Since its founding in 1985, Thousand Currents invested in over 750 community-led initiatives in 37 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Thousand Currents was the inspiration of a group of returned Peace Corps volunteers who had a vision for a different kind of international development model. In 1985, they created International Development Exchange (IDEX, our former name) after seeing that small grants targeted to grassroots groups—who had the trust of their neighbors and the knowledge of what was needed in their own
communities—were often more effective than traditional, large-scale philanthropy. In the subsequent decade, this model grew into a long-term partnership approach. Thousand Currents’ partnership approach to grantmaking inverts the paradigm of
how international “aid” efforts have historically been conducted by relying on the wisdom and strength of local people to tackle powerlessness and exclusion. Most large-scale development efforts are still, however, initiated and led by people external to the community with results that are often limited or short-lived. Local initiative ensures a readiness for change and ownership of the change process; it reflects cultural, social, political, geographic, and economic realities, a nuance of understanding that outsiders cannot possess.
Over time, our strategies and practices have evolved as we have learned from the insights of our partners. For example, initially we provided short-term, project grants. However, in 2000, we transitioned to a partnership model, committing to long-term, flexible funding. In 2014, we adopted a revised theory of change that integrated feedback from our partners, crystallized the partnership model, and strengthened our philanthropic advocacy work. Our new strategy process commenced in 2017, when we held discussions with board, staff, and partners to gauge our direction (as elaborated in our goals above). Our work to channel flexible, general, long-term support to grassroots groups
Our Vision: Thousand Currents envisions a world in which self-determined and connected people share and uphold the abundance of life. There is enough - for all and for future generations.
Our Mission: Thousand Currents supports grassroots organizations and movements led by women, youth, and Indigenous Peoples that are creating lasting solutions toshared global challenges. Their work addresses the interdependent issues of food sovereignty, alternative economies, climate justice, and human rights.
What we do: We work with our grassroots partners to scale their successes by building their capacity and leadership; and linking them to broader social change movements at the regional, national, and global levels. Through our Philanthropic Partnerships program, we work with donors to adopt transformative practices that dismantle injustice and inequity. We are a vocal and visible advocate for grassrootsled social change, bridging emerging approaches and learnings from the Global South with philanthropic models and practices in the Global North.
Our partners resist government and corporate abuses of human and natural resources that perpetuate inequality, poverty, and injustice. They reimagine wealth, power, and well being to offer solutions that draw from ancestral wisdom. Through their
innovations, they reflect the needs of today and the possibilities of tomorrow. They move with steadfast dignity, resolve, and courage to build new sources of power through ingenuity and vision. They leave a lasting impact.
Our Goals: Thousand Currents work is guided by our new three-year strategy, from 2018-2020.
We commit to use our resources, access, and influence to deepen the core and turn up the volume through more funding, stronger partnerships and initiatives, streamlined communications, and bolder philanthropic advocacy.
· Build a stronger, more interconnected, and better-resourced ecosystem of partners in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
· Elevate our partners’
Thousand Currents works with grassroots leaders, organizations, organizations, and movements in urban, suburban, and rural communities in Nepal, India, Fiji in Asia; South Africa, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe in Africa; and in Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Brazil and Colombia in Latin America.
Thousand Currents’ programs build the power and leadership of indigenous women, create alternative economic solutions, as well as advance food sovereignty and climate justice.
1. Building the Power of Indigenous Women
From grassroots social movements to United Nations organizations, there is clear agreement on the key role indigenous women play in advancing human rights and social change. However, indigenous women continue to suffer the greatest brunt of state sanctioned repression. Our partners strengthen and increase rights, opportunities, self-worth, choices, resources, autonomy, and power of indigenous women through their programs and practices. They work to educate adolescent girls, eliminate domestic violence, increase women’s participation in civil society, and improve women’s access to wealth and resources. In 2014, after deep consultation with grassroots leaders, social movement activists, allies, and donors, we adopted a revised Theory of Change. It reinforced our partnership model and put Indigenous Peoples’ self-determination at the center of our community self-determination goal (for more detail on our Theory of Change, please see: https://thousandcurrents.org/about/#toc). Today our three-year strategy aims to strengthen our support of Indigenous Peoples and Women-led organizations by moving more resources to our partners, building and expanding stronger partnerships, and engaging in strategic philanthropic advocacy to bolster sector-wide grassroots support (for details on our new strategy, see: https://thousandcurrents.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/TC-Strategy-2018-20-
1.pdf). Similarly, our regional strategies in Asia, Latin America, and Africa are expanding or deepening partnerships with organizations that are led-by and work for Indigenous women and communities.
For instance, in 2017, Thousand Currents invited four Peru grantee organizations for long-term partnerships, all of which are led-by or work for Indigenous Women: Red Ñuqanchik Maronijei Noshaninka, El Grupo Género y Economía (GGE or Gender and Economy Group), and Federación Nacional de Mujeres Campesinas, Artesanas, Indígenas, Nativas y Asalariadas del Perú (National Federation of Indigenous, Peasants, Artisans, Native and Wage-earning Women of Peru, or FENMUCARINAP), and Asociación para la Naturaleza y el Desarrollo Sostenible (the Association for Nature and Sustainable Development, or ANDES). Our partners have had much success in uplifting Indigenous Women in their communities. For instance in Guatemala, our partners have politically organized and trained the first democratically elected indigenous woman mayor of a small town. In partnership with a countrywide women’s rights political alliance, they have been instrumental in passing the landmark Anti-Femicide Law in Guatemala.
Indigenous women farmers in Mexico and India are leading the way in agricultural innovations, training community members in reclaiming native seeds, increasing their self-sufficiency, and providing alternatives to the big agri-business model. In Nepal and South Africa, rural women are leveraging small-scale savings into community development by building locally controlled assets and advocating for women’s political empowerment.
2. Alternative Economic Models
We prioritize producers and consumers, not shareholders. Thousand Currents envisions a world in which all communities not only have economic security, but also prosperity. Thousand Currents and its partners, especially organizations led by indigenous women, are developing economic solutions that enrich grassroots communities, build their economic power, and promote harmony between humans and the environment in the pursuit of dignified livelihoods. Our partners are active participants in creating change and building wealth—not just income—for their communities. Our partners help create local economies organized around solidarity and collective interests, rather than entrepreneurial principles.
● build skills to use existing land and other natural resources in sustainable ways;
● create access to collective savings and affordable credit through village banking;
● generate income based on sustainably produced traditional arts and food production;
● support collective manufacturing and capital generation to enter local and international markets;
● train each other in financial management and cooperative development to survive employment discrimination;
● ensure healthy and safe working conditions; and
● equitably distribute decision-making power among all economic players.
An economic development model that many of our partners practice is the concept of “Solidarity Economy”, which is guided by equitable and sustainable development solutions. Individuals work in an organized, communal manner toward improving the lives of the entire group, seeking unity, promoting democracy, and considering the natural ecological equilibrium during production. This model shares common characteristics with efforts in the United States and in other parts of the world, such as worker cooperatives, community land trusts, and common pasturelands that democratize wealth and build a community-sustaining economy. For more information on Solidarity Economy, please see:
3. Food Sovereignty
Food sovereignty allows communities have the autonomy to define their food systems, contextualized within a community’s cultural, traditional, political, and economic realities and traditions. It gives them the freedom to choose how their food is grown. Around the world, Thousand Currents partners in Africa, Asia, and Latin America have been reclaiming their food systems for decades. They focus on small-scale agroecological farming that leads to improved yields, better quality vegetables, lowered costs, and effective management of land, water, soil, and seeds.
Our partners work to:
● sharing sustainable and organic food production methods;
● organizing to sell their food collectively at fair prices;
● protecting biodiversity and genetic resources within ecosystems;
● lowering costs while improving the quality and quantity of their yields; and
● educating their governments to put smallholder farmers’ interests before those of multinational corporations.
4. Climate Justice
For many of the communities where Thousand Currents partners work, climate change has led to contamination of water sources and air, deforestation of ancestral lands, and an increase of natural disasters and erratic weather patterns, which affect a community’s ability to grow enough food. Thousand Currents partners adopt a holistic approach to environmental challenges that not only honors our planet, but also creates opportunities for communities to manage the land, water, and seeds on which their lives and livelihoods depend. Further, agroecological practices are paramount in combating the enormous amount of greenhouse gas emissions, between 44% and 57%, resulting from the global food system. Also, our partners are also demanding accountability from polluting industries and fiercely lobbying the government to take responsibility for their environmental degradation.
Our partners work to:
● reduce communities’ vulnerability to natural disasters;
● reclaim ancestral knowledge of land stewardship and food production;
● share sustainable farming and grazing practices;
● learn new technologies to rebuild healthy communities;
● combat toxic waste and pollution;
● address environmental racism; and
● create ecologically sound alternative economies.
Women farmers form the backbone of the rural economy. As FAO research shows, bridging the gender gap in agriculture can significantly boost food security, and contribute to overall well-being. By fostering harmony between humans and their environment, Thousand Currents-supported communities are also successfully building wealth, local leadership, especially among women and indigenous groups, and broader community involvement in their initiatives.