Globalization as grantmaking cause du jour

Jason Zanon jzanon at
Tue Apr 18 11:20:44 PDT 2000

The Chronicle of Philanthropy
>From the issue dated Thursday, April 20, 2000

Rethinking Global Giving

Trade protests are prompting a review of grant-making policies


As the crowds of activists who descended on Washington last week made

clear, financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary

Fund face increasingly vociferous challenges to their structures and


When tens of thousands of demonstrators clogged the streets of Seattle last

fall to protest international trade agreements, many Americans were taken

by surprise.

Few observers had predicted that the arcane rules governing global market

transactions would have generated so large and diverse an assemblage of

critics: union workers, environmental activists, farmers, college students,

nuns and clerics, human-rights workers, and ordinary citizens from across

the country and around the world.

Fewer still understood that the weeklong demonstration -- far from a

spontaneous outburst by a motley band of naysayers and quixotic dreamers

-- was part of a methodical campaign undertaken during the past decade by

a handful of charities engaged in policy analysis and grassroots organizing --

and financed by a small number of grant makers.

Ever since the "Battle in Seattle" last fall, however, a growing number of

foundations, large and small, are taking an interest in reevaluating their grant

making, in light of the concerns raised by protesters about the system of

global trade and its effects on societies everywhere.

More than 70 foundations have expressed interest in a new group formed

to raise awareness among grant makers about the relevance of those issues

to philanthropy. Last month's conference of the National Network of

Grantmakers drew some 350 participants to Boston to discuss why

philanthropies should care about globalization. And some foundation

officials are collaborating with each other, and with colleagues in other

countries, in new programs that reflect a newly emerging global perspective.

The global trade system was intended to lead to greater prosperity

everywhere by lowering international-trade barriers, making cross-border

transactions more uniform and predictable. Its proponents say free trade --

as outlined by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT,

established in 1948) and by the World Trade Organization (W.T.O.,

created in 1995), as well as by pacts between regional trading partners --

promises to "lift all boats" by improving living standards worldwide.

International trade and the accompanying globalization of the market has

benefited many people around the world in countless ways, the argument

goes, providing better jobs, improved crops, advances in health care, and

greater access to more consumer goods and services.

But a growing chorus of critics contends that globalization has primarily

lifted the yachts and swamped many of the rowboats, widening the gap

between rich and poor and eroding the political power of ordinary citizens

and democratic governments to govern their own affairs. The W.T.O.

serves primarily to meet the needs of powerful transnational corporations,

the critics argue, pointing to what they see as serious adverse effects of

trade liberalization in agriculture, environmental protection, food safety,

human rights, labor standards, and public health.

They contend that trade treaties have forced nations into a "race to the

bottom" in terms of labor and environmental standards, disproportionately

harming the world's poorest and weakest citizens, who have no voice in

determining how such agreements are negotiated.

The World Trade Organization, which deliberates in closed sessions, can

require the governments of its 135 member countries to nullify any social or

environmental standards, including national laws, that are deemed to infringe

upon free trade, or else risk large financial penalties. In a single stroke, the

organization's critics declare, it can reverse victories that have taken many

years to achieve. International treaties and domestic laws in areas as varied

as child labor and climate change can be challenged under W.T.O. rules as

being unfair restrictions on free trade.

"Foundations are beginning to realize that whatever issues they're involved

with are intricately connected to globalization policies," says Jerry Mander,

program director at the Foundation for Deep Ecology, in San Francisco,

and president of the International Forum on Globalization, a think tank that

opposes economic globalization. "Every foundation, whether it's

environmentally or socially oriented, ought to be putting this on their front

burner. And once it's on the front burner, I don't see how they could take it


A handful of grant makers besides Mr. Mander have focused on the issue

for years. Roxanne Turnage, executive director of the C. S. Fund, in

Freestone, Calif., says her eyes were opened at a briefing she attended

nearly a decade ago. "I came away blown away by the idea that this thing

called GATT had a potential to undermine everything all the rest of our

grantees had worked for two decades to achieve," she recalls.

The C.S. Fund and the Foundation for Deep Ecology were among the first

grant makers to support the work of principal groups that have long been

involved with issues of globalization, including the Institute for Agriculture

and Trade Policy, in Minneapolis, and Public Citizen, in Washington, which

participated in the briefing that Ms. Turnage attended.

"Many funders have been working on these issues for years," says John

Harvey, associate director of Grassroots International, in Boston, which

supports groups in Brazil, Eritrea, Haiti, Mexico, and elsewhere. "Primarily

since Seattle, a new vocabulary has emerged, and a new desire to

understand the structural basis for what's taking place."

Grant makers vary widely in their approach to globalization. Some focus on

the policy end, underwriting research papers and conferences or helping to

publicize the issue more widely. Others assist with grassroots activists'

efforts to mobilize broader support, travel to other countries, and reassess

local activities in light of what's happening around the globe.

While many grant makers believe that the regulations and institutions that

govern the global economy should be changed, there is no consensus about

what should be done. At one end are critics like Mr. Mander -- co-editor

of the book The Case Against the Global Economy -- who says the

system is "based upon an export-oriented model of economic development

that is going to destroy the earth," and should be dismantled.

But others hold far different views. "Everyone has criticisms of the W.T.O.,

but we need to find ways to reform it, not just blow it up," says Michael

Northrop, a program officer at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, in New

York. He and many others favor overhauling global institutions, but

primarily to make them less secretive and more democratic in their

deliberations, and to draft agreements that take effects on the environment

and society more into account.

To help foundations sort through such issues, several dozen grant makers,

who met last fall during the Seattle protests, agreed to form the Funders

Network on Trade and Globalization, to promote awareness among

foundations of the relevance of such issues to their grant making.

The network, which is operated from the offices of the Environmental

Grantmakers Association, in New York, is holding briefings for foundation

staff officers to discuss globalization issues. The first briefing was held in

New York in February; additional briefings are scheduled for April 26, in

Chicago, and May 8, in San Francisco.

"Everyone has an abstract idea that globalization is something they should

be concerned about, but many of them don't have a clear way of thinking

through what its various aspects are, which can lead to hasty conclusions,"

says Carolyn Deere, the network's coordinator.

The funders' network plans to put up a World Wide Web site and is

preparing a briefing book for grant makers that it hopes to publish in July.

The book will summarize the varied roles that foundations see themselves

playing in the debate over globalization and trade.

In addition, three grant makers -- the French American Charitable Trust,

the Solidago Foundation, and the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at

Shelter Rock -- have jointly commissioned a national survey of officials of

their grantees and other non-profit groups to determine what efforts are

already under way in terms of globalization issues, and what other projects

or approaches might be useful as well. The three foundations will use the

findings to guide their grant making.

"It's going to take a long time to turn this around," says Deborah Holder, a

program officer at Veatch. "It's a big challenge for grant makers. But there

doesn't seem to be any way our limited dollars will ever compensate for the

gaps we see in all our communities. So it's in our best interests to look at

systemic causes."

Some foundations seek primarily to expand participation in discussions

about changing the way the World Trade Organization operates, to include

groups of people who are now excluded from participating in its decision


"Civil society does need to have a place at the table," says William S.

White, president of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, in Flint, Mich.

"As a foundation, we don't necessarily have our own politically correct idea

about what we should be doing -- but we will say, Make sure the citizens of

your country have good information, access to your parliament, and the

other tools they need to make good decisions."

About 45 percent of the $7-million that Mott spends each year on

international-trade issues goes to groups based outside the United States,

says Ed Miller, a program officer. "For us, globalization isn't just one thing,"

he says. Rather, it includes the cross-border flows of private and

government capital and the lending policies of institutions like the World

Bank and the International Monetary Fund, along with international trade


Mott's view, he says, is that "globalization is happening, but the rules

through which it is implemented can be defined in ways so that the

environment, workers' rights, and social concerns can be protected."

Many foundation officials point out that one way to help secure such

protections is to make grants to local groups dealing with issues that result

from the globalization of trade.

Ann Bastian, director of the Phoenix Fund for Workers and Communities,

in New York, cites the efforts of U.S. groups hoping to clean up rivers and

bays polluted by the many maquiladoras, the Mexican factories near the

U.S. border that assemble goods for U.S. companies but pay lower wages

and operate with fewer restrictions than they would in the United States.

"You can spend a lifetime trying to clean up the New River in California,"

Ms. Bastian says, "but if you don't deal with the maquiladora that's dumping

upstream in Mexico, you'll never solve the problem."

The Phoenix Fund is a collaboration of grant makers that wants to help

low-wage workers organize to improve the lives of their families and

communities. The fund expects to spend more than $325,000 this year on

organizing and linking workers and building the resources of organizations in

the United States and Mexico that work on labor and human-rights issues.

Supporters of the Phoenix Fund say the best way to protect U.S. jobs and

labor standards against the "race to the bottom" created by global

competition is to improve wages and working conditions in other countries

where corporations are thinking of moving.

Closer to home, adopting a global outlook can affect how organizations

operate within individual neighborhoods. "We need to help activists

understand that environmental victories here can have negative

consequences elsewhere," says Marjorie Fine, executive director of the

Veatch program."If pollution ends up in someone else's river, we haven't

solved the problem, we've just moved it." When U.S. corporations are

stymied in their plans to build toxic-waste incinerators in the United States,

for example, they sometimes turn to countries with weaker environmental

regulations or less-organized opposition.

Overseas collaborations among activists have resulted in some significant

successes for critics of the global trading system. In Philadelphia, the Bread

and Roses Community Fund has supported efforts of the local chapter of

the AIDS organization ACT-UP to lift trade restrictions that prevent generic

versions of AIDS medicines from being produced and sold in developing

countries. Pharmaceutical companies had refused to grant the licenses

needed to permit generic versions of their drugs to be distributed, even in

countries where the companies had no market because so few people could

afford to buy the brand-name versions.

ACT-UP played a key role in a coalition of health, environmental,

consumer, and human-rights organizations that forged links with their

counterparts in South Africa and elsewhere, and successfully lobbied the

White House to secure a change in that policy last fall. The $7,000 donated

by Bread and Roses to the effort was money well spent, says Christie

Balka, the fund's executive director. "This relatively small grant had an

enormous impact, far beyond what we could have imagined at the beginning

of the process."

Many foundations, while flush with earnings from the global marketplace,

face challenges that can make grant making for globalization issues


"This issue is difficult, because much of it either is or feels very critical of

corporations or even of capitalism," says Christine Roessler, managing

director of the French American Charitable Trust, in San Francisco. "So it's

very tricky how you present this work to boards," which often include

corporate executives.

Indeed, notes Mr. Mander, of the Foundation for Deep Ecology, "one of

the things that has restricted some foundations from doing this is that you

can scarcely get involved and not talk about the role of global


But many grant makers point out that what they seek is fair trade, rather

than no trade, and that their goal is not to destroy corporations but to

ensure that the global economic system is set up to benefit the world's entire

population, and that everyone affected by trade agreements has a voice in

how they are structured.

Participants at last month's meeting of the National Network of

Grantmakers discussed globalization and international trade for four days.

Maude Barlow, who chairs a public-interest charity called the Council of

Canadians, described what she says are social imbalances.

"The W.T.O. has become the most dominant institution on earth," she

declared, because it can force governments to abandon policies that conflict

with its provisions that exalt unfettered trade.

But citizens around the world are mobilizing to oppose the more pernicious

aspects of global trade, she said. "We're building the most powerful

civil-society movement that has ever existed. This is the new politics of the

21st century."

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