I'm making a documentary for Channel Four about the future of climate protesting. Is it working? If it isn't working, what are we going to do? Because we need to find a solution, basically. And is protest a part of that solution? Where should we go? How disruptive do we have to be? So it's an important question. A challenging question. And I want to see it from the front line. So I've come down to this Just Stop Oil protest. They've just finished. They were in the Strand. I guess they were on the road for about 15, maybe 20 minutes, before the police decided that the protest was too disruptive. And they issued what they call a Section Twelve. This gives them the capacity to ask the protester to leave the road. If they don't, they can arrest them under the Public Order Act. As it was, it was all very amicable. The police said, "Would you leave?" and everyone stepped out of the road. And they're just behind me now, regrouping, thinking about what to do next.
What's your view of the direct action groups like Just Stop Oil are taking? In this case, it was a slow march right down the strands, but in other instances, it has been more disruptive.
Well, look, a few weeks ago, I was here in London at a rally called The Big One, organised by Extinction Rebellion and lots of others. So there were 60,000 people here in London. It was a very friendly atmosphere, family friendly. We're playing birdsong, fancy dress, colourful banners. It was entry level activism. 60,000 people in London got no media attention at all. Nothing. Nothing on the mainstream media websites. The Times, I think, were the only people that gave it any space. As soon as the disruption, you and I are having a conversation. There seems to be a direct link between disruption and getting media attention. Why do we want the media attention? Because we need it to tell the story. That's what it's about. That's why people are throwing soup over famous paintings. They want the opportunity to say, we're in deep shit and we need to get out of it. And the way out of it is to stop exploiting fossil fuels. And that has to happen far more rapidly than our governments are making it happen now.
Just finally, Chris, a word for the commuters, the drivers, the workers who are inconvenienced by this protest, some of whom, I'm sure, are pretty angry about what's just happened. What's your message for them?
We all sympathise with the disruption that this causes. The fact that you might be late for work, taking your kids to school. Stories of ambulances being blocked are, I think, grossly exaggerated by some of the media. Whenever there's a situation of crisis like that, these guys let people through on every occasion. I've seen that happening personally, there's no doubt about that. But look, what is an inconvenience of five or ten minutes for you today, is nothing compared to the inconvenience that's being felt as I speak in the global south, where temperatures are hitting record highs. People are dying of thirst, they're dying of hunger. They're migrating from one part of the world to another. In other parts of the world – Alberta at the moment, huge swathes of Alberta in Canada are on fire. It's damaging massive tracks of important ecosystems. It's burning people's houses, ruining their business, their education. Climate change is hurting those people more than it's hurting a five minute delay in London. This is a very minor inconvenience compared to what's already being suffered by some, and we will be suffering soon. And the one message I have to all of those who are inconvenience is that you clearly may not agree with the methods of people like Just Stop Oil, but please stop for just a moment and think about what motivates them. What's made them get out of bed, come here, be alienated, get shouted at, potentially get arrested, potentially get locked up or in prison? What's motivated them to do that? Fear. Fear for all of our futures.
It's so interesting to hear Chris Packham echo many of Sophie's comments, especially about the media blackout of the Big One. He really gets to the heart of the issue, and that is that we need to look beyond the actions of climate activists who have been likened to suffragettes and identify with what motivates them. Even if we don't agree with their methods, there is alignment with their motivation, and that is to ensure that we leave a world fit for the next generation. Now, funding nonviolent direct action groups is not for everyone, and I'm not advocating for this, but I can understand why, in the face of inaction, people feel compelled to take this route. If this really isn't your thing, though, there are loads of ways to get involved in climate funding that can create systemic change, such as policy advocacy, strategic litigation and anti lobbying. All of these areas, Client Earth on climate litigation, and Influence Map on lobbying, for example, are extraordinary organisations who are making a huge difference. What unites them is that they wouldn't exist without philanthropic funding. And climate litigation in the absence of current government intervention is a really important tool, in my opinion, in our fight against climate change. And if you want to learn more about this, I would really recommend you give Jason Mitchell's podcast ‘A Sustainable Future, a listen. In one of the episodes, Jason talks to the rather brilliant Amy Rose at Client Earth. Give it a listen on your morning run, your dog walk or wherever you consume your podcast. It's well worth the half hour.
Exactly. And just related to your investment strategy, because most charities or philanthropists will give around three, four, 5% of their assets away each year. Now, you've taken a different decision, which is in line with the fact that we need to halve global emissions within the next six years or 80 months, which is a sort of sobering statistic in itself. You've decided to just spend through the whole foundation rapidly. But just in terms of the underlying investments that you're making during that period, can you just talk to us about how important it is to look at those from a sort of climate perspective on what you've been doing?
Well, it's for anybody who's giving money, grant giving. Anybody. If you are trying to, fund an addiction, don't give money to tobacco and gambling company, don't invest in them because it's the same thing. You're just basically giving on one hand and then taking away with the other. And so our view very much in climate was that you do not want to be funding in fossil fuel. Somebody that I was speaking to was saying that if you're giving away like 5% of your income, then that means 19 times of what you're giving away is what's in your investments. That means 19 times more money is sitting in that investment portfolio. What I would hope you would do, though, is look at that large investment portfolio and say, "now, I'm going to do the best I possibly can with that portfolio. I'm going to divest from all fossil fuels, first of all. But I'm also going to think about what actually does the planet need?" Invest where people need the money. There are enough opportunities, but you do have to probably work a little bit harder. You also go to good managers. You've got to go to the places that know what they're doing. But that's where everyone should be going.
Yeah. And just to give you a little bit of hope, I don't know if you know, but we're the largest manager of charitable assets in the UK, we have about 10 billion, and 95% of the new mandates that come to us are sustainable investment mandates which are about exactly what you're talking about. I mean, I think that's sort of really at the heart of the sort of Richard Curtis, another massive philanthropist, his public awareness – Make My Money Matter campaign – which is this is about everyone. People's pensions are invested in these assets that are destroying their future, but nobody knows about it. People don't think about it. So it's a great point.
Finally, we're wrapping up now. It's been fantastic to hear your insights, but what would be your top two or three things that you'd recommend to someone right now? So if someone's listening, they're either currently funding something or they're about to get started in philanthropy and they're really interested in going about climate funding. What would be your sort of top few tips to them?
So my first one is if you want to funding climate, join the Environmental Funders Network (EFN). They are an incredible resource, they are sector wide. They're brilliant. It's a great way to network to find out more. I'd say that would be my first one.
My second one would be to get help, actually. The Environmental Funnels Network will give you quite a good grounding, but if you have more than about £100,000 to grant give, this can be an overwhelming sector and the last thing you want to do is stop what you're doing because you think I can't cope. So there are resources out there. One of the organisations that I work with is called Inpatients Earth and they actually offer pro bono advice and they will take you, a bit like Jake did with me, on a learning journey and really help you get under the skin of where your interest lies and then give you the confidence to go out, and grant-give that in that field. So that would be my second one. And within that 'get help', the other thing I would say is get staff. If you have more than probably a couple of hundred thousand pounds, when I say get help, literally, if you're doing it yourself – we're not a massive fund, we started off with 10 million and we're going up – we have two members of staff. The best thing we did was get two members, two brilliant members of staff, actually.
And then my third thing is the thing that you said earlier, which was about your investments. It's like, don't just do philanthropy. Look at your investments. That is what your investment managers are there for and they are opaque and if they won't talk to you about it or they're dismissive, go and find someone else. It's your money. It's your choice. And the amount of people who just stay with their investment managers because they've been with them forever, tell them to improve or go and find someone else. We don't have the time. And there's so many assets under management, sitting with fossil fuels. We've got so many banks who are prepared to fund fossil fuels. And this is my future, this is my kids futures. This is your kids futures. We are getting to crunch time now.
We are. We are six years out, aren't we? Like I we said, Sophie, that's been fantastic. And if someone's listening to this and they're like, I really want to fund climate. And we've talked about this need for collaboration as well. And what I think is really important is that people who are coming into the sector learn from people like you, who've gone through a very painful, I'm sure, difficult few years, and there's many others like you. How do they sort of piggyback off the work of great foundations such as yours, or Quadratures (Quadrature Climate Foundation), Thirty Percy's (Thirty Percy).
So, Gower Street, all of our funding on our grants, most of them are on our website. I think they're all on our website, actually. And we're also on 360 Giving, so you can see who we're funding. That's the same with most of the more established funding organisations in the sector who are funding the smaller organisations, so you can see who they're funding. The great thing about this sector, it's so collaborative. You can just pick up the phone. So really pick up the phone, get in touch with me, get in touch with Sally or Tessa who works with us, and ask about them. We are so happy to give you very movement generous. So we will talk you through it, we will introduce you, we'll make contacts, anything that you need will do. So that's the first thing. Secondly, generally, as a sector, it's very collaborative. People are very generous with their time. Phone up, whoever it is that you see, I will need to know more about them. I need to know more. I want to know why you grant. They will help. And the third thing, I was also going to say, and it's a little bit off the thing, but it's also about saying, about ways of getting into this sector, there are also, as well as inpatient services, there's also other coming together in a cohort of people funding together. Active Philanthropy is another organisation that does a course that you can go on, which I'm part of, and again, that can give you a very good grounding. It will put you in a cohort of people who will start funding together. And just funding together makes it more interesting, it makes it more fun, it just gives it a better experience and you've got much more chance of it actually being impactful.
Thank you for bearing with us on this podcast. I know it's been long, but as I said at the beginning, it is the Big One. But for me, I also found it an uncomfortable episode. Sophie really doesn't pull any punches. You can hear from her the frustration and the despair, particularly when we discuss the lobbying movement, the David and Goliath that philanthropists face. But that said, what struck me is that sheer openness and willingness to collaborate, how you need to fund areas that really align with your interest and just how important and it is to fund something that you love that, as Sophie says, recharges you. Next up on practical philanthropy, we are going back to our roots, where we look at giving back to your local community. Goodbye for now. Until then, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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