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WANTED: brilliant, bold and brave ideas and partners to help us restore nature

Liam McAleese, Director (Our Natural World) at the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, discusses the foundation's new strategy and direction, and the importance of working together to improve our natural world, deliver a fairer future, and nurture our communities.

October 2020

We are proud to have recently launched our new strategy, and, with it, a new direction for our foundation. We launch with a sense of optimism, determination and a feeling that we are at a point in time where significant and positive change is possible. It is certainly urgent and necessary.

We are under no illusion of the challenges ahead; the climate and biodiversity crises, a global pandemic and growing inequality. And as Black Lives Matter has shone a light on, our complacency around systemic racism.

Our Natural World

Our new strategy seeks to respond to these challenges and opportunities and focus our efforts on where we think we can be most effective. We’ve identified three areas where we feel we can contribute most – improving Our Natural World, tackling injustice to deliver A Fairer Future, and nurturing Creative, Confident Communities so that they play an active role in shaping the places they live in. All of this is underpinned by the need to tackle structural inequality, racism, and the causes and impacts of climate change.

Specifically, our priorities for Our Natural World are; peatlands, freshwater, space for nature, nature friendly farming and fishing in tandem with nature. Of course, there are many interdependencies between these priorities. We are get most excited about actions that pull these priorities together, are people and placed based, and support our goals on communities and a fairer future.

“None of us is as smart as all of us”

As a funder, we cannot do this alone. We’ve enlisted the support of an independent advisory panel to help provide strategic advice. We will continue to support brilliant organisations in the environment and conservation sector who can help us deliver our priorities. This will be through fewer, larger, and longer-term partnerships, investments, and initiatives. We will also support strategic actions that help us work together and strengthen the sector.

But this is not enough. We believe that the scale of the challenges facing our natural world means that we will need to reach out and mobilise new and perhaps unconventional alliances across the charitable, public, and private sectors. We’ve already started on this journey, for example our recent partnership with Defra, the Environment Agency, Triodos Bank, the Rivers Trust, Devon Wildlife Trust and NFU to raise more money for nature. Or the work we are supporting with our partners at the Food Farming and Countryside Commission which is developing radical but practical ways to improve our climate, nature, health and economy.

Like others, we have not done enough to proactively work with communities and groups who are disproportionately affected by the climate and nature crisis and growing inequality, and who often have a limited role or say in how to improve them. We’ve made a start on this by forming a youth panel. Our priority now is to put our commitment on diversity, equity, and inclusion into practice.

Going beyond grant making

We have also reflected on our role as a foundation. Our independence and financial security are a privilege that enables us to take risks, back new and bold ideas and take a long term view. We will be commissioning new work, backing exciting ideas and using our voice to help unlock change. We are also committed to using our endowment to meet our impact goals by becoming a more assertive asset owner and investor and transitioning our endowment towards responsible investments.

Listening and learning.

This is a new direction for us. We won’t always get it right, but we will learn as we go. None of us is as smart as all of us and we need your help. If you are feeling bold, brave and brilliant (or even just a little bit brilliant), then get it touch.

Liam McAleese is Director (Our Natural World) at the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation

Follow: @esmeefairbairn @redscrees