Marian Ignat

Climate action calls for courageous philanthropists

To use philanthropy for positive change, keep these four things in mind.


During the Ashoka Changemakers Summit, we turned our attention to our longtime partners for climate action: philanthropists. Despite millions of funds channeled towards addressing the climate crisis, we still need bolder change. What’s the next step for philanthropists around the world to really make a dent on climate action?

We discussed this complex subject with Nicole Rycroft, Founder and Executive Director of Canopy, Piet Colruyt, Founder of Impact Capital, and Louisa Brassey, Co-founder of Greenwood Place. Here’s what they had to say.

The power dynamic matters

For over twenty years, Nicole Rycroft has been addressing planet and climate issues through finding unlikely allies. Through her solution-driven nonprofit, Canopy, Nicole harnesses the power of the marketplace by working with 750 large corporate customers of paper, packaging and wood-based fabrics — the largest consumers of forests — to develop cutting-edge environmental policies.

Philanthropists made “pivotal” contributions to her work, says Nicole. Looking back, she adds, one of Canopy’s first strategic decisions was refusing to enter into a financial relationship with any of the companies they advise. This principle allows the organization to have equal power at the table and has shaped the organizational culture ever since.



Nicole Rycroft is an Ashoka Fellow and the co-founder of Canopy. Read more about what she is doing for the world’s forests, species and climate here.

Philanthropists are strategists, not just pocketbooks

Philanthropists are usually not neutral when it comes to influencing the organizations they support, and sometimes push them in different directions. Add in the investment community’s laser-focus on risk and the politicized nature of climate issues, and we end up with a precarious situation. That’s why it’s critical for philanthropists to listen to those with expertise and first-hand experience on the issues they impact.

Louisa Brassey started her journey into the philanthropy field three years ago when she was charged with setting up her family foundation. “I found that I hit many roadblocks into how the actual execution of that foundation was going to take place,” says Louisa, who at the time had a full-time job, a young family and “everything else that regular people find themselves facing.”

The experience led her to co-found Greenwood Place to educate clients into becoming “the best possible philanthropists they can be.” The organization runs family foundations for those who don’t have the capacity or the expertise to execute their philanthropy with proper diligence in place and emphasis on impact. Louisa sees her venture as a starting place to build new ideas — like the power of risk capital for investing in climate innovations — into larger networks. More from her:



Louisa Brassey is the co-founder of Greenwood Place and a member of the Big Bang Philanthropy. Read more about her journey into philanthropy here.

Good climate solutions solve multiple problems 

When consulting philanthropists, Louisa acknowledges that people often think they have to choose a particular issue. When she illustrates the interconnectedness of global issues, Louisa says her clients tend to naturally adopt a climate perspective. The result: a more systemic approach, rather than a limited intervention.

The intersectional relationship between human well-being and environment is “the underpinning of any success,” Nicole says.

Piet Colruyt is part of the new wave of impact investors himself. He felt like he needed to “do more and do good.” So he started supporting changemaking initiatives like youth climate organizations and citizen assemblies as an “indignado” who wants to change and do his role in Belgium. He speaks to the need for investors to step in:



Piet Colruyt is an Ashoka Support Network member and is one of the leading impact investors in Europe, as the founder of Impact Capital.

Philanthropists must take greater risks

All the speakers agree that philanthropic money should be risk money — because taking higher and higher risks, investing in systemic change, and sponsoring uncommon ideas is what we must do to escape the climate crisis.

When it comes to his investments, “it’s all experiments,” Piet says. He uses the profits from financially attractive renewable energy projects “to take high risks and to do innovative social actions.” In order to shift the industries into becoming more sustainable and “socially accessible for everyone,” Piet believes that philanthropists are playing a large part. And indeed they do — when they make courageous decisions to step outside of traditional philanthropy.

🎁 The full conversation is available here.

The Ashoka Changemaker Summit (ACMS) is the largest online gathering of system-changing social innovators and changemakers from across the globe. It connects Ashoka’s vast community of world-leading social entrepreneurs and leaders from business and philanthropy.