Thrive Through Reinvention

How does a chemical engineer, all set to work on nuclear waste disposal for Westinghouse, end up starting a non-profit with an Australian living in Costa Rica, focused on bringing social justice and equity to communities vulnerable to the climate crisis? It’s simple: constant reinvention. A hallmark of Frank’s (my Costa-Rican based co-founder) and my careers has been our willingness to redefine our personal and professional paths to make the world a better place. For me, sometimes things go well (see blog on Somalia), sometimes less so (see blog on Papua New Guinea). As described in my blog on risk-taking, it’s never simple and there are always the unknown unknowns but creating a vision for what is possible helps maintain direction and purpose. Then hustle to make it happen.

The Nature For Justice (N4J) vision: To support vulnerable communities to adapt to the climate crisis and create resilience by using nature to restore, improve, and protect their environments and landscapes.

Why N4J?

Our first observation was that much of the world was caught up in a seemingly endless debate about trying to get it exactly right without considering that every day matters to these marginalized peoples. Process matters and progress takes time, but where is the accountability on delivering results? Who is factoring in the state of urgency?

Our second observation was that the traditional way of delivering results — a sort of trickle-down economics with large institutions playing a leading role — is outdated. Too many layers and ‘middle-men’ are typically involved, and, in the end how much of the overall funding is actually getting to people on the ground? 5%? 10%? (We’re putting the number together.)

A third observation, related to the second, is that many indigenous non-profits are more than capable to take on large, complex projects with domestic and international partners. Are the days of the traditional model of large international NGOs with selected in-country presences numbered? Is there a different way to bring science, policy, financial skills, and new technologies to the country level? For good examples of capable in-country organizations, see the websites of our initial partners: Nature Conservation Research Center in Ghana and Los Aliados in Ecuador.

On this last point of building on the expertise of national partners, we recently came across an Open Letter from Global Fund Community Foundations, signed by ~200 southern NGOs to northern international NGOs. “Our plea is that you work with us, not against us. We need to be supported, not competed with.”  N4J was founded on the premise that we can provide the support needed on a range of topics to capable partners. The world needs this new approach to support a global network of strong national partners and community-based organizations that organize, fund in-country, and carryout initiatives (see #ShiftThePower and Manifesto for Change). That is the strategy that N4J has embraced to achieve durable, long-term solutions by working with talented in-country partners.

In pursuit of creating and delivering this value to local groups, we will also have institutional partners who are highly skilled in one or more areas (e.g., the NGO Resolve) rather than build all of those skills with N4J.

We are reinventing a model of helping communities access resources to adapt to climate change.  We are a matchmaker, advisor, technical resource, and evaluator of progress. Our model will deliver resources and skills drawn from multiple sources that were formerly together in one organization.  We need help in ascertaining if it will work and, if it does work, we will have promoted social justice in a new, lower cost way. If it doesn’t? We’ll use our history of successful reinvention until we get it right.


  • Hank Cauley

    An engineer who later got a business degree to achieve social and environmental justice through existing economic structures. He’s started or built many organizations and projects. Hank lives in Falls Church, VA, with his wife and is an avid bee-keeper.

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