While some organizations tackle global problems like ocean liners—slowly and surely—the climate crisis is an issue that needs to be addressed like a speedboat, says Laurene Powell Jobs, founder and president of the Emerson Collective, a for-profit firm focused on impact investing and philanthropy. The world must act fast on climate change because “we’re in the middle of this window of opportunity that will be closed within the decade,” she said during the TIME100 Summit in New York.
That’s why she founded the Waverley Street Foundation, a nonprofit exclusively focused on rapid climate giving. In late 2021, the Emerson Collective announced Powell Jobs will invest $3.5 billion to address the climate crisis within the next 10 years through the Waverley Street Foundation, in what is known as a “spend-down fund.”
“There’s no need for us to spend 5% a year when the actual issue is right in front of us right now,” Powell Jobs explained.
Speaking at the TIME100 summit in New York on April 25, Powell Jobs gave a unique glimpse into the scope of how those funds will be distributed. The goal, she said, will be to promote “environmental and climate resiliency, mitigation, and adaptation.”
Over the next decade, Powell Jobs said, the organization plans to distribute its funds 50-50: half to causes in the U.S., and half in other countries, “to address the pressing nature of the climate crisis between now and the early 2030s.”
One area where the organization is “looking deeply,” says Powell Jobs, is for opportunities to work closely with communities and to support civil society. “For smaller, under-resourced communities, it’s very difficult for them to apply for grants,” Powell Jobs said. “There are ways to buttress local governments so that application process, and that distribution process, happens in a much more equitable way.”
One goal, said Powell Jobs, is to invest in higher risk projects. By doing so, she said, they could be “de-risked” in order for state, local, and federal governments to reproduce them on scale.
Powell Jobs acknowledged that like for many other people, the threat of a changing climate has become visible in her everyday life, especially as a California resident, where “we now have a ‘wildfire season,’” Powell Jobs noted. Several years ago, she said, she was deeply disturbed when wildfires turned the skies orange for days on end, forcing people to wear face masks to protect themselves from smoke. “It was bizarre, and dystopian, and truly, truly just really, really unnerving to live with,” she said. “That’s, like, where I live. But basically everywhere, it’s getting hotter.”
Part of where she finds optimism, though, is in the “innovative, creative problem solvers,” she said. “People are looking at the changing climate as an opportunity to change how they work,” she continued, and solutions are being “deeply informed by the needs of their communities, that’s very exciting.”
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