TPW Travels to Washington, D.C. for Climate Change Immersion Journey

Jennifer Davis
Senior Officer
The Philanthropy Workshop

In late May, TPW traveled to Washington, D.C. for an Immersion Journey devoted to understanding key challenges, gaps and opportunities in the climate change and clean energy space. This rigorous, hands-on program looked at the many ways in which interventions and solutions surrounding climate and energy cut across issues, sectors and geographies.

Using the United States as a case study—a nation of vital importance in global climate negotiations, the world’s largest consumer market and its second largest emitter of greenhouse gases—leading funders, policymakers, grassroots activists and experts in the field shared strategies and best practices driving community-based solutions, innovative business models and far-reaching public policies that have the capacity to change the discourse and promote action surrounding climate and energy.

We met with over 30 experts in three and a half days and found many reasons for hope: smart, passionate people are hard at work designing and implementing solutions, spurring innovation on the fringes of what we can only imagine is possible, and changing the conversation in communities across the globe. Here I offer a few of my personal top takeaways from the trip:

• Climate is “your issue”: There isn’t a funding area that won’t be—if it’s not already—impacted by climate change. Getting smart on the issues, science, and mitigation and adaptation measures is essential for any philanthropist, whether your portfolio focuses on human rights, gender, immigration, poverty alleviation or any other issue.
• Big challenges require brave, big bets: This is the time for philanthropy to shine. No matter the size of your assets and no matter where you are on the ideological spectrum, there is room for you in the pool of climate and energy funders. Philanthropy can be nimble and it can be patient. It can fill gaps and it can provide seed capital to road-test new business models or innovative clean technologies. It is not accountable to shareholders nor is it dependent on election cycles. This is philanthropy’s moment to move beyond hyper-political debates and make strategic investments that will do no less than save the world.
• Speaking of hyper-political debates…: When engaging diverse stakeholders—and we must—we need to bring humility, a willingness to compromise and identify gateway issues to avoid polarized discourse. Starting with values-based conversations is a way to preempt falling into calcified debates, step outside your echo chamber, and communicate and collaborate across perceived ideological boundaries.
• Equity and access: The world’s leading economies burned through cheap and dirty fossil fuels and developed rapidly; emerging economies hope to do the same, yet in a carbon-constrained world. Questions of equity and access must remain part of the conversation as we look to cut carbon globally while crafting smart development interventions for the world’s poor.
• Global leadership: Respect for science, a booming clean tech sector, meeting emissions targets early? Welcome to China, a real leader in the global climate conversation. While you may not be able to see through the coal smog today, change is happening rapidly and the government and populace is not bogged down in the same ideological debate that plagues the United States. Time for the world to follow.
• Campaign finance reform: Regardless of the issue that brings you to Washington, it’s hard to escape discussion of campaign finance reform—especially in a presidential election year. The influence of money in politics is at the center of almost every policy and social challenge confronting the United States. Climate change and energy solutions will take many generations of resources and brainpower, but campaign finance reform is another human-caused crisis that can actually be addressed in the near term with smart laws, rules and regulations.
• Look out, look up and look inward: The transport you take, the office you sit in, the home you return to, the structure you worship in, the products you consume—we all make individual decisions everyday. From changing your light bulbs to biking to work to renovating structures, there are interventions big and small that all add up to emissions reductions and a shifting consumer demand. In the face of what sometimes feel like impossible challenges, there are personal decisions that we can control and thereby contribute to large-scale impact.


Jennifer Davis is a senior officer at The Philanthropy Workshop. For more information, follow Twitter @TPWgivebetter or visit

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