Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Environmental Grants Awarded

At The Overbrook Foundation’s Fall Board Meeting, our Board of Directors approved seven grants to be awarded through the Foundation’s Environment Program. 

All seven of these organizations have been previously supported by the Foundation, and with these grants, the Directors have renewed their commitment to the organizations and their missions.

The Overbrook Foundation will award $45,000 to Nature & Culture International for its "Conservation Find for the Establishment and Management of Protected Areas by Municipal Governments in Southern Ecuador." NCI spearheaded the idea of payments for ecosystem services in Ecuador and successfully established a water fund in Lojas, whereby upstream communities are compensated for forest conservation so that downstream urban residents are guaranteed clean drinking water. This win–win proposition is now being expanded into several other municipalities in Ecuador and is a promising tool for ensuring the conservation of some of the world’s most diverse yet highly threatened biodiversity. 
The New York Botanical Garden will receive $50,000 for its "Professional Woodsmen for Managed Forests in Amazonian Brazil” initiative. The program helps training courses for woodsmen ("mateiros") in the Brazilian Amazon, which has already graduated dozens of local community members. These woodsmen are trained to distinguish rare and endangered tree species, and are an important counter to the larger timber companies that either misidentify or lump together endangered with non-endangered tree species. 
The Story of Stuff Project will receive $40,000 to continue its groundbreaking work examining our relationship with mass consumption and production through its innovative lens. It will produce and distribute two animated movies - The Story of Change and The Story of Solutions, produce and release several PSA-length animated videos, and produce a monthly audio podcast called The Good Stuff. Check it out!

The Overbrook Foundation will give $30,000 to GAIA (the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives) for its programs in the United States and Canada. A truly global grassroots organization, its has seen successes from Malaysia to South Africa to Argentina. In the coming year, GAIA will convene its first Cities Meeting in San Fransisco, using its success as a "Zero Waste" city as inspiration. GAIA will also release a comprehensive report on recycling-worker health and safety. In New York City, GAIA will share its expertise with City government and rally against 'waste-to-energy' incineration plants, currently being explored by the City as a landfill alternative. 

The Overbrook Foundation will award $40,000 to Urban Green as it continues to expand its operations in New York City. Urban Green is just over 10 years old, but has already grown to over 1,000 members and 50 corporate sponsors. It founded the NYC Green Codes Task Force, which released its report in 2011 and has already had 30 of its 111 recommendations enacted into law. Urban green also organizes several certification programs and acts as the official provider of USGBC LEED workshops in NYC.  law.

Island Press will receive $25,000 to continue its work publishing and disseminating new ideas and tools for environmental problem solving. Its Fall 2012 publishing line-up includes: Corporation 2020; Good Urbanism; Reshaping Metropolitan America; and Transport Beyond Oil. Island Press is also continuing to expand its E-ssentials program, digital-only works that are easily downloadable and short enough to be read in a few hours.
In all, the Overbrook Foundation’s Environmental Program, as directed by the Board, awarded a total of $260,000 in grants.  

As always, you can learn more about these grantees on their websites by clicking on their names in this post. Congratulations to these grantees and we look forward to their work promoting rainforest protection and sustainable consumption in the year to come!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Rainforest Alliance in the Wall Street Journal

The Rainforest Alliance and Tensie Whelan - its executive director - were featured in the Wall Street Journal on October 3rd. The article can be found here.

The article's author goes on a shopping tour with Tensie at the Union Square Whole Foods market, where she helps demystify the varied and ubiquitous terms we see everyday - from the more substantiated 'fair trade' and 'USDA 100% organic' - to the vaguer 'whole grains' and 'heart healthy.' And of course, she pointed out the Rainforest Alliance's iconic 'blue frog' located on many products, from chocolate to coffee to fruit. Ms. Whelan also noted the Rainforest Alliance's multiple recent victories, from signing on Lipton, which buys 12% of the world's tea, to certifying the first sustainable cattle program.

Even The Wall Street Journal had be impressed by that.

Monday, September 24, 2012

We're All Urban Planners?

Ioby, one of Overbrook's grantees, is the star feature of an article in Forefront, a publication of The Next American City organization. Entitled "When We're All Urban Planners," the article considers the fast-developing crossroads of urban planning, crowd sourcing, new media, and the role - small or large - we all soon could play in the development of our cities.

As municipal governments face increasing pressure both on their budgets and to be more responsive to their communities, several tools have emerged to fill the gap. One example is Neighborly, a software offering information and crowdsourcing for major planning projects proposed by cities and civic organizations. Another is city-sponsored crowdsourcing: Change by Us NYC, which awards grants to small projects. On the more technical end, there's SeeClickFix, which routes reports of potholes and other minor mishaps to the appropriate government office. But foremost in the article's analysis was ioby, which it highlighted as an organization that has managed to successfully combine community participation, small-scale projects, and a metric-focused online platform.And not only has it raised over $100,000 for projects since 2009, it has now gone national.

The article also noted the concerns raised by some that these online efforts would lead to a shifting of responsibility by municipalities. If individuals could identify and raise money to address issues like fixing potholes or building rec centers, would other traditional government roles would become community burdens?

Still, the possibilities from combining a refocus on community-level projects with new online methods for increasing communication and fundraising vastly outweigh their potential drawbacks. Certainly, Nuala Gallagher would agree - ioby helped her raise $6,200 for a chicken coop for Cypress Hill Verde. The community improvement group can now grow chickens and provide free eggs and protein to a neighborhood categorized as a 'food desert.' The project might not make headlines, but for the individuals who contributed and the individuals who will benefit, it matters a very great deal.And for a world increasingly tech-savvy yet fragmented, it may mean we can become involved in our community's development in a way never before possible; we can become our cities own urban planners. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Time to Face the Music

The Gibson Guitar Corporation was fined $600,000 this month by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for its use of tropical hardwoods, in violation of the Lacey Act.

The Environmental Investigations Agency (EIA), an Overbrook grantee, conducted on-the-ground investigations of Gibson's activities in 2008 and 2009, the findings of which resulted in a criminal investigation by the DOJ. Gibson had been purchasing hardwoods from the forests of Madagascar for the production of its instruments, knowing that the sale violated local laws as well as the Lacey Act.

The Act itself dates back to 1900, but was expanded in 2008 to cover more species, uphold other countries' conservation laws as well as those of the U.S., and provide for more stringent penalties. The revisions were met with strong opposition by conservatives in Congress, but nonetheless passed and have proven not only to be effective (illegal logging is down 22% globally), but possessed of enforcement teeth.

In Gibson's case, EIA's initial investigation led to raids by federal authorities, where illegally harvested rosewood and ebony were discovered. Gibson's admission of guilt in 2011 led to imposition of several fines, and has been a highly-publicized example of the U.S. government holding a corporation to task for violation of international conservation laws. This, in an era of increasing antipathy to environmental regulations of any sort, is an important victory for the environmental community, and will hopefully encourage other importers of wood and plant species to whistle a more sustainable tune.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Story of Change Released!

Overbrook grantee, The Story of Stuff Project, has released its new video, "The Story of Change." It examines changemaking throughout history, and encourages individuals to think not only about change in their individual lives (e.g. I'm going organic, or I'm recycling), but about how they can effect change in our communities.

The Story of Stuff's first video, "The Story of Stuff" received over 20 million views, and its founder Annie Leonard has become a leading advocate for changing the way we think about - and act within - our current consumer production and consumption models.

The press release can be read here, and the video can be viewed here.

Monday, July 30, 2012

YouTube's New Face-Blurring Tool: An Important Step for User Privacy and Safety

Last week YouTube announced the release of a new tool that will allow users to obscure people’s faces in the videos they have uploaded to the video-sharing platform.  By simply pushing a button in your settings to upload and post videos, you can now opt to protect the anonymity of individuals or crowds by blurring their faces from outside recognition.  YouTube has blogged about the new feature and how use it for those interested in the how to use the tool. 

The use of technology in the form of cell phones, video, social media and more have been such important tools for growing human rights work.  However, these advances come with associated safety costs. When individuals choose to post videos that expose and document protests, human rights abuses or interviews with advocates, they are often putting themselves at risk.  We have seen governments and non-state actors targeting human rights advocates who appear in videos that may challenge the powerful in a given society.  Monitoring video and other forms of technology has provided governments and others with data on protesters or human rights advocates giving them the capacity to arrest or target human rights defenders.  As a result, YouTube’s new tool has enormous potential to protect human rights defenders and citizen activists, while still allowing them to take advantage of the valuable opportunity to share important footage across the world.   

Through its Cameras Everywhere Report’s recommendations and its advocacy work, WITNESS has used its role as a leading human rights video advocacy to urge tech companies, including YouTube, to provide better policies and technologies to ensure privacy for those using their platforms.  The report highlighted the fact that no video-sharing platforms provided anonymity features to users.  Now after hard work by groups like WITNESS to achieve this shift and the leadership of groups like YouTube, this reality is beginning to change. This advocacy strategy presents an interesting approach to defending human rights defenders because the role of tech companies in impacting individuals’ rights to information and privacy continues to grow.  We believe these victories and partnerships are extremely important to the future of human rights activism and the safety of those advocating for human rights accountability. 

Some related articles sent to us by WITNESS are found in The Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Mashable, Fast Company, Ars Technica, Global Voices Advocacy and The New York Times. And, here is WITNESS's blog post on the subject if you are interested in this tool and WITNESS’s complimentary work. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Want Less Waste, or Not?

United State of Waste
We are surrounded by our waste - at least, our future waste. Even if we pride ourselves on recycling our soda cans or finishing the remains of our Chinese food to avoid throwing it out, we generate it in ever-increasing numbers. New York City residents produce about 12,000 tonnes of waste each day - that's the rough equivalent of 3000 elephants - and we recycle only about 17% of it. The United States as whole generates more than 50% of the world's solid waste. And the waste we produce keeps getting more toxic and less biodegradable.

So where does it go?
Once that garbage is sent down the chute, or finally stops smelling up the sidewalk on a hot July day, there are a limited number of places the waste can go. It can go to a landfill, where, if unregulated, the waste decomposes, produces methane, and can potentially leach toxic chemicals into the ground and into neighborhoods. 
The garbage can be sent to incinerators or "Waste 2 Energy" plants. While technology has vastly improved since the traditional 'just burn it' approach, it is impossible for the incinerators to fully capture all the smoke, ash, and chemicals released. 
Members of the Overbrook grantee network Gaia (the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives) have made a movie called "Trashed" - viewable here - which highlights the potential dangers of these kinds of incinerators. In another, it highlights how oceans are now home to vast plastic particle soups; so contaminated that marine life is having trouble reproducing. 

So what can we do?
We've all heard a hundred ways to improve the situation: bring your own bag to the supermarket. Reuse glass containers. Buy vintage! While individual actions do go a long way, it is obvious that more must be done, and on a larger-scale. 
For example, to reduce the waste that we do produce, San Francisco has pioneered a "Zero Waste" campaign where almost nothing is sent to either landfills or incinerators. 
We also need increased transparency by businesses and awareness by consumers of the chemical compounds that coat most products - and the effects they can have on our bodies. 
And besides innovative re-imaginings for packaging - like this use of fungus, we also need to re-package the way industry is responsible for and deals with its waste - a challenge Overbrook grantee the Product Stewardship Institute is currently tacking. 

And knowing that one day soon: there will be nowhere to waste-away: it will come back home to us.

Monday, June 25, 2012

IOBY Now in YOUR Backyard

Ioby, Overbrook grantee and the crowd-sourced online platform for local environmental projects in New York City, is going national. Founded in 2009 by three friends looking to change the world, one city block at a time, ioby has since channeled over $250,000 to projects ranging from community gardens to park cleanups to solar powered film series.

The difference between ioby and other fundraising sites is its scale: $980 is the average amount raised per project. Smaller donations mean more individuals can participate: potential project developers need not worry their project is too small to attract interest, and potential donors know that even $20 will make a measurable difference. Ioby also helps foster a sense of community by focusing on local projects funded by local donors; being able to see the garden grow, literally in your backyard, can deliver a more potent sense of empowerment than contributing to a  global campaign.

Ioby's success in New York City has also allowed it to expand: it recently launched nationwide. Now citizens in Boise as well as the Bronx, Staten Island and Sante Fe, can raise money and contribute to local projects.

You can watch a short video of ioby co-founders Erin Barnes and Brandon Whitney here. And check out ioby's progress (and maybe even fund a project!) here:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

On The Media in Mexico

While we will be covering this in more detail in the next week, we wanted to let you all know that On the Media’s Brook Gladstone and Sarah Abdurrahman, and WNYC’s Marianne McCune are in Mexico for a special trip to report on the Mexican press. This is timely moment to cover as the press, social media users and others turn their attention to the upcoming presidential election in Mexico. OTM plans to explore the media's coverage of the election, the power of the #YoSoy132 movement pushing for democracy and media reform, the structure of the Mexican media, and the threats Mexican journalists face for engaging in their work.  

In the weeks leading up to the program, you can follow the OTM team by listening to Brooke’s interview with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer, reading blog updates on the OTM website, or following @onthemedia or the hash tag #otminmexico. Already, the team has reported on their experience in a large political protest in Mexico City. Stay tuned for more updates on the project! This special program will air the weekend of June 23-24 in most locations.*  For those of you in New York, it airs on WNYC on Saturdays at 7 AM and Sundays at 10 AM.  If you miss it in real time, you can also always download the podcast or stream it online at www.onthemedia.org.  

Overbrook is proud to support this trip because of our belief in the importance of the work of Mexican journalists to bring human rights issues to light and the quality analysis of domestic and international media by the On the Media team. We suggest you all tune in this weekend to learn a little bit more about the state of the media for our neighbors to the south!

*An earlier version of this blog post suggested that the program on Mexico would be the June 15, 2012 episode rather than airing the following week.  

Monday, June 18, 2012

Overbrook grantee helps block mega-development near UNESCO-recognized marine park

In a victory for the conservationist community and the fragile marine ecosystem in Cabo Pulma, President Felipe Calderon of Mexico announced last week that a controversial mega-development project in the area would not go forward.

The proposed $2 billion construction project envisioned 490 boat slips, two golf courses, seven hotels with 27,000 guestrooms for tourists and 5,000 worker residences, all within a short distance from the Cabo Pulma marine park. The 17,000+ acre park was designated off-limits to fishing in 1995, and has seen a 460% increase in marine life over the last 10 years.

Environmental organizations, including Pronatura Noroeste, one of Overbrook's grantees, fought vigorously against the proposal, claiming that Hansa Urbana SA, the firm behind the project, could not show that it would not have a significant negative effect on the UNESCO-recognized marine park.

On June 14, President Calderon acknowledged these concerns, as well as the petition signed by over 220,000 Mexican citizens, and withdrew the provisional permits granted to Hansa in 2008. As Patricia Arendar, the head of Greenpeace Mexico, puts it: "canceling Cabo Cortes is a triumph for Mexicans who raised their voice to demand that the president . . . stop favoring the interests of plundering businesses." It's also a triumph for the 20,000 year-old Cabo Pulma marine park, which was recognized by the Scripps Institution as "the world's most robust marine reserve."

Viva los peces!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Human Rights Grants Awarded at The Overbrook Foundation's June Board Meeting

The Overbrook Foundation’s Board of Directors met for the June Board meeting and voted to award eighteen grants through the Foundation’s Human Rights program.  The Board will award a total of $715,000 in grants to a range of legal and policy advocacy, media, and service-providing organizations operating in the US and Latin America.
Four of these grantees will continue their work to strengthen a domestic human rights movement.  Facing History and Ourselves will receive $20,000 grant for the Promoting Human Rights Education in Secondary Schools.  The Innocence Project and The New York Civil Liberties Union will each receive $40,000 grants. In the case of the NYCLU, this grant will be used for the organization’s incorporation of a human rights framework into their efforts to advance civil liberties.  The Innocence Project will continue in its work to exonerate those wrongfully convicted and to use these cases to inform criminal justice reform policy.  As in the past, the Urban Justice Center’s Human Rights Project and Sex Workers Project  will receive grants totaling $55,000.
In 2012, Overbrook will continue to offer grants to Freedom to Marry and Lambda Legal for their work to promote marriage equality in the US.  The organizations will be given grants of $45000 and $70000 respectively.
The Foundation renews its commitment to Reproductive Justice through awarding a grant of $45,000 to Advocates for Youth and $30,000 to Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program.  Additionally, a $25,000 grant will be awarded to Forward Together for the organization’s 2012 Strong Families Summit.
Supporting media as a means for promoting democratic discourse has also been a priority to the Foundation.  In June, Overbrook will extend this commitment with a $35,000 grant to Mother Jones’ Human Rights Journalism Project and $50,000 grant for NPR's Coverage of the Environment and Human Rights.  WNYC’s On the Media will receive $55,000 for its programs over the next year and in particular the show’s trip to Mexico.
As defenders of human rights defenders, Peace Brigades International will receive a $30,000 grant for protecting Human Rights Defenders in Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia. The Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights – Latin America’s grant for general operating support will also be renewed at $40,000. WITNESS’s programs for Video Advocacy in the Americas will be awarded $45,000 to continue this important work to support human rights defenders’ safety and advocacy campaigns.
The Foundation’s priority to support Reproductive Rights in Latin America will be advanced through three grants. First, the Human Rights Center at University of Chile Law School will receive $50,000 grant for its 2012 International Human Rights Fellowship Program.  Second, a $40,000 grant will be awarded to International Planned Parenthood Federation Western Hemisphere Region.  Finally, Women’s Link Worldwide will receive a grant of $25,000 for its work in Latin America as the organization’s first grant from the Foundation.
We would like to congratulate these organizations on their fine work to advance human rights and we look forward to see the exciting progress they make on these projects over the next year. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Environmental Grants Awarded

At The Overbrook Foundation’s Summer Board Meeting, our Board of Directors approved eight grants to be awarded through the Foundation’s Environmental Program. 

All eight of these organizations have been previously supported by the Foundation, and with these grants, the Directors have renewed their commitment to the organizations and their missions.

The Overbrook Foundation will award $35,000 to Earthworks for its "No Dirty Gold Campaign." The campaign is a market-based effort aimed at bring responsible practices to the mining industry. Its successes include preventing the opening of a gold mine in Yellowstone National Park and helping to stop oil development in Yosemite National Park.
The Environmental Investigations Agency (EIA) will receive $55,000 for its efforts in reporting on, and helping to enforce, the Lacey Act. The Act forbids trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported or sold, and allows for civil and criminal prosecution for such violations. EIA will use the grant award primarily to bolster investigations related to illegal wood sourcing in Latin America.

$70,000 will be awarded to Fundacion Cordillera Tropical for its work with Ecuadorian communities in the area near southern Sangay National Park. The Foundation is dedicated to empowering local communities to sustainably manage natural resources, and will use the grant money to develop and implement payment for ecological services in the Dudas watershed region. 

The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) will receive $40,000 for its campaign to convince Cargill - a multinational production and marketing company - to adopt stricter palm oil safeguards by October 2013. RAN hopes that such adoption will convince other companies to follow suit, and thus help reduce the high social and environmental harms of the current palm oil trade, especially in areas of tropical forests.

Clean Production Action (CAP), an entrepreneurial NGO, will use the $60,000 grant from the Overbrook Foundation to scale-up its GreenScreen (GS) and BizNGO programs.  GS is currently the leading application for identifying safer chemicals, and BizNGO is part of a multi-stakeholder effort to increase sustainability and safety in the chemical, plastics, and materials sectors.

$20,000 will be awarded to the Green Press Initiative (GPI), an initiative committed to reducing the environmental impacts of the paper and pulp industries. The award will be spent with a view to reaching the 2012 treatise paper-related benchmarks of 30% recycled/ 20% Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified (the industry is now at 24% and 16%, respectively). GPI will also continue its partnership with the Environmental Paper Network (EPN) to finalize a carbon accounting methodology.

The Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) will receive a $35,000 grant for its "Don't Waste LA" project. This initiative aims to transform the waste and recycling industry in LA and other cities in LA County and create a model for sustainable waste management for the U.S., and is part of LAANE's broader efforts to transform conditions in underserved neighborhoods. The award will also be spent on developing a competitive franchise policy that maximizes recycling and establishes safety, labor and environmental standards for hauling and processing facilities.

Finally, $20,000 will be awarded to the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) for its efforts to bring together diverse stakeholders in the product stewardship arena and create a more comprehensive and effective set of policies and initiatives.
In all, the Overbrook Foundation’s Environmental Program, as directed by the Board, awarded a total of $360,000 in grants.  

As always, you can learn more about these grantees on their websites by clicking on their names in this post. Congratulations to these grantees and we look forward to their work promoting rainforest protection and sustainable consumption in the year to come!

Dialing C for Carbon Offset

The Surui tribe in Brazil recently became the first indigenous community to receive independent authentication of a carbon offset project.Developed over four years in conjunction with Google Earth Outreach, the project employed Android phones to help map the Surui's rainforest lands and measure itscorresponding carbon stocks.

The Surui Chief Almir Naramagoya Surui first contacted Google Earth in 2008, requesting access to available technology to address the rampant logging in the area. With the "Open Data Kit" for Android phones provided by Google Earth, they were then able to both photograph the illegal logging, and collect data on the carbon captured by remaining rainforest stocks. 

They then used this information to apply for carbon credit certification through both the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) Gold Standard. The tribe will now be able to sell and trade the carbon offsets on the global carbon market, and use the money earned to reinvest in protecting their homeland.

The voluntary carbon market is a slow-growing, but potentially vast market, where organizations, businesses, and even individuals can purchase carbon credits to offset their own emissions. The entrance by the Surui into the carbon market represents an important step in including not just large renewable energy projects and producers, but smaller communities that can protect existing ecosystems from further degradation. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

First Circuit Court Upholds Ruling that DOMA is Unconstitutional

Today marks another successful step towards dismantling the federal ban on marriage equality as the First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. A unanimous decision from a three-judge panel ruled that DOMA denies same-sex married couples the federal rights and privileges afforded to heterosexual couples across the United States despite the recognition of same-sex marriages in certain states. This decision responds to two cases; one brought by the state of Massachusetts and the other, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, by Overbrook Grantee Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD).

GLAD is a New England-based organization using legal advocacy to fight discrimination against Americans based on sexual orientation, HIV status and gender identity and expression. The Overbrook Foundation specifically supports the organization for its work to challenge the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. Today’s decision is a victory for the movement to advance the freedom to marry in the United States. It is another important step as the momentum of support for same-sex marriage only continues to expand in 2011 and 2012.

While, as reporters, advocates and allies have recognized, this is only the first decision in the federal appeals process for the cases. Nevertheless, it does represent one more step towards these cases reaching the Supreme Court and the eventuality of the highest court ruling on the constitutionality of DOMA. Beyond advocacy work on the state-level to recognize and allow same-sex marriage, repealing DOMA continues to be an extremely important objective for the movement. We are proud to support GLAD as it continues with its excellent legal work and its determination to eventually eliminate this discriminatory federal law.

For more information, GLAD has published a press release and the court’s written decision after the case was decided. Mainstream media outlets, such as the New York Times, have also picked up this news of this decision and I am sure there will be more opinion and news coverage in the next few days.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

New 2011 Catalyst Fund Evaluation Released

The Overbrook Foundation’s grantee, the Catalyst Fund, has released its annual evaluation (conducted by Korwin Consulting) of the fund’s activities and those of its partners and grantees in 2011. This report provides an analysis of the work of the Catalyst Fund to expand the amount of available funds going to support grassroots Women of Color-led reproductive justice organizations. In doing so, the report also provides a sense of the challenges and opportunities facing the reproductive justice field as a whole across the country. It explains the diminishing funds going to support this work even though the impact of the groups has been higher in 2011.

The report lays out the model for the fund. 26 national foundations support Catalyst which then gives grants to 12 women’s foundations around the country. In turn, these women’s foundations must raise the money to match the grant from Catalyst and then use both of these amounts to grant to 96 grassroots reproductive justice groups. In spite of the economic downturn, the Catalyst Fund has encouraged donors, including many individual donors, to move $8.6 million in new money to support the reproductive justice field since 2008.

Beyond the explanation of this exciting funding mechanism this gives a great overview of the reproductive justice movement and the field. It introduces the issues being addressed by these groups (ranging from abortion access to parenting rights to environmental justice) and the communities being served. It also reports the number of organizations that are engaging in different strategies like alliance building, policy advocacy, community organizing and more.  As the report states, “Collectively, Catalyst grantees in 2011 were instrumental in the passage of 10 laws and 10 non-legislative policies while blocking passage of 28 harmful new laws and protecting two existing policies from repeal.” The evaluation also addresses the challenges to the fund’s work and in the field as a whole. It highlights the fund raising, communications and capacity difficulties for the groups as well as the current political environment which can be both helpful and harmful to their efforts.

In addition to the quantitative data on policy victories, opinion leaders influenced and alliances built, qualitative interviews and stories of the grassroots groups’ work reveal why foundations and other partners, including Overbrook, have been so excited to be a part of this project. The evaluation reveals that this work is not easy, but these groups are continuing to demonstrate impact. From our perspective, supporting local grassroots groups working on the issues most important to their communities and led by those who are most impacted by reproductive health inequities is essential to expanding access to reproductive justice here in the United States.

Please click here to read the report’s summary and here to read the full evaluation found on the Groundswell Fund’s (which houses the Catalyst Fund among two other reproductive justice funds) website.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Two Overbrook Grantees Help Establish Clearwater, an Indigenous Ecuadorian Initiative to Provide Communities with Clean Water

Flowing from the February 14 2011 decision by an Ecuadorian court finding Chevron guilty of dumping oil and contaminants in the Amazonian rainforest over decades, indigenous Ecuadorian communities and a coalition of non-profits - including Overbrook grantees Rainforest Action Network and Amazon Watch - founded ClearWater in late 2011. This initiative aims to provide clean water in areas of the Ecuadorian Amazon hardest hit by years of oil pollution.

In early October, 2011, the ClearWater pilot project broke ground in the community of Cofan Dureno, with the community-led installation of 52 rainwater catchment systems (please see here for an example of the installation of a catchment system).

The basins are intended to reduce dependency on river systems for water, which have been heavily polluted through oil extraction activities. They cost about $1200 per family, but are also easy to install and can last up to 50 years if maintained properly. Further, not only are the systems ideal for rural areas, but the specially designed filtered catchment units will enable families, health clinics and schools to have clean water. 

Amazon Watch and Rainforest Action Network are key partners in this effort and are active in helping to raise awareness for the project, which not only offers Amazonian communities safe drinking water, but highlights their decades-long struggle to achieve recognition and reparations for destruction of their environment and way-of-life. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Overbrook Grantee 350.org helps introduce the End Polluter Welfare Act into Congress

On May 10th, Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT) and Rep. Keith Ellison (MN), joined by Overbrook Grantee 350.org, introduced the "End Polluter Welfare Act" legislation into Congress. The bill aims at cutting billions in federal subsidies currently given to the oil, coal, and gas industries.

The bill notes that fossil fuels are subsidized at 6 times the rate of renewable energies: $72 billion in 2002-2008, compared with $12.2 billion for renewables. By contrast, in 2011 alone, the five largest oil companies earned a combined $137 billion. Furthermore, the new bill would not only prevent millions of tons annual carbon emissions, it would save billions of dollars. For example, $12 billion would be saved by repealing a 2004 law that allows fossil fuel corporations to take deductions by claiming they are manufacturers, one of many such exemptions.

The efforts of Bernie Sanders and Keith Ellison were supported by 350.org, a global grassroots coalition that seeks to curb carbon emissions by using social media and online campaigns to catalyze public protests. For instance, in the wake of the Heartland Institute's billboard attacks likening climate change believers to the Unabomber, it immediately organized online counter-protests. The backlash resulted in the pull-out by several high-profile funders from the Institute. 350.org also offers a host of resources on organizing events, protests, workshops, and campaigns.

While the bill will certainly face daunting challenges in both the House and the Senate (where climate change deniers grow ever more vocal), its introduction signals a new willingness to tackle entrenched energy interests. And, by partnering with next-generation grassroots organizations like 350.org and harnessing broad-based public support, such bills may finally have a chance to succeed.

Friday, May 4, 2012

National Advocates for Pregnant Women in the New York Times Magazine

This past weekend, the New York Times Magazine ran an article, “Mommy Had To Go Away For A While", and its website published it under the title, “The Criminalization of Bad Mothers”.  In the article, Ada Calhoun tells the story of several women who have been arrested under Alabama’s chemical-endangerment law, a law which requires the prosecution of mothers abusing substances that might harm their children or fetuses.  She traces the cases and family backgrounds of several women impacted by this law.  She also provides background on both the groups supporting this law and fighting it. Beyond covering an issue of importance to the Foundation’s grantee, National Advocates for Pregnant Women, and extensively relying on information from its Executive Director Lynn Paltrow and  Director of Policy and Advocacy Emma Ketteringham, this article is remarkable for its exploration of the complexities around this law and the criminalization of several women who have used drugs during their pregnancies.  

It soon becomes clear that these are tough cases to get involved with because the women are not always that sympathetic; they can be bad mothers and they may be engaging in illegal activity.  On the other hand, the article exposes that these cases are often more complicated.  These women do seem to care about their children and they have often struggled with addiction so abandoning drugs during pregnancy proves quite difficult.   

Regardless of your feelings towards these women, one thing remains clear.   Advocates, like NAPW, continue to take on these critical cases because they are extremely important for defending women’s rights and fighting fetal personhood laws that have appeared around the country.  In fact,  
[Ms. Ketteringham] argues that applying Alabama’s chemical-endangerment law to pregnant women “violates constitutional guarantees of liberty, privacy, equality, due process and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.” In effect, she says, under Alabama’s chemical-endangerment law, pregnant women have become “a special class of people that should be treated differently from every other citizen.” 

They also argue that criminalizing these behaviors is neither appropriate for the families nor the health of women.  Alternative measures need to be created that respond in a way to encourage healthy behaviors rather than take away the rights of women in favor of fetuses.  We truly recommend you read this article.  It offers a nuanced examination of an extremely complicated set of issues that bring about these laws and why it is important to support NAPW’s challenge, despite personal feelings towards the mothers.  Again, to read the article, please click here.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Oklahoma Supreme Court Rules to Keep Unconstitutional Personhood Measure Off Ballot

This past month, the ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a legal petition against efforts to put a personhood initiative onto the ballot in Oklahoma in November.  This week, the state’s Supreme Court ruled on this legal challenge upholding the constitution and earlier rulings of the US Supreme Court by unanimously deciding to bar putting this measure to a public vote.  This ballot initiative would have proposed giving a fertilized egg “personhood” and the affiliated rights that are afforded to a person.  Despite appearing in many US states over the past five years, these personhood measures have dangerous implications for the safety and rights of pregnant women and women seeking abortions or fertility treatments. It would have banned abortion under any circumstance, banned several contraceptive options and could create legal challenges for medical care providers serving pregnant women and the women seeking this health care. 

Many of Overbrook’s reproductive justice and domestic human rights grantees, including those listed above, have worked to defeat these measures through legal challenges (i.e. Oklahoma) or through grassroots mobilization and coalition building (i.e. Mississippi). We are glad to hear that the court has recognized the constitutional rights of Oklahoman women and that many organizations continue to successfully fight for the rights and health of American women in spite of these personhood strategies. For more information, click here to read an article from the Wall Street Journal, here to read an article from the Tulsa World, here to read the Center for Reproductive Rights’ press release on the victory and here for its description of the petition against ballot measure.