What is IDEX going to become?

By Jennifer Lentfer, Thousand Currents Director of Communications
(En español aquí)

“You work for IREX?”

“No, IDEX.”

“IDEX? What does IDEX do?”

“We fund and support grassroots organizations and movements in seven countries in the Global South.”


All the IDEX’s

After this conversation, I then go through the litany of what we are not, yet again, in my head.

I have been discovering the many other entities that share IDEX’s name since I joined the organization last year. When I joined, I had known IDEX for a decade as a global grassroots grantmaker.

But drones? Diamonds? Hello! Not exactly aligned with our IDEX’s mission and values.

A changed paradigm

In 1985, when IDEX’s founders came together with like-minded people – those who wanted to build on local wisdom and create an alternative to top-down development – the name International Development Exchange seemed right. The organization strove to ignite cultural exchange and also change how U.S. citizens related to the Global South.

IDEX’s commitment to mutual respect and transparency created the space for its identity as a learning organization to emerge,” explained Paul Strasburg, IDEX’s co-founder.

Something we have been learning, from the beginning, is the limitations of thinking of “development” purely from a Western-defined, economic growth-fueled perspective. The last 30 years of our organization’s history have seen the economic, social, and environmental failures of neoliberal development theories. Our global food system is broken, dominated by corporate-driven agriculture practices that push out small-scale farmers.The world’s richest 1% now have more wealth than the rest of the world combined. Unchecked resource consumption has led to a climate crisis that threatens our planet and our collective futures.

What hasn’t changed in 30 years is IDEX’s grounded approach, which puts women, youth and indigenous people living and working closest to these problems as the source of the solutions. There are organizations and movements on all continents bucking the “old school” paradigm of development. IDEX partners continue to school us about the social transformation needed to achieve a just and sustainable world for all of us.

Time for a change

After 30 years, we knew 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 efforts. We wanted a name that reflected:

  1. Transformation, of ourselves as a learning organization, and of what it means to work in global solidarity;
  2. Futurist, or forward-thinking, ever-evolving, adaptive approaches;
  3. Balanced partnership that represents the “back and forth” nature of IDEX’s learning with grantees – the support, encouragement and challenges we offer each other;
  4. Human touch, or the hands-on, individual to individual relationships at the core of our work;
  5. Grassroots brilliance, reflecting the wisdom, experience, and transformational approaches of our partners in the Global South; and
  6. Decolonizing, a turning the tables on the power inequities at the root of international philanthropy.

So with our partner, Elefint Designs, we set out to shape ideas for our new name with input from IDEX staff, board, donors, institutional funders, Young Professionals Group members, and peer organizations.

Over the course of two months, Elefint considered hundreds of possibilities for our new name, and thoughtfully presented 12 of the strongest choices. The approaches ranged from evocative to literal, from words that originated from Sanskrit and other languages, to food- and nature-themed, and more abstract and unique words.

The new name at which we arrived is a result of many hours of brainstorming, careful consideration, and refinement of ideas. It is:

Note: The text and image above is not yet our logo, but an illustrative placeholder image from NASA’s Perpetual Ocean Project: http://go.nasa.gov/1EnUGZ9

What does it mean?


Look up. Look around. The web of grassroots movements and local solutions around the world is plentiful. We want to express the breadth of this energy in our name. “Thousand” alludes to the plethora of people’s ideas and efforts on the ground, without being too literal about it. This number is inclusive not just of our grantee partners, but the potential in the multitude when small, yet formidable pockets of people power come together.

Thousand Currents partner, Desmond D’Sa of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance saw this as representing, “the idea that there are so many of us all over the world working on justice. We are willing to demand what is needed because we are all in this together.


Water. Electricity. Wind. In nature, currents are a combination of diverse, and localized forces that in turn are part of a moving, interdependent global picture. Currents, like grassroots leaders and locally-led solutions, have force and direction. They affect every single person on the planet on a daily basis and will continue to do so in the future.

We could think of no more powerful noun from the natural world to express the positive, transformational changes to our global challenges emanating from indigenous, women, and youth leadership in the Global South. As shared by Adriana Welsh from Thousand Currents partner Nepi Behña in Mexico said, “[The name] says we are many and different, and natural processes running together.” In the name’s Spanish iteration, we will not use the literal translation for currents, or corrientes, but likely the word afluentes, which has its roots in the Spanish word for abundance and signifies tributaries joining a larger stream, river, or lake.

Thousand Currents

Unique and invitational, our new name suggests a weaving of moving pieces, and encourages people to ask about our work. We also feel that this name stands out nicely in the international philanthropy and global development space – as symbolic, poetic, powerful, creative, timeless, and fun.

Thousand Currents is curative, uplifting, and imaginative, with imperative and profound effect.

Exchanging Grassroots Brilliance

Our new tagline came from one of the criteria we developed to help decide on the new name. We knew we wanted to include the notion “grassroots brilliance” in the name to reflect the wisdom and expertise of our partners in the Global South. The intentionality of pairing a word associated with “intellect” with grassroots helps us challenge assumptions within relationships set up for social good. Though as Dr. Prakash Tyagi of long-term Thousand Currents partner GRAVIS in India reminded us,

“The work at the grassroots is not always brilliant. Sometimes it’s mistakes. We all grow in our experiences as we work at the grassroots. I’m more thoughtful and realistic now than I was before as a grassroots leader. We mature as we do this work. We do a lot of good things and sometimes we are not perfect.”

This is why we kept “exchanging” in our tagline, as a nod to our past as International Development Exchange. Being honest and learning from the inevitable mistakes that occur, and innovating from them, has always been a part of our organizational DNA and will continue to be so. People’s and organizations’ capacity to learn from experience is the very foundation of social change.

What’s next?

Now that we have a name that speaks to uniquely who we are and what changes we see in the world, a new journey has begun with our partners at Elefint Designs – to build a logo that represents the essence of Thousand Currents visually, and to build a new website that enables a more powerful and interactive experience for our supporters, friends, and followers. Until our new website is launched in the early part of 2017, we will remain IDEX.

Over the rest of the year, we invite you (and need you!) to follow our progress! Most importantly, we will ask for your ideas, insights, and feedback on designs along the way.


*Thousand Currents changed its name from IDEX in 2016

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