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Conservation and Society
An interdisciplinary journal exploring linkages between society, environment and development
Conservation and Society
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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 19  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 190-194

Can Philanthropy Enable Collective Action to Conserve Rivers? Insights from a Decade of Collaboration in the Colorado River Basin

1 School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
2 School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK; School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Correspondence Address:
Gina G Gilson
School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, Oxford
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Source of Support: We would like to thank St. Catherine’s College and the School of Geography and the Environment for field work support for GG., Conflict of Interest: DG received funding from the Walton Family Foundation in 2009 and 2013. DG and GG have collaborated on academic and consulting projects with some of the conservation groups receiving funding from the WFI.

DOI: 10.4103/cs.cs_225_20

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Philanthropy plays an important but often invisible role in conserving rivers. We examine the influence of philanthropy on collective action and collaborative governance within the Colorado River Basin, a region where philanthropic support has been growing to achieve conservation objectives. Our short communication combines financial data, interviews, and documentary evidence to capture the opportunities and risks associated with philanthropy's increasing role. Financial expenditures are substantial, averaging $30.8 million USD per year from six large foundations (2013-2019). This funding has enabled collective action, particularly at the basin level, by strengthening or creating new forums for collaboration and investing in technical expertise to equip a broader range of voices in decision-making. It has also favoured market-based strategies and discourses, created dependencies for smaller organisations, and, in some instances, reinforced structural barriers to participation. We recommend transparent reporting of philanthropic spending related to collective action and conservation governance, and argue that foundations should explicitly consider and address legacies of exclusion for marginalised actors and groups.

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