JUST ENERGY:  SHIFTING POWER TO PEOPLE

Equitable disbursement of benefits from clean and renewable energy solutions is not guaranteed without intention, and any effective response to the climate and energy infrastructure crisis must be both timely and just.

The past century of infrastructure buildout resulted in extractive and intentionally racist practices and systematic disinvestments in low-wealth communities and communities of color. Often, the agency and authority to determine energy systems -- including source, distribution, cost, and ownership structure of those assets -- is not in the hands of the people most affected by those decisions. There is a different path forward. At Surdna, we invest in successful strategies that center people most impacted in positions of power and influence to build stronger communities. When this happens, community leaders determine and control for themselves how to dismantle structural barriers, build community assets, and improve their quality of life.

Movements, including the just transition and climate justice movements, have long been engaged in resistance work - stopping the advancement of incomplete solutions and extractive systems.  These same movements, made up of people and organizations, are best positioned to continue to move into a more generative space, putting forth the infrastructure vision for what is possible in a way that respects the dignity and meets the basic human needs of all communities.

The energy systems we rely on are changing. Will the people most impacted get to determine how we move forward?

What we fund:

We partner to build democracy, achieve equitable outcomes as defined by frontline communities, and repair harm by investing in people’s well-being. We support organizations and leaders that center self-determination and community control in their values, purpose, principles and practices. We support energy system solutions as the means to build power and leadership in low-wealth communities and communities of color. The solutions and outcomes chosen are best defined by people and organizations on the frontlines doing the work. Instead of a prescriptive approach, we seek to invest in the following strategies and activities:

  • Community Organizing and Political Power - Support frontline community-led strategies that redistribute wealth and power; builds political power that results in self-determination for communities; and holds current elected officials, policymakers and other decision-makers responsible to all constituencies, not just financial interests.
  • Non-Extractive Wealth Creation and Economic Power - Build assets and wealth that lead people to greater economic security while advancing environmental, gender and racial justice.
  • Leadership Development - Support both frontline community and public sector leadership at the state and local level. This applies to people holding decision-making positions in public sectors and to people and groups on the ground outside of the public sector holding decision-makers accountable.
  • Policy Advocacy and System Reform - Develop a range of policy solutions that lead to game-changing interventions shifting the way decisions are made and addressing structural barriers.
  • Narrative Strategy and Cultural Power - Counter existing race, class and gender based stereotypes with new narratives that shift biased thinking and position people and communities with lived experience as the experts. 

Who we fund: 

We partner with organizations and individuals that demonstrate:

Community Leadership & Trust

  • Have leadership who represent and reflect the communities they serve.
  • Have the trust of their communities as represented by deep relationships.


Sharp Strategy & Analysis

  • Have clear analysis and strategies for energy systems change at the local, state, regional and/or federal levels. Strategies flow from an understanding of short-term and long-term challenges and opportunities.
  • Articulate how identity, history and politics combine to suppress the power and prosperity of their communities.
  • Hold a long-term view of structural change that centers race in the analysis and focuses on energy systems and policy changes that create democratic participation and economic opportunities. 


Intersectional Movement-Building Orientation

  • Support multi-racial alliance building that includes a differentiated analysis of, and tailored strategy for, the needs of Black, Latino, Asian and Native people
  • Black-led infrastructure for social change
  • Strategies that build the capacity and power of each of these groups to secure equitable outcomes
  • Reflect networks of collaboration, resource-sharing and co-strategizing that already exists or has been identified as a need by the community it serves. Networks may be formal or informal, short or long-term and structured in a variety of ways

We do not fund: 

  • Organizations whose singular goal is to reduce carbon emissions without an intentional strategy for equitable outcomes of policies, plans and activities for low-wealth communities and communities of color
  • Individuals and organizations without a 501(c)(3) designation
  • Capital campaigns, building construction, equipment, and operations and maintenance costs
  • Projects internationally based or focused
  • Conference scholarships

How funds may be used:

  • General operating support
  • Project support
  • Capacity support for networks of grassroots and partner organizations

Program Related Investments (PRIs)

We look for opportunites to make investments in communities of color and low-wealth communities that are aligned with our mission. We are looking for:  

  • People and organizations that have a shared sense of mission and vision
  • A solid business plan

How to apply:

If you are interested in applying for a Surdna Foundation grant, please submit a letter of inquiry by clicking here.  Please note: We can only support organizations that meet our guidelines listed under "What we fund."

Program Related Investments

Surdna's Program Related Investment Fund supports the foundation’s mission by providing investment capital to fund innovations that use market-based approaches to address economic, cultural, and environmental challenges.

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Fostering sustainable communities in the United States — communities guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures.