News & Views

The Christensen Fund Announces Next Executive Director

The Christensen Fund is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Sanjay Kabir Bavikatte as the foundation’s next Executive Director, who will take the helm at the private foundation’s San Francisco headquarters toward the end of the year.

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“We have found a stellar new Executive Director who is passionate about our mission and is a recognized thought leader,” said Atossa Soltani, Chair of the Board of Trustees. “The stewards of biocultural diversity have a proven and brilliant ally in Sanjay, someone who has been deeply engaged with the struggles of Indigenous Peoples at multiple levels around the world.”

SanjayDr. Bavikatte has long practiced as an environmental lawyer focusing on the rights of Indigenous and local communities to their territories and cultures and is a pioneer in the development and application of Biocultural Community Protocols, conceived to enable Indigenous populations to engage on their own terms with external actors. Dr. Bavikatte has acted as the legal advisor to the African Group of countries through their negotiations towards the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing and within the Working Group on Article 8j. He has advised the governments of South Africa, Namibia, Ethiopia, India, Bhutan, Micronesia and Palau on developing environmental law and policy with a focus on community rights.

He has previously served on the African Steering Committee of the ABS Capacity Development Initiative and acted as legal advisor to the National Biodiversity Authority in India. Dr. Bavikatte is currently a postdoctoral fellow at United Nations University. His research focuses on intergenerational trauma amongst some Indigenous groups and processes of healing through the selective revival of myths and Nature based rites of passage.

“I am delighted with the hire of Sanjay and the new approaches that he will add to the Christensen Fund as it opens its next chapter,” said Diane Christensen, President of the Board of Trustees. “As we continue with our commitment to support creative bottom-up change and Indigenous stewardship, we now look forward to new excitement as Sanjay joins our leadership.”

She added: “We are deeply grateful to Ken Wilson who put us on the map by bringing new ideas, energy and creativity to our long standing interests in artistic, cultural and biological diversity.”

“Every institution needs to face cycles of renewal and growth,” said outgoing Executive Director Kenneth Wilson, who pioneered Christensen’s approach to social movement grant-making to support biocultural diversity and led the foundation for the past thirteen years. “In Sanjay I believe Christensen has found someone passionately rooted in how our biocultural mission is grounded in people’s lives and a creative strategist with real experience in how to buttress local struggles for a more just, bountiful and resilient planet.”

Christensen’s Board and Staff, who were much engaged in the search process, responded enthusiastically to the news, echoing that the appointment of Sanjay just had “an air of rightness about it”, with one staffer adding that “we are all very blessed to be part of this weird and wondrous institution known as Christensen”. The staff warmly thanked board member Walt Coward for staying on an extra year to chair the search committee with such thoughtfulness and inclusion.

Dr. Bavikatte completed his law degree at the National Law School in India, acquired his masters in law at the University of Warwick, UK, and earned his doctorate from the University of Cape Town, South Africa. He speaks fluently in Kannada, Hindi, Urdu and English, and his most recent book – Stewarding the Earth: Rethinking Property and the Emergence of Biocultural Rights – was published by Oxford University Press.

“It is a great honor to be invited to be the next Executive Director of The Christensen Fund,” said Dr. Bavikatte, who co-founded and directed Natural Justice, whose vision is the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity through the self-determination of Indigenous peoples and local communities. “I shall bring to The Fund my skills and experience with assisting stewards of biocultural diversity in securing rights to their territories and cultures. I look forward to collaborating with the current and future partners of The Christensen Fund and being part of this collective journey in stewarding the Earth.”

Established more than sixty years ago in Northern California, The Christensen Fund is a private independent foundation governed by a small Board of Trustees.

Since 2002 Christensen’s mission has been focused on biocultural diversity, the rich but neglected adaptive interweave of people and place, culture and ecology. In selected priority regions around the world, Christensen’s grant programs support local initiatives in landscapes that have uniquely rich diversity and heritage and are likely to play an important role for sustaining future diversity and pro-steward environments.

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