Tikva Grassroots Empowerment Fund turns a critical eye on institutions, both economic and political, that favor wealthy or powerful segments of society at the expense of local and Indigenous communities across the globe. Without access to the power centers that make decisions without consultation, these communities face loss of land and livelihood, violence, and destruction around the world – often with no recourse. Tikva identifies the links between global and local structures, channeling resources to those who can challenge power and enable affected communities to come to the table as stakeholders.
As Executive Director Chivy Sok puts it, “We ask: what can we, as a small fund, do in order to shine a light on these massive problems that the people and planet are facing? Who are the people and what are the organizations that are best positioned to bring those issues to light – and then hold power to account?”
Tikva is, indeed, a small but powerful fund, and one that likes to do this work quietly. At the heart of Tikva is an understanding of and a deep commitment to supporting the communities of people across the globe who are affected by extractive industry’s operations, by oppressive policies, unaccountable governance, polluting refineries, and economic injustices. Operating through a donor-advised fund at Tides, the organization can focus on the on-the-ground work of the organizations it supports. For Tikva, the question of how to build a solution is just as important as the solution itself; all of its partners understand that the local stakeholders involved in any environmental rights-related violation must create their own way forward. With this shared value as a foundation, alongside decades of experience and learning, Tikva’s support is also a tool for connecting like-minded organizations that can grow together in their work.
“On any given year, Tikva Grassroots Empowerment Fund makes about 100 grants domestically and internationally. That’s a lot of grants for a small fund. We wouldn’t be able to do this work without the Tides structure supporting the process. Tides has enabled me to focus on the substance of the issues we care about. It’s an important contribution to the overall goal.”
Chivy Sok, Executive Director, Tikva Grassroots Empowerment Fund
Anuradha Mittal of the Oakland Institute, which spurs debate and inspires action along a wide spectrum of environmental issues, recognizes this as a key role for Tikva. “They’re really the glue that helps bring all of these different actors together. We need this multilateral response to these injustices. Alone, we might be weaker; together, we are stronger.”
Across the world, but specifically in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, corporate land grabs have been orchestrated to give access to foreign companies at incredibly cheap prices, displacing the people that live in and around the targeted land. The legal systems surrounding these situations are often tenuous, leaving local communities few options for justice. The Oakland Institute has successfully exposed land deals that put local lives at risk, linking these stories to wider media coverage and public awareness. The largest land deal in Tanzania, for example, involved 800,000 acres of land that were set to be sold to an American investor, pushing out the 160,000 small farmers whose livelihoods depended on their access to it. The Institute’s exposé led to a segment with Dan Rather, advocacy from those in the investor’s community, and the ultimate failure of the deal. The farmers are still there today. Similar deals in countries from South Sudan to Papua New Guinea require a great deal of tenacity and resources to uncover and shut down. “We couldn’t do this without the belief and confidence from funders who don’t shy away from supporting radical work. Many seek ‘less polarizing’ organizations to support. Tikva is courageous, and lets us be honest and courageous ourselves,” Anuradha says.
Tikva’s financial support for the Oakland Institute comes in the form of multi-year general operating funds, which allows for all aspects of tailored communication strategies around a local struggle: research, advocacy, publicity, and everything in between. In its land rights work, the Institute values Tikva’s willingness to strategize, share new publications, or make connections with other organizations like EarthRights International, which works on the legal side of similar issues; the two can trade research and strategies to help each other move their shared vision forward.
EarthRights International’s Katie Redford agrees. EarthRights also receives multi-year general operating support from Tikva, which is crucial for the multiple facets of their work: addressing local and global human rights and environmental harms that occur as a result of development by corporate and economic elites. Some of their work is long-term, like a crimes against humanity lawsuit that might take a decade to complete; some happens in response to emergencies, like an urgent evacuation of clients and other front-line defenders whose lives are at risk. For Katie, Tikva’s deep understanding of her organization’s work means that she feels supported in every way: “We’re so aligned, it’s like they’ve always been there.”
They’re really the glue that helps bring all of these different actors together. We need this multilateral response to these injustices. Alone, we might be weaker; together, we are stronger…We couldn’t do this without the belief and confidence from funders who don’t shy away from supporting radical work. Many seek ‘less polarizing’ organizations to support. Tikva is courageous, and lets us be honest and courageous ourselves.
Anuradha Mittal, Oakland Institute
Tikva also acts as a collaborative thought partner. When Chivy and Katie realized that both of their organizations were thinking through ways to address displacement issues brought on by conservation organizations, they were able to share legal research and connections with communities all over the world, informing each other’s perspectives and strategies. For both Tikva and EarthRights, conservation is a key global issue. But they recognized that the ways in which conservation efforts are carried out can cause another set of problems. Traditionally, conservation often assumes that plant and animal life is good, and that humans are harmful, because we have so often disrupted the biodiversity of the planet. This has led to cordoning off land as protected areas, often for tourism, and removing the people who have traditionally lived there. This denies the right of those who have traditionally lived harmoniously within nature to have a say in their own futures. Thus, a positive step for one definition of conservation also implies a human rights violation.
Tikva is committed to conservation and biodiversity. But Tikva supports conservation approaches that empower local communities to manage and protect their own resources and environment. Their goal is to support systems of conservation and initiatives where local and Indigenous people’s right to free, prior, informed consent (FPIC) is fully respected, and where they are fully involved in all decision making processes related to their lives, land, and livelihoods. To do so means seeking out bold organizations like the Oakland Institute, EarthRights International, and many local organizations in Africa and Latin America in order to work in concert to achieve these goals. In this way, Tikva exists within a powerful network of grassroots actors, all working together to support a shared vision of building a just and sustainable world.
Tikva’s relentless focus on supporting affected communities is what originally led them to Tides. As a small team, they wanted to simplify their operations and focus on their main objective: empowerment of the grassroots. With Tides’ efficient systems and dedicated staff at the ready to address any problems that may arise in grantmaking work, Tikva can basically function with the vision and reach of a full-fledged foundation, but without the accompanying administrative burden. Tides’ extensive experience in international grantmaking is also a huge plus, as Tikva’s attention is turned to issues and rights violations all over the world; Tides’ staff understands the context of different regions, making it a comprehensive thought partner for a complex set of problems. Tides’ rapid-response grantmaking services help Tikva remain nimble in the face of evolving human rights challenges.
In addition to its expertise, Tides stood out to Tikva because of its shared focus on social justice and human rights. Though many advisors or foundations do excellent work across a variety of impact areas, Tides’ stated commitment to these key issues indicated an understanding that they form the underpinning of everything else, seeking to change systems so that everyone has universal access to the same basic human rights. This rang true for Tikva’s team.
If you ask about Tikva’s specific areas of focus, you’ll get an answer that illustrates the nuance with which the organization operates. Tikva’s broad fields of work – environmental justice, corporate accountability, human rights, sustainable agriculture, community centered conservation, economic justice, water justice, and democracy at risk – represent lenses that can guide the work, but never in separate spheres. “The easiest thing to do is to categorize, but the reality is that all of these issues are interrelated. Our challenge is to understand the complexity of the global political, economic and financial systems as they affect people and the planet. From this understanding, we then ask the aching question: where can our limited resources be invested to help yield impact on behalf of those most impacted?” For Tides, Tikva is an example of an enduring partnership in which key aspects of our approach – embracing risk, acting with empathy and respect, crossing boundaries, engaging with those whose lives are most affected – are truly embodied.