Tracking Green Regrantors: Who’s Funding in the Amazon, Brazil and Beyond?

dawn on the AmAZON River AS SEEN FROM Marajó Island, Brazil. Photo Courtesy of Fundación Avina.

With climate champion Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva back in power in Brazil and the Amazon seemingly at a dangerous tipping point between carbon sink and net emitter, a new group of billionaire donors has opened their checkbooks for the world’s largest rainforest and the country that holds the majority of it.

As I wrote last week, the fresh arrivals — Jeff Bezos, MacKenzie Scott, the Ballmers and more — along with the billionaires and major foundations in whose footsteps they follow — Wyss, Bloomberg, Moore, Ford and Rockefeller, among others — might be called the megafauna of this funding ecosystem. The buck starts with them, so every step they take leaves a mark. Yet while they attract a lot of eyeballs, they don’t do all the work.

There’s an animal kingdom’s worth of regrantors and grantmaking nonprofits through which hundreds of millions of grant dollars for Brazil and the Amazon filter and flow. These include internationally launched and locally grown regrantors, as well as international nonprofits ranging from so-called “big greens” to smaller rainforest-focused groups. Meanwhile, a new class of homegrown Brazilian donors is emerging, and their ranks look likely to expand. 

Based on conversations with a half-dozen representatives from funders, regrantors and nonprofits in Brazil, and additional research into funding in the region, I’ve assembled an overview of the region’s key regrantors, along with a quick intro to its homegrown philanthropists.

Interdependence is a theme. Many of the outfits mentioned here participate in the same collaboratives, or even fund each other. And the incoming billionaires are doubling down on a funding infrastructure built by their predecessors. Case in point: The Ballmers gave $118 million to the Climate and Land Use Alliance (CLUA), whose members are a who’s who of long-established funders. CLUA also sends some support to smaller regrantors. 

This list is, necessarily, a summary of the activities within a complex region, not a comprehensive survey, and it focuses on work within Brazil — where the bulk of the philanthropic action appears to be — even though the Amazon spans eight Latin American countries. It’s also part of a broader turn toward regrantors and intermediaries in environmental philanthropy, a trend that has only accelerated as new billionaire donors enter the space.

Regrantors and intermediaries with local roots

There’s a wide range of homegrown operations doing green regranting in Brazil, and some already are backed by U.S.- and Northern-based megafunders. For instance, MacKenzie Scott sent $5 million to Fundo Casa Socioambiental as part of a tranche of funding to front-line grassroots organizations. For another group, Fundación Avina, the support came some time ago — it was set up in 1994 by the billionaire Swiss building materials heir Stephan Schmidheiny — and now it functions as a regrantor. Both support grassroots groups in the greater Amazon region. 

One major regrantor is the Fundo Brasileiro para a Biodiversidade, known as FUNBIO, which granted about $35 million in 2022, nearly double its total from three years before. Another notable operation is Instituto Humanize, which has partnered with some major international philanthropies, including the Oak Foundation and Open Society Foundations, as well as CLUA. 

Indigenous and Afro-descendent, or quilombola, communities have also set up their own funds. Two examples are Podáali — also called the Indigenous Fund of the Brazilian Amazon — and the Babaçu Fund, set up by a grassroots group of female quilombola palm nut collectors, both of which were featured in a 2021 ClimateWorks Foundation report

There are other notable identity-based regrantors, including the Baobá Fund, which describes itself as the first fund dedicated exclusively to racial equity for the Black community in Brazil, and the feminist and anti-racist Elas fund, which focuses entirely on women, trans and nonbinary people. Other local outfits include Dema Fund and Kayapó Fund, but the list could go on and on.

Regrantors and intermediaries with U.S. ties

Many of the largest regrantors and intermediaries operating in Brazil and the broader Amazon region have close U.S. connections. Consider the Andes-Amazon Fund, which has invested over $65 million in the region and grants across seven Latin American countries. According to the fund, 68% of its funding currently comes from the Wyss Foundation, with which it shares an office building in Washington, D.C. Other funders include the Chicago-based Bobolink Foundation, Catto Shaw Foundation in Denver and several major individual donors.

The ClimateWorks Foundation network also looms large. Instituto Clima e Sociedade is based in Brazil, but it’s one of the regional regrantors backed by the founding funders of ClimateWorks, which remains a close partner. It issued more than four times as many grants last year as in 2016, and awarded more than $70 million over that timeframe. Many consider it the most prominent regrantor in the country’s climate landscape.

CLUA is another close regional partner of ClimateWorks, with other members including the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Ford Foundation, Good Energies by Porticus and Moore, as well as McKnight Foundation as an aligned funder. Brazil and the Amazon represent only one slice of CLUA’s work, but it’s from a big pie: between 2010 and 2021, CLUA participants awarded grants and contracts totaling $738 million in alignment with the alliance’s strategy.

The overlapping nature of these networks grows dizzying if you add in collaboratives and pledges. Most notably, there’s the Forests, People, Climate collaborative, which kicked off with a $400 million commitment from CLUA partners as well as major philanthropies like the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, Grantham Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. And there’s a $1.7 billion pledge for land tenure in tropical forests for Indigenous peoples and local communities, which counts several of the same partners.

On top of all that, there are outfits largely outside these networks. For instance, BrazilFoundation, which was started in New York more than a decade ago, was among those chosen for a gift last year by MacKenzie Scott. Her $5 million donation came on the heels of a record revenue of $8.3 million in 2021. Its listed partners include firms like Apple and Prudential, as well as a few philanthropic backers like Bloomberg and W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Another is Amazon Defenders Fund, a project of the Oakland-based Amazon Watch, which confronts the enormous security threats facing Indigenous peoples and local communities protecting the land.

There’s also a much longer list, which we’ve covered extensively over the years, of mostly U.S.- and Global North-based groups that do grassroots or local grantmaking around the globe, whose work often includes the Amazon region. These range from collaboratives like the CLIMA Fund and its partners, such as the Global Greengrants Fund, to Indigenous-led and Indigenous-focused groups like the Rights and Resources Initiative.

International nonprofits doing regranting

The Bezos Earth Fund’s $50 million round of Amazon grants this summer was a fresh reminder of the central grantmaking role that international nonprofits and intermediaries play in the region, particularly as billionaires’ newly launched operations attempt to get money out the door.

Nearly two-thirds of Bezos’ awards went to a handful of groups — Nia Tero (based in Seattle), the Rainforest Foundation Norway (Oslo, notably mostly funded by the Norwegian government), Rainforest Trust (Warrentown, Virginia), and the Wildlife Conservation Society (New York) — which will work with local partners. 

All are not only active in the region, but frequent partners with mega philanthropy, with connections extending well beyond grants. The first three, for instance, are also members of the $5 billion Protecting Our Planet Challenge, while the latter was headed by Cristián Samper until he left to become managing director and leader of nature solutions at the Bezos Earth Fund. The billionaire’s philanthropy also tapped the Austin-based nonprofit Re:Wild, a spin-off of the now-defunct Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and which is also a Protecting Our Planet member, to regrant $5 million. 

It’s worth noting some of these organizations — such as Rainforest Trust and Re:wild — function largely as regrantors, while others have their own operations. Several other familiar “big greens” are also significant regrantors in the region, according to local funders, who cite The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International as some of the other major NGO grantmakers.

Brazilian philanthropists and foundations

While they’re outweighed by their U.S. counterparts, there are some wealthy Brazilians cutting checks as part of the country’s green grantmaking ecosystem.

Take Guilherme Peirao Leal, the billionare founder of a cosmetics company who formed Instituto Arapyaú in 2008. His foundation makes all its grants within Brazil, with a focus on conservation and sustainability and a budget that nearly reached $5 million in 2022, up from about $4 million in 2018. It’s also a listed member of the new Forests, People, Climate collaborative.

Another is filmmaker Walter Moreira Salles, a billionaire banking heir who has directed films like “The Motorcycle Diaries” and the Academy Award nominee “Central Station.” He founded the grantmaker Instituto Ibirapitanga in 2017.

There are also sometimes controversial Brazil-based foundations with corporate ties that do environment-related grantmaking, from Fundo Vale (mining), Fundo JBS pela Amazonia (meat), Fundação Renova (created by a settlement after a dam collapse), and Instituto Coca-Cola Brasil (beverages).

Yet Brazil has dozens of names on the Forbes list of billionaires, and many more ultra-wealthy citizens. Many observers see a lot of philanthropic potential there.

Samper and the team at Bezos Earth Fund is trying to get that ball rolling. He held a meeting with eight Brazilian philanthropists while crafting his fund’s first slate of grants in the country, with follow-up meetings planned. “It’s still a work in progress,” he told me, declining to name participants. 

There are signs of new philanthropic intent. David Velez, billionaire cofounder of the Brazil-based NuBank, a digital bank, and his wife, Mariel Reyes, joined the Giving Pledge in 2021, and reportedly recently sold $191 million in shares to jump-start their foundation, VélezReyes+.

Another sign of the growing philanthropic heft of Brazil’s home-grown givers: For all the grants coming into its borders, and all the domestic funding, the country’s philanthropists are also sending checks abroad. Brazil logged $46 million in philanthropic outflows, according to the 2023 Global Philanthropy Tracker, a project of Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. 

Thanks to Juliana Strobel and Valeria Scorza at Fundación Avina and Enrique Ortiz of the Andes-Amazon Fund for support in assembling this list, in addition to tips from sources in my prior story on the region. Any errors or oversights are mine alone.

Know of other regrantors in the region, particularly based outside of Brazil? Let me know.

This article has been updated with new information from the Andes-Amazon Fund.