Rockefeller Foundation to end funding of 100 Resilient Cities

8th April 2019 Adam Pitt

Financial support for the largest privately-funded climate change initiative in the US is to come to an end in July.

In a surprise announcement, the Rockefeller Foundation said its US$164-million investment in the 100 Resilient Cities programme is to be directed to other “pathways”.

The funding cuts will mean the foundation is unlikely to reach the goal it announced in 2013 to create a global network of 100 resilient cities in three years, having taken nearly six years to create over 80 of the targeted 100 Chief Resilience Officer positions and 49 Resilience Strategies.

Michael Berkowitz, President and CEO of 100 Resilient Cities, has since said in a statement that “as more and more cities begin to implement strategies and institutionalise resilience, our organisation must also evolve to continue the work of this global network.”

However, news of the funding cuts appears to have caused confusion among some 100 Resilient Cities members. Piero Pelizzaro, who was appointed as Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Milan in December 2017, told Cities Today that the first time he and other cities heard about the decision was through the media.

Piero Pelizzaro, Chief Resilience Officer, Milan

“There has not been a clear official statement to the cities on what is going on. We [only] know from the news,” he said.

Despite praising the impact of the initiative in giving the public and private sectors a successful platform to work together, Pelizzaro expressed concerns about how developing countries are going to maintain the momentum they’ve been able to build towards climate change and resilience.

“People in Africa and South Asia will suffer more from the decision [because] in the West it will be easier for us to keep going, because we have a lot of support from universities [and the private sector],” he said. “What we are going to lose as a city is the network—it is a huge loss in terms of know-how.”

Pelizzaro said a number of Chief Resilience Officers, including himself, are preparing a letter to the Rockefeller Foundation asking for more clarity.

In an attempt to make clear the situation, Matthew Herrick, Managing Director of Communications at the Rockefeller Foundation, told Cities Today that funding for 100 Resilient Cities was always meant to be “a five-year grant, extended for a year”.

“What we announced last Monday [1 April] was that we are extending it with an additional US$12 million to support a transition of the work,” said Herrick.

But sources close to both organisations said 100 Resilient Cities was in fact intended to be a long-term programme and that it was currently in the midst of large-scale fundraising efforts “which will now have to be stopped”.

In August 2018, Sylvester Turner, Mayor of Houston, said he was “excited” about the city becoming the first new member of the programme since 2016 because of what it would mean for residents now and in the future.

“When you’re building resiliency it’s not just a one-day effort. It’s a long-term effort,” he added.

As part of its membership of the 100 Resilient Cities network, Houston was promised grant funding to hire a Chief Resilience Officer to work directly with leaders and stakeholders across the city and develop a comprehensive resilience strategy.

Rockefeller Foundation’s Herrick said that any financial commitments or obligations–some of which extend for more than two years–will be honoured and that the foundation will maintain a global outlook in supporting climate change and resilience work.

How this will be achieved is as yet uncertain, but the foundation did reveal that its priorities will be scaled down from four to three focus areas. These will include a new central resilience office, ‘place-based’ resilience work in the United States, and closer cooperation with the Atlantic Council.

The 100 Resilient Cities network has focused on helping cities appoint chief resilience officers to develop resilience strategies and provide access to a global community and network. The foundation, which created the network in its centennial year in 2013, has already announced a grant of US$30 million to support the work of the Adrienne Arsht Centre for Resilience at the Atlantic Council.

Independent reports attribute 2,600 project proposals submitted and more than US$2.3 billion leveraged, to the work of the 100 Resilient Cities.

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