Program Officer for Melanesia

The Program Officer for Melanesia is an existing position that will open up at The Christensen Fund as early as June 1, 2017. Following Christensen’s organizational policy that Program Officers work within term limits (currently, eight years), we are commencing recruitment for a new Program Officer. Catherine Sparks, the founding Program Officer for our Melanesia Program, has developed a significant and impactful portfolio of grantees working around biocultural diversity issues over the last decade in our prioritized land and seascapes of the northern side of Papua New Guinea, the Autonomous Region of Bougainville and the Vanuatu. Based on an outcome oriented regional strategy, our grantmaking strategy focuses on fortifying and reasserting local culturally-based economies and asserting the value and power of Indigenous sovereignty, culture and biodiverse landscapes.

Most of our funding in Melanesia is channeled to community associations, grassroots NGOs and local civil society movements rooted in the heritage of their environments and cultures. We are not trying to “preserve” cultures or nature, but instead backing approaches that are adaptive to local realities and values and that can strengthen the unique richness of economies, lifeways, landscapes, foodways and biodiversity of Melanesia.

Funding is concentrated within three primary landscapes:

  • Vanuatu
  • Bismark Archipelago to Bismarck Range: Ocean to Mountain on the north coast of Papua New Guinea
  • The Autonomous Region of Bougainville

Supporting grantmaking around regional exchange and networking, and linkages to global grantmaking and other regional efforts rounds out the portfolio.

The new Program Officer is expected to build on current directions within this maturing portfolio, helping partners work towards increasing institutional sustainability, enhancing biocultural and land and seascape-based livelihoods, increasing collaboration with other donors and linking effectively with national policy level efforts in the region while potentially developing new directions in response to evolving needs and opportunities. For this hire we seek a visionary with imagination and energy to support practical results on the ground. S/he will be passionate about diversity and environmental and Indigenous issues, with a particular talent for understanding how to connect new ideas, traditional stewardship and funding institutions. S/he will be a networker and team player, seeking allies everywhere while listening to local people. At this stage in the progress of the portfolio we are particularly seeking a person who can grow and diversify support with governments, civil society and other funders that build upon local livelihoods, agroecological and marine approaches, cultural assets and resource management systems.

Position Responsibilities

The Program Officer (PO) for Melanesia, reporting to the Director of Grantmaking and working in a Grantmaking team with a Grants Associate/Specialist and in-region consultants (as appropriate), manages the portfolio of grantees working in Melanesia pursuant to the current regional strategy. Duties of the Program Officer for Melanesia include but are not limited to:


The Program Officer will be a responsible for:

  • Building on past years of grantmaking and the lessons learned within a mature portfolio, bringing energy and vision to implementing existing grant making strategies and developing new ideas to increase the likelihood of achieving desired outcomes for the region and articulating them to potential grantees and other stakeholders;
  • Developing and recommending grant proposals for approval, overseeing application declinations, and reviewing and evaluating grantee narrative and financial reports, working collaboratively in Grantmaking team and with other colleagues in Grants Administration;
  • Actively seeking and managing co-funding by collaborating with other Christensen staff, partnering foundations and other institutions to craft, finance and implement grantmaking;
  • Partnering with grantees to advance their institutional development and program achievement, and participating in their events;
  • Helping grantees and other relevant organizations network and learn from each other locally, across the region and internationally;
  • Articulating expected portfolio outcomes within priority landscapes and themes, planning for their monitoring, measurement, lessons sharing, storytelling and celebration;
  • Continuing to evolve and refine grantmaking strategy for the region, summarizing learning and new directions through a variety of communication channels;
  • Supporting continued innovations in biocultural livelihoods with cultural integrity;
  • Developing and implementing an explicit plan for enhancing grantee communications capacity and contributions to building the field of biocultural diversity.

Regional Staff Management

The Program Officer will work with the Christensen management team to evaluate and plan for local staffing needs in the program region. S/he will work with the appropriate staff on job descriptions, and recruitment as appropriate. S/he will collaborate and mentor any in-region staff and will have oversight on budgeting, expenses and workplans.

Regional Financial Oversight

The Program Officer will work with Finance and other areas of the organization as appropriate to develop and manage the operational budget for Melanesia Program area. S/he will work with the Director of Grantmaking, the Grants Management team and others in the allocation of the grant budget for the program area.

General and Institutional

The Program Officer’s ongoing general and institutional responsibilities include:

  • Maintaining close knowledge of the ideas, issues and institutions in their field of responsibility, and of the circumstances of communities, landscapes, seascapes and biodiversity across priority regions in Melanesia;
  • Continuing to cultivate and maintain relationships with government authorities at multiple levels, other donors, policy makers, the private sector and other constituencies to heighten awareness and engagement in relevant mission related issues;
  • Sharing his/her expertise and imagination to work collaboratively with other Christensen staff in pursuit of the organization’s overall programming and mission, including contributing to strategic planning, learning efforts, grantee exchanges and other connections;
  • Presenting grantmaking learning around outcomes, grantmaking progress, proposed grants, and other briefings to the Christensen Board of Trustees;
  • Traveling to the focal land and seascapes and other parts the program region as required for effective program management. Travelling to the Christensen head office in the United States on a regular basis and to other countries from time to time to visit other regions and to represent Christensen at international convenings. Travel in the course of performing his/her job responsibilities will be approximately 25% of time; and
  • Such other duties as are consistent with the position as are consistent with the position

Traits and Qualifications

The staff of The Christensen Fund comprises a diverse and lively-minded team who work with energy and humor to make a difference in a deeply troubled world.

The following are required characteristics for this position:

  • Deep knowledge of the landscapes, seascapes and cultures of Melanesia, particularly within our focal landscapes;
  • Deep understanding of the connections between biological and cultural diversity, and a delight in thinking in integrated ways;
  • Familiarity with the history and complexities of the program region and the experiences of communities with handling change, as well as with the institutions, associations and research groups working to support their efforts;
  • Successful experience linking community organizations and processes to state, national, regional and global processes, institutions and policies;
  • Proven track record of building the capacity and long-term sustainability of local organizations;
  • An ability to travel around the islands and to seek out, listen to, understand and respect applicants, grantees and other stakeholders and work in support of their passions and dreams;
  • Superior written and oral communication skills in English, fluency in Tok Pisin and Bislama, and likely one or more local languages of the region;
  • Well-organized and self-sufficient, IT-savvy, and able to manage time and work under pressure; and
  • A demonstrated ability and inclination to work as part of a team, including virtually.

Applicants should possess:

  • A graduate degree or equivalent experience in an environmental or social science field, along with knowledge of biocultural diversity, agroecology, stewardship, livelihoods, landscape, resilience, and the issues of Indigenous Peoples; and
  • Demonstrated commitment to the visions and struggles of the peoples of Melanesia to secure their development, cultural integrity and environmental heritage.

The successful candidate is likely to have experience in:

  • Participatory research and advocacy combined with practical engagement in supporting local environmental and cultural initiatives;
  • Prior work involving putting ideas and creativity to work in support of maintaining diversity, revitalizing communities, ecologies and local economies; and
  • Prior employment in a grantmaking foundation or non-profit organization, or experience partnering with such entities.

Terms of Employment

We envision this position to be based in the program region (either Papua New Guinea or Vanuatu) with an initial orientation period at our San Francisco main office. The initial term for this position will be a three-year contract. It is hoped that the new Program Officer can join by 1 June 2017. A salary and benefits package commensurate with qualifications and experience will be provided.

Christensen Program Officers are encouraged to maintain active intellectual and creative engagement in the development of their fields of specialty, in particular as these advance Christensen’s mission and strategies and its grantee communities.

To Apply

Please submit an application packet to by Friday, February 24, 2017. A complete application packet consists of the following four items:

  • Cover letter outlining your relevant experience, financial requirements, and why you are interested in working in this position with The Christensen Fund.
  • Resumé (CV)
  • Responses to essay questions (listed below)
  • Three references

All documents should be submitted together in one PDF that includes your name and the position title (ie: LastName_MelanesiaPO.pdf).

Review of credentials will begin immediately. It is expected that final interviews will be held in San Francisco, California (USA) during the week of 10 April 2017.

Principals only. No phone calls please.

Essay Questions

  1. Imagine that you received an email from someone who has never been to Melanesia and doesn’t immediately understand “biocultural diversity” but nonetheless is interested in learning more about some of the local work. How would you explain “biocultural diversity”? And, why Melanesia is vital to this discussion? (500 words max)
  1. Sustainability—institutional and financial—is a big topic in philanthropy, bringing up many questions: How do we support innovative visionaries with all the tools necessary to grow and thrive? And, how do we best partner with others without creating dependency?

How do you define sustainability within a grantmaking context? Are financial and institutional measures of sustainability an appropriate framework to measure the efficacy of our grantmaking which often is trying to strengthen/reinvigorate systems which are not market-based?

Additionally, please select one of the following questions (500 words max):

  1. Please tell us about an Indigenous or local movement that has inspired you, and share with us how you’ve seen this movement evolve over time.
  1. What do you see as philanthropy’s role to affect the stewardship of wealth and the sharing of power and privilege? How do you see your role in this process? What aspect is most interesting? What is most challenging?

The Christensen Fund is an Equal Opportunity Employer.