More than funders: The roles of philanthropic foundations in marine conservation governance

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Environmental governance scholars have overlooked philanthropic foundations as influential non-state actors. This omission, along with the continued growth in funding from private foundations for conservation issues, presents important questions about what foundations do in governance spaces. To address this gap, we examine The David and Lucile Packard Foundation's involvement in Fiji and Palau in the context of the Foundation's “Western Pacific Program”—a series of coastal and marine-related investments made from 1998 to 2020. We describe and analyze six governance roles that the Packard Foundation contributed to: funding, influencing agendas, capacity-building, convening and coordinating, facilitating knowledge, and rule-making and regulation. In documenting the Packard Foundation's governance roles, we provide scholars and practitioners a conceptual framework to more systematically and strategically think about foundations as more than funders. This research helps move the conversation around conservation philanthropy beyond binary conceptions of “good” versus “bad,” and, instead, toward deeper considerations about what foundations currently do within governance systems, how they engage with diverse practitioners, as well as what they can and should do to advance conservation goals.





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Blackwatters, JE, M Betsill, A Enrici, E Le Cornu, X Basurto and RL Gruby (2023). More than funders: The roles of philanthropic foundations in marine conservation governance. Conservation Science and Practice, 5(5). 10.1111/csp2.12829 Retrieved from

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Xavier Basurto

Truman and Nellie Semans/Alex Brown & Sons Associate Professor

I am interested in the fundamental question of how groups (human and non-human) can find ways to self-organize, cooperate, and engage in successful collective action for the benefit of the common good. To do this I strive to understand how the institutions (formal and informal rules and norms) that govern social behavior, interplay with biophysical variables to shape social-ecological systems. What kind of institutions are better able to govern complex-adaptive systems? and how can societies (large and small) develop robust institutions that provide enough flexibility for collective learning and adaptation over the long-term?

My academic and professional training is based on a deep conviction that it is through integrating different disciplinary perspectives and methods that we will be able to find solutions to challenging dilemmas in natural resources management, conservation, and environmental policy. Trained as a marine biologist, I completed a M.S in natural resources studying small-scale fisheries in the Gulf of California, Mexico. Realizing the need to bring social science theories into my work on common-pool resources sustainability, I earned an MPA and a Ph.D. in Management (with a minor in cultural anthropology) from the University of Arizona and under the supervision of Edella Schlager. Following I spent two years working with Elinor Ostrom, 2009 co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, at the Workshop for Political Theory and Policy Analysis of Indiana University. Methodologically, I am familiar with a variety of quantitative and qualitative approaches and formally trained to conduct Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA or more recently fsQCA), that allows among other things, systematic comparisons of middle range N sample sizes and address issues of multiple-causality.

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