The Youth Climate Justice Fund Is Building Power for Young Leaders in the Global South

Forty grantees have been chosen through a unique participatory process

June 2024
March 2024
June 17, 2024
Supported By :
Magic Cabinet

“You are stealing our future.”

It’s a common refrain from the leaders of the Youth Climate Justice Fund. The new, deeply participatory foundation, launched last year by a collective of young movement leaders from several continents, pulls few punches when talking about the problems facing the climate, or facing the climate justice space.

As more money pours into climate mitigation and adaptation work, climate justice initiatives still get a small percentage of philanthropic funding – and youth-led climate justice projects receive a total of 0.76% of grants from the largest climate foundations.

I first met Joshua Amponsem and Nathan Méténier at a philanthropy summit in late 2022. Both in their 20’s and 30’s, with experience leading large climate movements in Ghana and Europe respectively, they were a dynamic presence, and drew attention in any room they walked into – foundation leaders wanted to pull them aside and acknowledge the important work young people are doing to drive climate movements.

But over dinner, Josh and Nathan shared the frustrations of the conference circuit. They heard praise, but rarely saw dollars come their way. They were through with restrictive grant applications, donors refusing to invest in unregistered groups and other barriers to funding for proximate movement leaders.

That evening, we talked about the new climate fund they were in the process of raising – a vehicle for channeling grant dollars to youth-led climate movements. Josh and Nathan spoke admiringly about the participatory grantmaking model of the Global Greengrants Fund, and the participatory leadership model of FRIDA | Young Feminist Fund.

A year and a half later, Youth Climate Justice Fund has just announced its first $500,000 in grants. I caught up with Josh and Nathan to hear about their progress.

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You recently shared the list of your first 40 grantee partners from 24 countries. What were you looking for in this first round of grantmaking?

Nathan Méténier

We put out our first call for proposals last year, in seven different languages. That resulted in more than 1,800 applications coming our way.

Grants are decided by regional teams. We have Region Leads in five parts of the world who guide our grantmaking strategy and decisions. Each one is a movement leader from their region – like Ayshak Najib who represents the Middle East, or Zagy Berian who represents South Asia.

Out of our first 40 grantees, eighty percent are leading movements on the local, regional or national level. They are working on everything from political mobilization, to climate litigation, to technological innovation. A throughline is that many of them are pushing in their countries for increased commitments to climate action.

Now we're getting ready for our second round of participatory grantmaking this summer.

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Can you share more about the mechanics of Youth Climate Justice Fund’s participatory model?

Joshua Amponsem

The regional leads have full control over grant decisions, with the support of our backend staff. They’re in charge of scouting projects, meeting with applicants and presenting their shortlist to our steering committee. The steering committee – also made up of youth climate justice leaders – submit individual rankings, and then we collect the votes and award grants to the highest-rated groups.

A big part of our philosophy is around transparency in grantmaking. We were frustrated with the amount of times we applied to grants and never heard anything back. In our first round, about 1,800 people applied, and we are aiming to talk to as many of them as possible. For those that don’t get selected, the conversation shouldn't be about how to improve their application necessarily; but about how they can win and how they can grow.

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You’ve spoken about funder education as a part of your work – trying to increase that sub-1% of funding that goes to youth climate justice movements. I know other participatory funds see funder education and advocacy as part of their mandate – what has that looked like for you?

Nathan Méténier

One of our members was a keynote speaker at a donor collaborative summit organized by the Gates Foundation. We were the only youth fund that was there. And at COP 28 we ran an education event for foundations where we spoke about recent agreements like the Loss and Damage Fund, and asked: what will it look like for that to get implemented on the ground?

One of our big goals for the year is to help donors understand that youth climate funds like YCJF, The Youth Harbour, and FRIDA exist, that they’re powerful, and that they’re moving money in a fast, efficient and cost-effective way. We want to move $100 million by the end of 2030, to community-rooted young leaders around the world, but that doesn’t mean all the money needs to go through us. We really see the different youth funds that are emerging as part of an ecosystem, and the goal is to increase the pie.

So a funder will come to us and say “I have the capacity to invest in youth leaders, I just don’t know who.” We’ll provide them with free advice, to help with the design of their grantmaking – our only ask in return is that they tell us how much they invest through our advising.

Last year we helped a few funders move a substantial amount of funding to youth groups in that way, and we’re hoping to increase that. We want to keep spreading the word that there’s nothing better than investing in community-rooted young leaders on the ground.

So far, we’ve achieved what we’ve wanted to achieve – so we’re excited.

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