Frequently Asked Questions

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The Basics

 

Thousand Currents’ Partners: The Low Down

 

Thousand Currents’ Supporters: Where The Money Goes

 

Most importantly, how can I get involved?!?

 


What does Thousand Currents mean?

Thousand Currents expresses the positive, transformational energy emanating from the web of indigenous, women, and youth leaders in the Global South.

Currents, like grassroots leaders and locally-led solutions, have force and direction, and are part of a moving, interdependent global picture. “Thousand” is inclusive not just of our grantee partners, but the potential in the multitude when small, yet formidable pockets of people power come together.

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What does Thousand Currents do?

Thousand Currents funds, connects, and walks alongside the people, organizations, and movements that are finding solutions and making waves around the world.

Thousand Currents develops long-term funding relationships with effective women-, youth-, and Indigenous-led organizations that we call partners. We select partners that work on the interdependent issues of food sovereignty, alternative economies, and climate justice. Our long-term, flexible grants, with no strings or conditions attached, enable our partners to be responsive to communities and focus on shared objectives rather than arbitrary time frames.

Learn more about our grantmaking approach here.

Thousand Currents works toward changing the way that donors in the Global North interact with grantees, challenging the traditional top-down, paternalistic model of international aid and philanthropy.

We are a vocal and visible advocate for grassroots-led social change, bridging emerging approaches and learnings from the Global South with philanthropic models and practices in the Global North.

Learn more about our philanthropic partnerships here.

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What do Thousand Currents’ partners do?

In the Global South and around the world, visionary women, youth and indigenous leaders at the local level are organizing their communities to transform food systems for the better, build wealth in their communities, and fight for climate justice.

To obtain food sovereignty, our partners are are encouraging sustainable and organic food production methods, organizing to sell their products collectively for fair prices, and lowering costs while improving the quality and quantity of their yields.

Our partners are reimagining wealth and putting people and planet before profit by building alternative economic models, maximizing the use of existing land and other natural resources, and gaining access to loans and affordable credit.

To achieve climate justice, our partners are reducing their communities’ vulnerability to disaster, teaching sustainable grazing and farming practices, challenging polluting industries, and advocating against man-made climate threats.

Read more on our partners’ solutions.

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Why does Thousand Currents do what it does, the way that it does?

Thousand Currents exists to effect systemic change. In a world with such entrenched and complex issues as corporate-driven food systems, massive inequality, and unchecked consumption of natural resources, Thousand Currents sees people in the Global South as having the necessary wisdom and strength needed for holistic and sustainable solutions to our shared global challenges.

When the people living and working closest to problems are the source of the solutions, they are ultimately more relevant, effective, and long lasting than top-down, “imported,” one-size-fits-all solutions. That is why Thousand Currents works to shift unequal power dynamics in grantmaking, influence broader philanthropic giving to adopt more equitable practices, and facilitate learning between the Global South and North.

Read more on Thousand Currents’ Theory of Change here.

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How was Thousand Currents’ started?

Over thirty years ago, IDEX was the inspiration of a group of volunteers, some returned Peace Corps volunteers, who had a vision for a different kind of international development model. Together they created IDEX based on their experience of small grants targeted to grassroots groups—who had the trust of their neighbors and the knowledge of what was needed in their own communities—often was more effective than traditional large scale philanthropy.

Read more on IDEX’s evolution here.

In 2016, IDEX completed a rebranding process and announced its new identity as Thousand Currents. Our new name suggests the plentiful, every-moving web of grassroots movements and local solutions at work around the world.

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Why did IDEX change its name to Thousand Currents?

Drones and diamonds. IDEX shared its name with many other companies and nonprofits with which we do not hold the same values. For years, we have been confused with these other entities.

Also, the field of “international development” has changed since we began our work 30+ years ago. Now a loaded term, it carries the weight of parachuted-in “expertise” and resources. Thousand Currents is a unique organization, walking the talk. We wanted a name that fully reflected who we are as a group of people who remain committed to offering an alternative to traditional philanthropy and international aid.

Read more about IDEX and Thousand Currents’ history here.

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Where does Thousand Currents work?

Thousand Currents currently has partnerships in the following countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America: Guatemala, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nepal, Peru, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

Grantseekers will kindly note that Thousand Currents does not accept unsolicited requests for funding or proposals.

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How is Thousand Currents different from other international organizations?

Thousand Currents walks the talk of global solidarity by investing in long-term partnerships, providing general operating support (with no strings or restrictions), asking our partners to shape our strategies and evaluate us, and learning alongside our partners. We invest in Thousand Currents staff to develop their own skills and enable our partners to speak for themselves.

Thousand Currents honors grassroots leadership and local knowledge as the engine of social transformation. Unleashing and amplifying the power of grassroots organizations and movements in the Global South at the forefront of social change is very different from traditional large-scale models of international aid and philanthropy. “Imported,” one-size-fits-all solutions are often top-down and paternalistic in their approach to poverty alleviation.

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How does Thousand Currents find and choose its partners?

Thousand Currents does not accept unsolicited proposals. We identify potential partners through a series of due diligence steps that involves desk research and site visits. After this initial stage, Regional Directors select organizations to receive small catalyst grants, which offer the potential partner and Thousand Currents the opportunity to explore a longer-term relationship.

Because partnership entails a significant commitment, we choose partners carefully, with confidence that the partner organization operates in an accountable, democratic, and transparent way in working towards lasting social change.

Read more on Thousand Currents’ grantmaking approach here.

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How long does Thousand Currents support its partners?

Social and systemic injustice has deep roots in the fabric of local social, political, and economic history. In response, Thousand Currents commits to flexible funding over many years, focused on shared objectives rather than arbitrary time frames. Currently some of our senior partnerships have extended beyond 15 years.

Thousand Currents exists to effect shift unequal power dynamics, influence giving to adopt egalitarian practices, and balance learning between the Global South and North. We believe that this values-based approach can manifest a vision of fairness, equity, justice, and dignity for all – but certainly not in a one-year, or even five year, timeframe.

Read more on Thousand Currents’ grantmaking approach here.

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Why does Thousand Currents offer unrestricted grants to its partners?

Our general operating support grants, with no strings or conditions attached, enable our partners to be responsive to communities.

We, in San Francisco, New York, or Washington, DC, are not in the best position to understand or address social, political, and economic problems with deep roots. The people who can solve them best are the people whose lives are most affected by them.

Because of the due diligence we do before committing to our partners and our shared values, and because of our strong and continuous communication and trust-building with them, we don’t dictate what activities and strategies our partners use. This frees them to listen more closely to the community and respond to arising needs. If our partners want to pay the light bill, or start a new program, it’s up to them.

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What the heck is food sovereignty?

Food sovereignty is the freedom to choose how your food is grown.

Food sovereignty puts the people who produce, distribute, and consume food at the center of decisions on food systems and policies – rather than the demands of markets and multinational corporations.

Thousand Currents partners are encouraging sustainable and organic food production methods in Zimbabwe, organizing to sell their products collectively for fair prices in Mexico, and lowering costs while improving the quality and quantity of their yields in rural India.

Read more about food sovereignty and our partners’ work on it here.

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What the heck are alternative economies?

Alternative economies prioritize producers and consumers over shareholders.

Thousand Currents partners are reimagining wealth and putting people and planet before profit. Women in rural Nepal are building wealth through collective saving and local village banking. Partners in Mexico are entering local and international markets with sustainably produced products. A collective of internally displaced refugee women in South Africa are using craft production to survive employment discrimination.

Read more about alternative economies and our partners’ work on it here.

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What the heck is climate justice?

Climate justice means safeguarding the rights of people most impacted by climate change, and sharing the burdens and benefits of climate change and its impacts equitably and fairly.

Rich countries are producing most of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, and yet it is people in the poorest countries that are feeling the effects of it most acutely.

Thousand Currents partners are reducing communities’ vulnerability to disaster in Guatemala, challenging polluting industries in South Africa, teaching sustainable farming and grazing practices in rural India, and fighting against man-made climate threats around the world.

Read more about climate justice and our partners’ work on it here.

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How does Thousand Currents measure impact?

The most meaningful impact that Thousand Currents can have is through its partners. So, it’s most important to measure whether or not Thousand Currents’ partnership model is effective in the eyes of our partners.

To this end, we commissioned an external evaluation in 2012 encompassing sixteen organizations from six countries that had been partners for more than two years. Findings from the report affirmed Thousand Currents’ partnership model. Our commitment to making long-term, flexible grants to support initiatives driven by the people most affected by issues is a recommended, but still hard-to-find practice in philanthropy.

Thousand Currents uses a Theory of Change framework for evaluation, utilizing qualitative and quantitative techniques to respectfully track the impact of our partners’ programs annually. Thousand Currents partners remain leading innovators in community-led learning and evaluation.

Read more on our approach to learning and evaluation here.

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Does Thousand Currents provide anything other than financial support to partners?

A key component of our partnership approach is to walk with our partner organizations as they build their capacity – building strong programs and effective organizational systems, deepening the scope of their services, fostering leadership, and forming long-term sustainability, communications, advocacy, and fundraising plans.

Beyond offering formal training opportunities, becoming a Thousand Currents partner also provides organizations with peer-learning opportunities and alliances with other partners and allies. Capacity building activities are customized to meet the needs of each partner as they evolve.

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What is Thousand Currents’ budget?

Thousand Currents ended its fiscal year 2016 (unaudited) at just under $5 million in revenue.

Thousand Currents has experienced an excellent few years of steady and sustainable financial growth. From 2013 to 2016, our organizational revenue, institutional fundraising, and grantmaking have grown substantially, thereby increasing Thousand Currents’ impact by channeling even more resources to our grassroots partners. Moreover, to ensure long-term financial sustainability we grew our Reserve Fund, called the Baobab Fund.

Read more on Thousand Currents’ finances here.

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What is Thousand Currents’ overhead?

Thousand Currents’ overhead is around 18 to 19%. This is healthy and well within the norms for nonprofits, especially for a modest-size organization.

While paying for board insurance, audits, or electric bills is about as much fun as paying for dental work, it also makes Thousand Currents’ work possible. There is nothing “wasted” in paying talented staff who find, monitor, and help shepherd the grantmaking to effective grassroots organizations.

At the end of the day, it’s good to be efficient. It’s even more crucial that we are effective. When it comes to managing the contributions from our institutional and individual donors, both are our goal.

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Where does Thousand Currents get its money?

Read more on Thousand Currents’ finances here.

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Does Thousand Currents accept U.S. government money?

No. To avoid any influence on how Thousand Currents engages with specific groups overseas, Thousand Currents neither seeks nor receives money of any kind from local, state, national or international governments. This allows us to work with innovative groups that fall outside the radar of larger aid agencies restricted by the sometimes bureaucratic requirements of government contracts.

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How much of my donation goes directly to partners in the Global South?

Thanks to multi-year, flexible funding commitments from key institutional funders, as well as from our earned income strategies, we began our FY16 with 100% of our core organizational costs covered. This means that giving from Thousand Currents’ loyal individual donors is able to go directly to programmatic work, i.e. our responsive grantmaking to visionary leaders and grassroots organizations in the Global South that are creating lasting solutions to their communities’ most pressing challenges.

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Can a donor choose which partner they want to support?

Yes and no. According to U.S. tax law, you may not designate your donation to a specific organization abroad unless you are willing to forgo the tax deduction that you would ordinarily receive in making a donation to a US based 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. The rationale is that since overseas organizations, naturally, do not register with the IRS, they have not undergone the same scrutiny of U.S. organizations as to standard accounting procedures and financial transparency.

However, you may restrict your gift of $1,000 or more to a solutions focus area. Similarly, you may restrict your donation for a specific country, region, or population (such as women, indigenous people, youth etc.). In these instances, a tax deduction is allowable and we will ensure that your donation goes to a group that matches your designation. Restricted gifts must be outlined in writing. Thousand Currents allocates 10% of the gift for programmatic and administrative costs.

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How can I be sure my money will be used well?

Thousand Currents is proud to be ranked a Platinum Participant on GuideStar, rated 5 out of 5 stars on GreatNonprofits, and be given a score of 100% on “accountability and transparency” practices by Charity Navigator.

One of Thousand Currents’ most important roles, and a fundamental way in which Thousand Currents adds value, is by selecting sound, innovative organizations as partners. Partners are selected carefully based on a long list of criteria in which transparency and accountability are essential. Plus, measuring our own impact is also greatly important to Thousand Currents.

Thousand Currents has worked with many of our current partners for years and is highly confident that funds are used for the stated purposes. Partners provide reports twice per year. Thousand Currents staff visits partners regularly to see their work and program staff are in regular contact with partners by email or phone. By having long-term relationships with partners, we can observe and share accomplishments over time.

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What is Thousand Currents privacy policy?

See Thousand Currents’ privacy statement here.

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Most importantly, how can I get involved?!?

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