FOUR YEARS. GO., part 2 – Show Me the Money


In a previous post, I discussed some of the guiding philosophy behind the new, buzz-worthy organization/website FOUR YEARS. GO. (4YG). In particular, I tried to highlight their lack of focus on structural causes of the present crisis, the limitations of calls to individual action, and the relative poverty of creating a social media platform as a response to this moment of crisis.

I now want to begin looking at the groups behind 4YG, and the money and interests that support and influence these groups.

I should say at the onset, however, that I am not utterly opposed to 4YG. The people directly involved with 4YG are, I’m sure, people of integrity and vision, who share (at least most of) my concerns for the present and hopes for the future, and I am happy to ally myself with them and support their efforts. I will no doubt sign up and post on their platform. I will also continue with other, similar efforts – such as posting about these crises and efforts to achieve change on that other social media platform, FaceBook.

While I sometimes think FaceBook (along with Google) is the devil, there is no doubt that in posting on FaceBook about issues like climate change and the erosion of democracy we have the potential of reaching one of the largest (English-language) audiences available, and an audience which is not already convinced on these topics… But all such efforts, commendable though they may be, still seem to me insufficient in themselves, and ultimately most valuable to the extent that they motivate people to get involved in collective struggles to achieve structural change. And to log off their computers and take to the streets.

The Groups Behind 4YG

FOUR YEARS. GO. was formed by a core group of four organizations:

The Pachamama Alliance, a nonprofit organization, committed to rainforest preservation, indigenous peoples’ rights and building a just and sustainable global society;
Wieden + Kennedy, the largest independent advertising agency network in the world (creators of Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign and Lance Armstrong’s “Live Strong” yellow bracelet campaign);
P:5Y—Peace in Five Years, a non-profit organization committed to world peace—a measurable end to politically organized violence— by 14 February 2014; and
The 2020 Fund, a non-profit organization and philanthropic platform dedicated to achieving a transition to Sustainable Earth by 2020.
via About Us | FOUR YEARS. GO.

I’d like to begin by looking at the last of these groups, the 2020 Fund. What follows is a somewhat detailed – and at times perhaps a bit tedious – exploration of the organizations involved in, and funding, the 2020 Fund – in other words, the groups behind the groups behind 4YG. Perhaps this may seem like a sterile venture, but in fact when we look at the groups that support an organization, we are looking at who thinks that organization is worthwhile, who shares their vision and wants it to spread. And, as you will see, it is revealing – and disturbing – to see just exactly who is ultimately behind 4YG.

The 2020 Fund

The 2020 Fund is one of the original four founding organizations behind FOUR YEARS. GO. Their stated goal of “creating a sustainable world for everyone’s children” is certainly a laudable one, and it’s a goal I share, one which underlies a lot of what I try to do and say here. A “sustainable world” is central to the vision of “another world” that I think is possible – and this is a belief which I seem to share with The 2020 Fund and FOUR YEARS. GO. At least, as long as we stay away from specifics.

We humans have come to a great choice-point in our evolutionary journey. Our time of apparent crisis is, in reality, an initiation into a new relationship with one another and the Earth.
This is a time of birth—a stressful but entirely natural process.

The 2020 Fund’s mission is to grow philanthropy dedicated to accelerate and achieve a successful transition to Sustainable Earth by 2020. Our principle strategy is to build the organizing infrastructure that will align and strengthen the efforts of many. The immediate goal is to raise funds for the global campaign to achieve Sustainable Earth by 2020 described below
via 2020 Fund – Creating a sustainable world for everyone’s children.

It’s a somewhat imperfect website, especially when comparable to the slick and appealing 4YG site – with dead image links, bad text spacing in a couple of places, vague platitudes and questionable grammar (“accelerate… a successful transition”?). But this is not a design critique, and we should focus on their content. Unfortunately, while there is a heading for an “About Us” page, it doesn’t have an active link, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to access detailed information on the organization, beyond the fairly sketchy info on the home page – which limits any serious inquiry into their background and intentions.

The contact information page identifies Deborah E. Stern as the Founder and Managing Director. A fairly lengthy bio on Stern can be found at Chapter on Tipping Point Member Bios. It details Stern’s impressive background in fundraising and development for non-profits, and identifies the King Baudouin Foundation (see below) as the key support for the 2020 Fund.  A mailing address is listed for the 2020 Fund in New York, c/o We, The World – whose website describes them as “a Global Collaboration for a Livable Future,” was established in 1998 by Rick Ulfik. No information identifying other staff or directors associated with the 2020 Fund seems to be available on the site.

The philosophy behind the 2020 Fund is interesting and revealing. For instance, their notion that this is a time of birth contains a radically different analysis of the current conjunction than that of, say, a socialist’s notion of the present as a time of accelerating class antagonism. However, rather than explore the 2020 Fund’s philosophy in any detail, I’d like instead to take a look at their backers.

2020 Fund Backers

While the lack of an “About Us” page limits the amount of background available on the 2020 Fund, their home page does contain a list of their major donors, and further information is available from their “Supporters” page. Donors to the 2020 Fund include: The Rockefeller Foundation AND The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, VISA, Dow, IDRC-CRDI, the King Baudouin Foundation, Susanne and Jeffrey Lyons, and others. Looking into these donors – that is, into the organizations that are supporting the mission of the 2020 Fund is fairly revealing…

The Rockefeller Foundation and Rockefeller Brothers Fund are two of the chief philanthropic arms of the Rockefeller family – “one of the world’s largest private fortunes in the oil business during the late 19th and early 20th century, primarily through the Standard Oil Company. The family is also known for its long association with and financial interest in the Chase Manhattan Bank, now JP Morgan Chase” (Wikipedia).

The King Baudouin Foundation was founded by the King of the Belgians in 1976, for the 25th anniversary of his coronation. As its mission statement explains, it “supports projects and citizens who are committed to create a better society. In this way we can make a lasting contribution towards greater justice, democracy and respect for diversity.” Baudouin was the King who reigned over the bloody and protracted independence struggle in the Belgian Congo (the setting for Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness). When independence was finally achieved, Baudouin gave a speech that was widely seen as whitewashing over the atrocities committed in the Congo under Belgian rule. A little while later, the leader of the liberated Congo was assassinated, with Belgian and US support.

IDRC-CDRI is a Canadian corporation that “works in close collaboration with researchers from the developing world in their search for the means to build healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous societies.”

There are no links for or other identifying information on Susanne and Jeffrey Lyons, but this seems to be Susanne Lyons, the Marin County and San Francisco socialite and philanthropist, former marketing head of Fidelity Investments, Charles Schwab and VISA, who is “now devoting her time to Board activities, consulting and philanthropic endeavors, after 25+ years in executive management at some of the top financial services companies in America” (here and here). One of the chief focuses of her philanthropic activities is WildCare.

GlobeScan is perhaps the most problematic backer of the 2020 Fund. It is a Canadian public opinion research and polling company – or, as they describe themselves, “an international opinion research consultancy.” Their lengthy client list includes both good guys and bad – but is heavily weighted toward the bad, and some of the baddest of bad to boot. On the good side, we have Amnesty International, Oxfam, Save the Children and World Wildlife Fund – large, mostly well-behaved NGOs that have to a great extent been integrated into business as usual. On the other side, the list is much longer, and includes some of the worst of the worst from many perspectives:

  • The World Bank, World Trade Organization, and World Economic Forum (ie., the Davos Forum) – three of the biggest bêtes noires of the alter-globalization movement.
  • Big Pharma – the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), as well as major drug companies like Novartis, Merck and Pfizer
  • Big Oil – BP, Chevron, Shell International
  • Major Automotive Companies – Ford, GM, Toyota, Volkswagon
  • Major Financial Institutions – RBC Financial, Scotiabank, VISA
  • Big Business – Dow Chemical, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft, Nestlé, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Nike, Siemens, Philips, IBM, Microsoft, Warner Bros.
  • Government – the governments of the UK, USA, France, Mexico, Canada and Australia

(It’s hardly surprising to see Rio Tinto in that list. Until his death, the director and chairman of GlobeScan was Lord Holme of Cheltenham, a former Executive Director of Rio Tinto. Rio Tinto is one of the world’s largest mining companies – the world’s second largest producer of uranium, and also a major coal mining company with operations in Australia and the USA.)

Given the poor-to-appalling human rights and environment records of so many of the firms on GlobeScan’s client list, it is surprising, to say the least, to find Amnesty International and the World Wildlife Fund in there as well. It is a list of the problems not the solutions: the World Bank, World Trade Organization, major pharmaceutical companies, the makers of napalm, Nike with their Southeast Asian sweatshops, Rio Tinto with its uranium mines on Aboriginal land, Shell Oil with its horrendous record in Nigeria, some of the villains from the global financial crisis, Nestlé (remember their baby formula?), McDonald’s… These are the companies my friends and I are used to boycotting, not getting support from.

Summary and Thoughts

One of the four organizations behind the founding of FOUR YEARS. GO. is the 2020 Fund, a non-profit whose goal is “creating a sustainable world for everyone’s children.”

The most important donors to the 2020 Fund include major grant-giving foundations, like the Rockefeller and King Baudouin Foundations, as well as companies such as Dow Chemical and Visa. One of the major donors to the 2020 Fund is an international PR agency, GlobeScan, whose clients include the World Bank and World Economic Forum, various Western governments, and a large number of major multinational corporations, including a great many who have been criticized over the years for environmental, labor, and human rights abuses.

What does all this mean for FOUR YEARS. GO.? On the one hand, they aren’t directly taking money from – being supported and backed by – the King of the Belgians, the Rockefeller Family, Shell Oil, Dow Chemical and McDonald’s. And, you might say, who cares even if they are getting money from these guys, as long as that money is being used for good?

I’m not entirely sure what to think, but I do have concerns. So rather than make statements, draw conclusions or point fingers, I would like to try to share some of my thoughts and concerns.

– Having working in grant-writing and development, I know that many non-profits solicit grants from foundations whose creators and benefactors might have different – even strongly opposed – viewpoints and values to those of the non-profits. And wealthy individuals who set up foundations may do so, at least in part, to atone for some of what they did to get the money that goes into the foundation. The Nobel Foundation was endowed with profits from munitions, but the Nobel Peace Prize – whatever its flaws and limitations – has become a force for good and against war.

– Corporations may donate money to organizations that do not share their goals or values, or whose aims might ultimately be seen to be in conflict with the profit-making drive and activities of that corporation. They can do so for a variety of reasons: as a PR exercise to try to deflect various criticisms or distract from their activities in other areas; similarly, as part of “greenwashing” efforts; because the corporate executives responsible for dispersing the funds are genuinely committed to the recipient’s goals, regardless of the interests of the company for which they work; because they need to give out the money for tax purposes and they don’t really care much who gets it; etc.

– However, in general, I think that corporations tend to favor – with their donations and other support – organizations whose sponsorship will somehow burnish the corporation’s image and prestige, and whose values and interests are in some ways at least aligned with those of the corporation.

– It is difficult not to see GlobeScan’s support of 2020 Fund as troubling, as somehow connected to, part of, their spin and PR activities on behalf of clients such as Shell and the World Bank. However, it could just be that GlobeScan sees it as useful cover, as a “whitewashing” effort. Regardless, GlobeScan’s extremely problematic client list would seem to put them beyond the pale, not only for an organization like the 2020 Fund, but also for Amnesty International and the World Wildlife Foundation.

– Perhaps the Rockefeller Foundation and companies like VISA and GlobeScan support the 2020 Fund because they see it – consciously or subconsciously – as recuperating people’s concern over the current state of the world, and their yearning for change – concerns and desires that unchecked could threaten the existing structures of power and privilege. The recuperation in this case consists of taking those desires and concerns – which might threaten to spill over into a fundamental critique of the system – and channeling them into relatively harmless activities that may involve minor alterations to the system, but which ultimately facilitate the maintenance of the status quo, of business-more-or-less-as-usual. Into activities and complaints that ultimately do not threat to undermine the existing structures, structures that have made the King of the Belgians, companies like Shell, and families like the Rockefellers extraordinarily wealthy – through the suffering and at the expense of the others.

No doubt I will have more thoughts along these lines to share in subsequent posts – as I look into the backgrounds of the other founding organizations behind FOUR YEARS. GO.


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