None of us are islands
By Rajasvini Bhansali, former Thousand Currents Executive Director
As beings, none of us are islands.
Natural ecological systems or ecosystems demonstrate to us that we survive and thrive because of the interactions between species and elements. This is such an important lesson for all of us working to advance social justice.
The social movements and organizations we support in the Global South are increasingly taking lessons from ecosystems as well. They work in powerfully decentralized ways. For example, La Via Campesina is an international movement working “at scale” with 200 million small holder farmers and peasants all over the world. The movement is not focused on elevating a singular charismatic leader but rather works as a coalition of over 150 organizations around the world.
Particularly in the international context, we forget that local systems and organized grassroots groups exist in all parts of the world. They are already addressing the most intractable challenges of climate change, rising inequality, and failing food systems.
We need not parachute in to solve peoples’ problems but in fact, ask: What is underfunded? How can we be of greatest use?
Around the world, thousands of brave, visionary grassroots climate solutions practitioners are implementing effective solutions. Grassroots solutions tend to emerge when leaders on the ground draw from and share indigenous, contextual, and collective expertise. They come from making deeper connections to the natural world, and from working directly with families as they cope with the unequal burdens and chaos created by climate change.
For grassroots activists in the Global South who bravely stand up to challenge climate destruction or call for climate-wise alternatives, their activism is being met with increasing repression and violence. As documented by Global Witness and others, killings of people protecting environmental and land rights across the Global South are increasing. Quite literally, many of our planet’s most luminous climate heroines and heroes are being violently taken from their work and beloved communities, often with impunity and with woefully inadequate action by the international community.
These vital climate justice leaders need and deserve much stronger support from international climate funders. Standing with and investing resources in local initiatives ensures a readiness for change, as well as ownership of the change process itself. It reflects cultural, social, political, geographic, and economic realities – a nuance of understanding that outsiders cannot possess. At the same time, international climate actors need the diversity and strength of leadership and solutions offered by grassroots actors around the world, which we are supporting with three other grassroots funders in the CLIMA (Climate Leaders In Movement Action) Fund.
Grassroots organizing not only wins change at the local level but, in case after case, builds the political pressure and context for national, regional, and international change as well.
None of us are islands. To embody an ecosystems approach in Thousand Currents’ work means focusing on building power in communities, fierce strategies to change systems, and activation of the power of advocacy and grassroots organizing for lasting social change.