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Rainforest Foundation Fund

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Rainforest Foundation Fund

Non-governmental organization

New York City, United States

Grant-making, Lobbying, research

The Rainforest Foundation Fund is a charitable foundation dedicated to the preservation of the rainforest by defending the rights of the indigenous peoples living there.


The fund supports the field-based projects of its three sister organizations: Rainforest Foundation UK, whose work focuses in Africa; Rainforest Foundation US, whose work focuses in Central and South America; and Rainforest Foundation Norway, whose work focuses in Southeast Asia; though all three organizations have projects worldwide.

The fund works by granting money via these three organizations, and other NGOs, to programs and projects on the ground that support the attempts of indigenous rainforest peoples to assert and defend their rights, to define and promote sustainable development in their communities, and to challenge the activities and practices of governments or other entities which damage their environment and lands. The programs and projects are developed in partnership with local communities and representative indigenous NGOs.


The Rainforest Foundation Fund was first founded in 1989 as the Rainforest Foundation International, by Jean-Pierre Dutilleux, Sting and his wife Trudie Styler after an indigenous leader, Raoni, of the Kayapo people of Brazil made a personal request to them to help his community protect their lands and culture. Since then, the Rainforest Foundation Fund, working together with its sister organizations, has funded projects that have protected a total of 28 million acres of forest in 20 different rainforest countries around the globe.


The mission of the Rainforest Foundation Fund is: “to protect and support indigenous peoples and traditional forest populations in their efforts to protect their environment and fulfill their right to a secure, healthy and ecologically sound environment.” The Fund believes that environmental degradation necessarily violates human rights to life, health and culture.

The fund’s philanthropy is successful in protecting forests by defending indigenous rights. Multiple studies support the link between indigenous people's having control over their lands and the protection of the forests in those areas. For example, recent studies of the Brazilian Amazon show that deforestation rates were up to 20 times lower in traditional indigenous lands than other areas, and in Ecuador over one million acres of indigenous reserve show 0% deforestation, while the rest of Ecuador has the highest deforestation rates on the continent.

The international community widely accepts that indigenous peoples are holders of a specific set of rights and are also the victims of historically unique forms of discrimination, and it enshrined this idea in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007.

The Rainforest Fund claims that its work is motivated by its recognition of a substantial disconnect between such declarations made by the governments of the world in an international forum, and the actions that those governments undertake in their own countries.

They mention as an illustration the controversy surrounding the Belo Monte Dam in Brazil: “While at the United Nations discussions are underway on the crucial issue of climate change, and governments are finally realizing that they have to change their pattern of development, in the Brazilian Amazon plans are well advanced to build environmentally destructive mega-dams along the Xingu River, the last of the great Amazon rivers in a good state of conservation.” .


The Rainforest Foundation Fund usually covers only about 80% of a project’s total budget, leaving its grantee responsible for finding the remaining 20%, to avoid over-dependency on just one funding source. The fund grants money on a three-year basis, but will extend funding up to five years in certain circumstances. Grant-recipient’s projects are evaluated annually.

The Rainforest Foundation Fund works with an extremely small staff, with only a chairperson (Franca Sciuto) and a part-time financial director/treasurer (Li Lu). The chairperson serves as a volunteer, and handles all project screening, interim assessments and post-project evaluations. Final decisions on projects and fund disbursement are made by the Rainforest Foundation Fund board.

Rather than administrating large projects itself, the Fund believes that the primary beneficiaries, the indigenous peoples, should also be the primary administrators of the projects. The sister organizations in the US, UK and Norway work directly with indigenous organizations to ensure they are equipped with the administrative structures, technology and trained leadership needed to carry out their projects.

Current work

The Rainforest Fund supports projects that defend indigenous people’s rights to their lands and to live in a healthy environment.

The Fund assists rainforest indigenous communities by helping them achieve official demarcation of their territories and then ensuring they are able to effectively defend their communities from violations of their rights including illegal logging, mining, other land invasions, and social disenfranchisement/denial of their rights as citizens.

Many of their projects work to uphold the right of indigenous peoples to grant or to withhold.Then their free, prior and informed consent to projects that will affect their land, resources and livelihoods, and to ensure that indigenous communities are given full information and have a voice in project negotiations and the policy design process.

It also makes grants to programs that assist communities in designing sustainable development strategies, and in strengthening their representative organizations.

Their grants support public awareness programs, technological training, community development, organizational capacity building, sustainable resource management, legal defense, and local, national, and international policy and advocacy.

2011 Supported Projects:

  • Central African Republic
  • Cameroon
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • --Working across the three countries of the Congo Basin, this project focuses on the development of REDD policies designed to mitigate climate change. It works to ensure indigenous peoples have a voice in those policies, share in benefits, and have their land rights respected. The project also involves participatory mapping, advocacy surrounding national parks and community forestry, and advocacy for the full implementation of the ILO Convention 169. ASIA:
  • Papua New Guinea
  • --‘Land is Life Reform’ – A project which supports the legal cases at the national level that are working to stop all new logging operations in the country. AMERICAS:
  • Belize
  • --Working with the Mayan community and their NGO the Maya Leaders Alliance to obtain official recognition of nearly 500,000 acres of traditional lands and then to carry out the demarcation qualification process.


    In January 1990 the fund's first campaign came under fire by the French edition of 'Rolling Stone' magazine in an article that mentioned the failings of Dutilleux’s previous work in the rainforest and criticized the organization for holding lavish fundraising banquets.

    The 'Rolling Stone' article was used as the basis for a documentary by Granada Television's 'World in Action' program. The show, called 'Sting and the Indians', was re-broadcast in the United States on the A&E cable network hosted by Bill Kurtis.

    The primary claim of both was that the project in Brazil was misrepresenting the facts to donors, as some of the Kayapo’s traditional land was already “protected” within the Xingu National Park. In fact, the Xingu Park is actually a large indigenous-controlled area, the first in Brazil, so it is an indigenous territory, not a national "park". Moreover, the Fund's initial project supported demarcation of the Mengkragnoti Area, which is right next to/contiguous with the Xingu Park, and did not demarcate the park itself.

    In 2002, 2003, and 2004 the US branch of the organization was given zero stars out of four by Charity Navigator, primarily because only 43-60% of funds during those years were spent on programs on the ground. For example, in 2008 the US Foundation had total revenues of $1.27 Million of which only $404,000 went to 'Project Payments' according to the Foundation's very own 2008 IRS tax filings.

    However, since 2008, the Rainforest Foundation US has received four stars out of four, with an efficiency score of 38.93 out of 40.


    Rainforest Foundation Fund Wikipedia

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