On September 29, 2014—five years ago—a group of funders, working closely with leaders in the field, launched an ambitious new network with a bold vision to serve as a hub for funders to learn and act together to advance access to environmental literacy and connections to nature. With the leadership of the Pisces Foundation and the George B. Storer Foundation, the partnership of the North American Association of Environmental Education and the Environmental Grantmakers Association, and the enthusiastic support of a handful of committed early members, the Blue Sky Funders Forum was born.
At the Pisces Foundation, one of our core values is building networks and convening to advance collaboration, joint priorities, and scaled impact. Our Environmental Education Program from its beginning in 2013 made strategic, field-building investments in environmental education across the U.S. with collaboration at the center of our approach. We wanted to learn from and collaborate with funders working across the country, identifying gaps and opportunities in the field and inviting new partners to invest in this critical work. We also wanted to honor and value the tremendous role researchers and practitioners play and to ensure that they had a prominent seat at the table too. This co-generative approach is core to Blue Sky’s mission.
Five years after Blue Sky launched, I am thrilled to see the community’s growth—expanding to nearly 30 members; engaging key experts and visionary advisors; and reaching more than 100 funders through convenings in Austin, TX; Jackson, WY; Miami, FL; St. Paul, MN; San Diego, CA; Seattle, WA; Vancouver, Canada; Washington, DC; and Oakland, CA. (And we’ll soon add Philadelphia, PA to this list!).
Blue Sky has played a part in shining a light on leaders, innovations, and victories in the field, and has facilitated a collaborative learning community of funders and practitioners. Together, Blue Sky members have:
- Explored topics such as citizen science, social and emotional learning, urban parks, school gardens, youth leadership, groundbreaking research, and advancing equity in philanthropy.
- Employed funding strategies to support communities from Silicon Valley to Atlanta, and from the waters of Puget Sound to the woods of Maine.
- Amplified campaigns and celebrations that have inspired the nation to get outside, like REI’s #OptOutside and the 2016 National Park Service Centennial.
- Supported grantees’ and partners’ robust policy advocacy to increase access to the outdoors for kids and families including the National Park Service Centennial Act, Oregon Outdoor School for All, the Outdoor REC Act, the Every Kid Outdoors Act, and the New Mexico Outdoor Equity Fund.
- Increased the scope and scale of grantmaking for environmental literacy ($270 million over 2015-2017 has been documented through Tracking the Field, a partnership with the Environmental Grantmakers Association).
- Facilitated connections to strengthen individual and collective work. As Blue Sky board member Nancy Bales (Gray Family Foundation) put it, “[Blue Sky] has expanded our network. It provides us opportunities for learning beyond what we do in our small region and within our small foundation… We’ve been able to learn and contribute to the greater community.”
This is just a taste of all that the Blue Sky community has to celebrate as we mark our fifth anniversary. And I can’t help but feel that greater impact is ahead of us.
Blue Sky recently completed a multi-year, collaborative process to craft a shared narrative for the field—an engaging story to reshape how people think about and prioritize the outdoors and its benefits. Funders, practitioners, and researchers co-led this process, engaging close to 700 individuals. The new narrative lifts up the benefits of outdoor experiences as a basic human right. One stakeholder described the new narrative as a “tremendous gift to the field” and another encouraged us to continue to provide resources and tools to use the narrative. Next month, Blue Sky will do just that by launching a campaign to spread this narrative far and wide. We hope those of you who work day in and day out to equip kids with the environmental know-how they need to shape a more sustainable world will consider participating in the campaign, using the narrative, and partnering with organizations who share the belief that everyone deserves the opportunity to enjoy time outdoors, because when people connect with nature we all benefit.
Thank you for being a part of Blue Sky’s journey. It has been an incredible five years. Here’s to many more blue skies ahead!
This post originally appeared in The Blue Sky Funders Forum blog.