The Rockefeller Foundation president, Dr Rajiv Shah, talks climate change, risk aversion, and solutions philanthropy.

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The Rockefeller Foundation is one of the world’s oldest and largest philanthropies. It was launched in 1910 with funds from oil, but in 2020, unveiled a plan to divest its US$5 billion endowment from existing fossil fuel interests and refrain from future investments in the sector. 

The US-based foundation has also committed to invest US$1bn of programme resources into collaborations and partnerships in the areas of energy, food, health, and financial systems. This is with the aim of creating the changes possible to keep 1.5 degrees alive as a global temperature target, and protect three billion people on Earth, who live in countries vulnerable to future climate transitions.

To talk about The Rockefeller Foundation’s climate strategy, and so-called Big Bets philanthropy, its president Dr Rajiv Shah, joined Maysa Jalbout in the The Impact Room shortly before the UAE hosted COP28.

Optimistic that we have the science and know-how to curb climate change, Dr Raj admits a lot still comes down to financing. “I hope to see absolute serious financing solutions being provided to emerging and developing economies to allow them to access the renewable energy technology frontier that is so defining the global transition in terms of climate and wealthy economies,” he says.

And he adds: “In an age of abundance, we don't need to have nearly a billion people living in energy poverty, 800 million people hungry every night, and girls still experiencing deep vulnerability and discrimination around the planet.”

Collaboration is a recurring theme in the interview and Dr Raj says Global North investors needed to “drive more capital into emerging economies and developing economies to ensure everyone benefits from an accelerated climate transition.”

Dr Raj joined the Rockefeller Foundation in 2015 after six years at the helm of the US foreign aid agency, USAID, leading it during the response to the Haiti earthquake and the West African Ebola pandemic.

The founder of Latitude Capital, a private equity firm focused on power and infrastructure projects in Africa and Asia, he has also worked at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where he created the International Financing Facility for Immunisation, and he has served as a Distinguished Fellow in Residence at Georgetown University in Washington DC.

Dr Raj's book, Big Bets: How Large-Scale Change Really Happens, is designed to inspire nonprofit leaders re-imagine how they approach social impact.

Read more about The Rockefeller Foundation' work on climate change here. You can download the foundation's analysis report: Vulnerable Populations in a Warming World: Four Futures Explored, which presents four scenarios around energy demand, fossil fuel use, and CO2 emissions, and the impact that has on our world. 

About the host

Maysa Jalbout is a leader in international development and philanthropy. Her previous roles include founding CEO of the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, a $1bn philanthropic initiative based in Dubai, and founding CEO of the Queen Rania Foundation. Maysa is a visiting scholar at MIT and ASU, and a non-resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution. Find her on Twitter @MaysaJalbout.