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Social justice, climate resilience work fuel nonprofit gathering

Energy, optimism, and a shared commitment to climate resilience work focusing on low-income communities permeated an unparalleled gathering of more than 100 local and national leaders hosted by The Kresge Foundation’s Environment Program earlier this month in Chicago.

“Although I have been doing this work for years, this is the first time I was able to see the movement from a holistic viewpoint, mainly one that is led by communities of color like ours. To say I came home inspired is an understatement,” said Danny Peralta, executive managing director of The Point CDC, a Kresge grantee dedicated to youth development and the cultural and economic revitalization of the Hunts Point section of South Bronx, NY.

The convening was the second annual gathering of Kresge’s Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity Initiative (Initiative). It creates annual peer-learning opportunities for Kresge grantees working to incorporate strong equity frames in climate resilience work. Participants included representatives from 41 organizations funded across Kresge’s Environment Program involved in activities to strengthen climate-resilience in low-income communities, as well as individuals from more than 20 groups who partner on Kresge-funded projects within the Initiative.


The May 2-4 convening kicked off the implementation phase of the Initiative. A cohort of 15 organizations funded through the Initiativerecently launched multiyear implementation plans to influence local and regional climate resilience planning and policy development to better reflect the needs and priorities of low-income communities.

The cohort completed a planning phase in 2015 during which they developed the work plans that are now being executed. Each grantee was awarded $660,000 to implement the plans over three years.

Participants shared strategies and solutions during the two-day gathering to help communities build resilience against climate change. The goal of the Initiative is developing integrated, comprehensive approaches that focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting and preparing for climate-influenced impacts like heat waves and increased flooding, while simultaneously building social inclusion and cohesion.

Enthusiasm for the convening was shared by Steve Adams, Director of Resilient Cities and Regions at the Institute for Sustainable Communities, a Kresge grantee from the broader Kresge Environment portfolio that provides training and technical assistance to municipal leaders and climate adaptation practitioners: “I learned more in those three days than in any event I can remember. And it was just lovely to be a small part of the camaraderie that has clearly grown among the cohort.”

Examples of expected outcomes include stronger energy efficiency and renewable energy policies, disaster-preparedness plans, and carbon-reduction strategies that explicitly address inclusion and benefits for low-income residents. The work is also geared toward fostering social cohesion within cities that can bond neighborhoods and communities together during crises.

“Because climate resilience is a relatively new concept, and approaching it with intentionality around low-income inclusion is also very new, we wanted to launch an initiative that went beyond supporting mainstream environmental organizations and provided funding to organizations that had strong track records of successful work in low-income communities,” said Lois DeBacker, managing director of Kresge's Environment Program. “We wanted to help them build on their previous work by adding a climate change lens.”

The 15 grantees of Kresge’s Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity Initiative cohort are:

The Initiative benefits from an advisory committee of leading climate resilience and social justice practitioners who provide strategic guidance and help shape and share key lessons and learnings from the field.  Members of the committee worked closely with Kresge’s Environment Program during development of the Initiative and the group continues to partner closely with Kresge to ensure strong outcomes.

Current Advisory Committee members are:

Denise Fairchild, President and CEO, Emerald Cities Collaborative

Lara Hansen, Chief Scientist and Executive Director, EcoAdapt

Taj James, Executive Director, Movement Strategy Center

Angela Park, Consultant, Mission Critical

Jacqueline Patterson, Environmental and Climate Justice Program Director, NAACP

Makani Themba, Chief Strategist, Higher Ground Change Strategies

“One of our primary tools as a funder is our ability to convene,” say Shamar Bibbins, program officer with Kresge’s Environment Program. “The collaborations that are emerging across regions and across disciplines by simply having our grantees in the room together is encouraging. Our hope is that we are generating new understandings and approaches to climate resilience policy and planning with equity front and center that will shape the development of more effective climate-resilience measures across the country, ultimately accelerating the scale and impact at which cities address climate change.”

Building off of the Initiative’s inaugural grantee gathering, the convening was designed so that Kresge grantees, funded through the Initiative and across other focal areas with the Environment Program, served as subject matter experts for the majority of convening workshops and strategy conversations, furthering opportunities for peer-learning and network building among participants.


The Kresge Foundation is a $3.6 billion private, national foundation that works to expand opportunities in America’s cities through grantmaking and social investing in arts and culture, education, environment, health, human services, and community development in Detroit. In 2015, the Board of Trustees approved 370 grants totaling $125.2 million, and nine social investment commitments totaling $20.3 million. For more information, visit


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