The Christensen Fund is a private foundation founded in 1957 and based in San Francisco, California. They are a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization governed by an independent Board of Trustees
which delegates authority for grantmaking and operations to the Executive Director
and senior staff
of the Fund.
Since 2003, the focus of their work has been biocultural diversity
. Under this complex, holistic approach, they seek to support the resilience of living diversity at landscape and community level around the world in partnerships with Indigenous peoples and others. Their grantmaking programs
are currently focused around five special geographic priority regions and selected global biocultural initiatives, alongside some work in the San Francisco Bay Area community.
Throughout their Programs
and relationships, they give special attention to realizing the aspirations and enhancing the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. UNDRIP is also foundational to their grantmaking processes, in particular in relation to self-representation and Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) for all activities, and for issues of the use and control of intellectual property arising from the work they fund.
Since 2004, their mission has integrated their concerns with the arts, biodiversity and education as follows:
The Christensen Fund believes in the power of biological and cultural diversity to sustain and enrich a world faced with great change and uncertainty. They focus on the biocultural – the rich but neglected adaptive interweave of people and place, culture and ecology. Their mission is to buttress the efforts of people and institutions who believe in a biodiverse world infused with artistic expression and work to secure ways of life and landscapes that are beautiful, bountiful and resilient.
They pursue this mission through place-based work in regions chosen for their potential to withstand and recover from the global erosion of diversity. They focus on backing the efforts of locally-recognized community custodians of this heritage, and their alliances with scholars, artists, advocates and others. They also fund international efforts to build global understanding of these issues. These are challenging goals, so they seek out imaginative, thoughtful and occasionally odd partners to learn with. The Fund works primarily through grant making, as well as through capacity and network building, knowledge generation, collaboration and mission-related investments.
The Christensen Fund crafts its grant making and other activities on the conviction that worldwide diversity – both cultural and biological – is hugely valuable and should be cared for. These diversities have evolved over vast time through both evolutionary and historical processes and human acts of creativity, adaptation and learning. The presence of these diversities is inherently resilient and enhances ability to adjust to the unexpected twists and turns of time and to the threats posed by globalization, nationalism and unsustainable development. Diversity is not only beautiful and meaningful, but also provides a storehouse of ideas, practice and knowledge and supports life forms and ecological processes. This key arena for their actions sustains and sharpens The Christensen Fund’s longstanding tradition of attention to conservation science, visual arts and education.
The Christensen Fund embraces the perspective that recognizes the interdependence of cultural and biological integrity and focuses its efforts on that component of diversity which has been recently coined as biocultural – namely the weave of humankind and nature, cultural pluralism and ecological integrity. Biocultural diversity arises from the continuing co-evolution and adaptation between the natural landscape, ways of life and cultural endeavors, producing a richness and variety that are indivisible. Examples would include a genetically unique heirloom apricot variety, maintained by millennia of selection and grafting; a Hopi corn dance that reflects and celebrates the deep understanding of the ecology of this crop; and a thriving savanna mosaic molded by long-standing indigenous fire management. The biocultural perspective is important because there are deep inter-linkages globally between ecological decline and cultural erosion; and because the prevailing view of human progress and the natural world as separate has resulted in disconnected, competing approaches and separated institutions to address these deeply coupled concerns. In working on this culture-environment interface they recognize that the human use of natural landscapes, indigenous and otherwise, is always culturally informed, and that cultures are, in turn, also shaped in part by the places in which they are rooted. They also acknowledge that cultural attitudes can at times drive the destruction of biodiversity and cultural heritage, just as they can in other circumstances prove its savior.
They share a vision with many others who seek an ecologically diverse world brimming with cultural expression and bountiful livelihoods. They particularly value diversity at the landscape level – where the land, air and water, wild and domesticated plants and animals, and ecosystem manifest a dynamic blend of natural forces and cultural and artistic expression. It is these temporal and spatial scales that can support and sustain deeper complexities. The links between culture and landscape are constantly in motion in response to social and ecological changes. The longevity of many local cultures and their landscapes in spite of repeated upheavals are evidence of robust and adaptable ecologies, values and logics, knowledge and practices. The tight integration and capacity for innovation inherent in these diverse systems renders them both profoundly functional and beautiful. They value this beauty in both culture and nature beyond material value and system logic.
The Christensen Fund has chosen to focus its efforts on regions of the world that exemplify this resilience, harbor exceptional biocultural values, and possess the regenerative potential to survive the current erosion of the world’s diversity and seed its recovery. They believe that maintaining the rich diversity of these places could have a disproportionate impact on the long term viability and diversity of the world. These areas also typically attract very little interest from foundations and other international agencies. Their current regions – The African Rift Valley (focus Ethiopia and Northern Kenya), Central Asia and Turkey, Northern Australia, Melanesia, and the Southwest U.S. and Northern Mexico – span the globe’s continents. Yet their many commonalities enable rich cross-fertilization and mutual learning among peoples and institutions. By investing deeply in a few places rather than spreading our effort more broadly, we hope to make a real difference to them and to foster new institutions and alliances rather than simply support existing ones.