Ocean philanthropy has more than doubled in recent years, now reaching virtually every salient marine conservation issue in all corners of the planet. This private funding is impacting ocean governance systems in profound ways, including by shaping agendas, discourse, research, networks, and policy. Despite its significant growth and influence, ocean philanthropy (and environmental philanthropy more broadly) has received little scholarly attention. This presentation will introduce the Ocean Philanthropy Research Initiative, a five-year knowledge co-production project focused on the roles, impacts, and legitimacy of private foundations in marine conservation. I will first explain how and why we are conceptualizing private foundations as agents of environmental governance, and then I will share preliminary empirical results on how foundations and practitioners conceptualize donor legitimacy in the marine conservation field. I will discuss how our work – and additional research from the broader environmental governance community – can inform the practice of conservation philanthropy at a time when foundations are increasingly reckoning with their role as institutions of power in society.
Rebecca Gruby is an Associate Professor of human dimensions of natural resources at Colorado State University. She is an environmental governance scholar whose research focuses on contemporary transformations in ocean conservation. Over the last 15 years, she has worked on issues spanning marine protected areas, small-scale fisheries, marine ecosystem-based management, the blue economy, ocean philanthropy, and justice and equity in the marine conservation field. As lead PI for the Ocean Philanthropy Research Initiative and the Human Dimensions of Large-Scale Marine Protected Areas project, Rebecca has led international research teams in the first social science studies of ocean conservation philanthropy and the world’s largest marine parks. Geographically, most of her work is situated in the Pacific Islands region and at the global level. Rebecca holds a Bachelor of Science in natural resource conservation from the University of Florida (2006), and a Ph.D from Duke University (2013). She worked as a research associate at the Environmental Law Institute between 2006-2008.