The International Development Exchange (IDEX) was established in 1985 by a group of individuals who worked for various philanthropic institutions and were confident that small, targeted grants to specific, well-run, grassroots organizations could often be more effective than traditional large-scale grants awarded by multi-billion-dollar foundations.
Each year, IDEX awards small “catalyst grants” of approximately $5,000 apiece to a small handful of carefully selected organizations, to help them carry out projects of six-to-twelve months’ duration. At the end of that period, IDEX invites one or two of those grantees to become its “partners” — a relationship whereby IDEX pledges a three-year funding commitment and pays out grants of $15,000 or more.
Since its inception, IDEX has issued grants to fund more than 500 separate projects around the world. Most recipients of IDEX grants are locally-based organizations situated in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and they are usually headed by women, young people, or “indigenous leaders” — demographics that IDEX aims to turn into “powerful agents for lasting, transformative change.”
In addition to its own grantmaking activities, IDEX also connects many of its partners to other funding sources and to one another — all in an effort to build “social justice network[s] in their respective regions and around the world.”
IDEX’s work is founded upon an anti-capitalist “Theory of Change” which claims that “community-based organizations” should strive to “create/innovate new systems to end poverty,” and should promote “egalitarian practices” to replace “existing [capitalist] economic and political systems” that “exclude and marginalize populations including small farmers, indigenous peoples, women, rural communities, land stewards, fisherfolks and slum dwellers.”
One of IDEX’s major initiatives is its Food Sovereignty program, which claims that “the people who produce, distribute and consume food” in various countries and cultures should be “at the center of decisions on food systems and policies” that are administered at the local level, rather than the “markets and corporations” that “have come to dominate the global food system.” “Redistributive agrarian reforms,” says IDEX, are “not possible” in “capitalist” countries where there is “unequal land ownership” and “hierarchical top-down decision making.”
IDEX’s Alternative Economies program laments that “indigenous communities” with “traditional,” local-level economies that “have thrived for thousands of years,” are now being threatened by “the global market-based system” that “has encroached” on them “with devastating effect.” To address this problem, a number of IDEX’s partners are promoting new models for “locally led and community-centered economies” founded on “fair and equitable practices.” One example is what IDEX terms the “solidarity economy,” which “functions on the principles of respect for nature and human beings, the right to work, education, health, rest, and a dignified life.”
Yet another vital IDEX project is its Environment program, which is rooted in the premise that “greenhouse gases” associated with the industrial activities of “rich countries” are a major cause of potentially catastrophic “climate change.” Evidence of climate change, says IDEX, is apparent in the increased levels of “erratic weather patterns and … natural disasters” like “flooding, droughts, cyclones, [and] storms” that have allegedly occurred around the world in recent decades. IDEX purports to be particularly troubled by the fact that while “most of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change” are produced by industrialized nations, “it’s the poorest countries” of “the Global South” that “are feeling the effects most acutely” — even though they “contribute least to climate change.” To address such inequities, IDEX favors the implementation of redistributive measures designed to compensate the poorer countries for their hardships.
In addition to its grantmaking activities, the International Development Exchange also administers a California-based IDEX Academy that seeks to educate philanthropy professionals about “the power of grassroots-led solutions.”
In November 2015, IDEX established a legal partnership with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Though IDEX does not act officially as BLM’s fiscal sponsor, the Exchange is able to receive grants and tax-deductible donations on BLM’s behalf. IDEX also provides BLM with fiduciary oversight, financial management, and other administrative services. Moreover, IDEX identifies BLM as one of its “philanthropic partner[s],” stating that: “BLM has agreed to make a donation in support of IDEX’s grassroots partners in Zimbabwe and South Africa in lieu of an administrative fee for IDEX’s support. Our partnerships will build alliances for mutual solidarity, learning, and social transformation across global movements.”
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