Who’s setting the agenda? Philanthropic donor influence in marine conservation

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  • Ash Enrici
  • Rebecca L. Gruby
  • Betsill, Michele Merrill
  • Elodie Le Cornu
  • Jeffrey E. Blackwatters
  • Xavier Basurto
  • Hugh Govan
  • Tarita Holm
  • Stacy D. Jupiter
  • Sangeeta Mangubhai

We are in a period of unprecedented growth in conservation philanthropy. How will this influx of private funding affect conservation agendas? Inspired by a collaborative research co-design process, this paper addresses questions about how foundations influence conservation agendas in the places they work. We draw from a case study of the world’s largest philanthropic funder of marine conservation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and their 20 years of investment in marine conservation in Palau and Fiji. Conservation practitioners in both countries universally agreed that the Packard Foundation had a significant and positive influence on the agenda, which they attribute to both how the foundation worked and what they chose to fund. Specifically, our study reveals how the Packard Foundation shaped conservation agendas in Palau and Fiji in partnership with its grantees through a grant-making process characterized by relationship building, collaborative decision making, convening and promoting of collective action, flexibility, and long-term funding. Packard’s approach was often identified as unique, and contrasted with numerous other donors, including foundations and other types of donors, who use a more top-down approach. By describing a relative success story in how philanthropic foundations can work with conservation practitioners to co-design a shared conservation agenda, our work provides timely guidance for donors and practitioners.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number3
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Interviewees explained how, through its funded initiatives, Packard shaped other conservation priorities and agendas, sometimes long after grant periods ended. In the context of Packard’s impending exit from Fiji, one individual from Fiji who worked at a large international NGO noted: “I think the Packard Foundation has actually helped set up the priorities for the next 20 years” (Fiji 05). Below we consider how Packard’s agenda (and associated investments) for knowledge generation and capacity building influenced and continue to influence conservation priorities at various organizational and temporal scales in Fiji and Palau.

Funding Information:
The authors thank all research participants, whose contributions to this work made it possible. This research was supported with grants from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation (Grant numbers 2017-66579 and 2018-68274) and Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies (Grant number 1810-05974). This research is approved by the Colorado State University Institutional Review Board for the protection of human subjects (protocol 18-7869H). We thank past and current members of our Research Advisory Committee, Heather D’Agnes, Kristin Goss, King Sam, Aliti Vunisea, and Suliana Siwatibau, for their guidance throughout all stages of our research. Finally, the authors thank the reviewers for their thoughtful and constructive comments.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 by the author(s).

    Research areas

  • conservation agenda, donors, marine conservation, philanthropy

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