The Christensen Fund has been a central part of my family’s life for more than half a century (see History). Its roots were in the deep interest of my parents, my siblings and myself in the processes of creativity in the arts, promotion of knowledge through varied approaches to education, conservation of the natural environment, and the values of immersing ourselves in different cultures and their geographical settings. After my father’s death, we gradually made a series of decisions to continue working internationally, pursue an unusual mission, work in novel ways and in unusual places, and ultimately to empower a remarkably able board of trustees while giving up control as a family over how the resources are directed—all these a reflection of our values, of how we think our foundation can be most effective and transformative, and of the kinds of change we believe we need to see in the world.
In 2002/2003, after bringing on board a new, inspiring executive director (Ken Wilson), the Trustees and I elected to integrate our mission by linking Christensen’s earlier interests in the diversity of cultural expression with our commitment to maintaining biological diversity. In subsequent years, we have learned much about the practical challenges involved in slowing the homogenization of the planet and the erosion of future options for life on Earth. We have also learned much about the extraordinary creativity, energy and persistence of the people and organizations – our grantees – who work to further biocultural diversity, especially among our partners in Indigenous and other land-based communities.
Finally, we are always learning about how a foundation can work better in partnership with its grantees without inadvertently coercing them through its funding role. Instead, we try to facilitate their leadership in initiatives that we can support. We’ve realized that we need to continually evolve and learn from experience if we are to play an effective support role. These lessons are reflected, for example, in our renewed emphasis on better communications around our mission and programs.
Christensen is a small foundation. We believe that, if our particular strength in the philanthropic field is our approach to furthering diversity, then we can best contribute by taking on neglected regions and issues and by putting significant resources in the hands of grantees who have typically never had access to this kind of backing.
We would encourage others to join us in this kind of work and in expressing the hope that by investing in diversity, resilience and innovation, we can turn around the profound threats of our time.