What were you doing when you were 30 years old?

A brief overview of the evolution of IDEX*

By Jennifer Lentfer, Thousand Currents Director of Communications

For the actual day of IDEX’s 30th birthday, we were celebrating, kicking-off a year-long celebration of three decades of grassroots partnerships.

After taking us back to the origin story, IDEX’s co-founder Paul Strasburg (center) calls on others to help blow out IDEX’s candle on our 30th birthday cake.

We gathered with IDEX’s elders – our past supporters, staff, and board members – and took a moment to honor from where we came. Here’s a little summary on how we have evolved over the years.

In the mid-1980s, IDEX’s founders were working in institutional philanthropy, and frustrated by the poverty reduction strategies they saw imposed on communities in the Global South and by how little impact these interventions were having.

So they banded together like-minded people – those who wanted to build on local wisdom and create an alternative to top-down development – and they made IDEX’s first grants, completely volunteer-run. From its humble beginning, IDEX strove to ignite a cultural change in how U.S. citizens relate to the Global South and to be honest about and learn from the inevitable mistakes that occur in relationships set up for social good.

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.

Friends, supporters, former staff, board members and volunteers gathered to celebrate IDEX’s 30th year in Oakland on May 16.

In the 1990s, IDEX moved towards long-term partnerships and general support grants, approaches to which we remain steadfast today. But in hindsight, as IDEX was professionalizing, its messaging got lost.

In the 2000s, IDEX returned to its commitment to making complex international issues accessible to those in the U.S. who care about poverty and injustice. But during this time, IDEX also became so critical of philanthropy that it “gave everything it raised away in grants,” and the organization’s own stability suffered.

Today, IDEX has supported over 500 grassroots, community-led projects in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, serving approximately 1.2 million people annually. In this decade, IDEX has focused on strategizing for sustainability, for partners and itself.

For us to support movement building, we have to be strong for our partners, and to have further influence,” Executive Director Rajasvini Bhansali explains.

To do this, IDEX’s grantmaking approach is one that is constantly evolving, responding to our partners’ creativity and vision.

When you actually learn, then you have to become an organization that adapts, that pivots when your partners on the ground see something that needs to be changed,” says Bhansali.

If we are an organization that lives our values, we have to reflect this in our processes and staff so that we can continually experiment, learn with our partners, and then translate this so that more actors in international aid and philanthropy can benefit too.”

With every passing decade, IDEX has deepened its understanding of what it means to help unleash social change. And as the elders rightfully reminded us last month, this learning – which has always been at the heart of IDEX – is what must continue.


The best 30th birthday surprise for IDEX staff were these messages sent from our partners!

Stay tuned for more festivities, moments of reflection, and opportunities to contribute to IDEX’s future throughout the year!



*Thousand Currents changed its name from IDEX in 2016

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