August 2020 DDCSP & DDCF Updates


Dear DDCSP Community, 

We hope you are doing as well as is possible and are finding the strength and support you need to get through these challenging times. For program staff in DDCF’s Environment Program, these last several months have been a time of personal and organizational reflection. We’ve reflected on COVID-19’s impact on communities of color and on the senseless killing of George Floyd, Breonna Tarylor, Amaud Arbery, Elijah McClain, and so many others, and continue to stand, march, and protest in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. We’ve reflected on the fact that, for many, this is the first time that they’ve heard of things like white supremacy and systemic racism. 

We’ve reflected on the modern conservation movement’s current and historical racism and inequitable practices and acknowledge the philanthropic sector’s lack of funding to communities who identify as Black, Indigenous or people of color. And we’ve reflected on how these events have laid bare the systemic racism that is woven through every thread of our society and how, we hope, they have created opportunities for accelerated action and real, fundamental social change moving forward. 

As an Environment Program and foundation, we have much work to do to address systemic racism within our program and organization. This update provides some insights into how we’re taking action at this moment in time at the foundation level (see sections on our internal diversity, equity, and inclusion work and $100M bond below) and as a program (see New Environment Program Initiatives section below). The update also includes a number of other items that have come up over the last several months, including news about the University of Michigan program, that we felt important to share.   

This update is not meant to be a comprehensive look at all of the ways we can and should be making change at this point in time, nor does it offer much in terms of the personal impact of the last several months on our lives as individuals (a one-way communication doesn’t seem to be the right platform for either). So, as always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions or to find a time to connect. 

All the best, 

Sacha, Danielle, and Sean 

Environment Program Director, Officer, and Associate at DDCF;; 


2019 and 2020 DDCSP Cohorts

In the spring, as we began to see the real scale and impact of the pandemic, it became clear that the DDCSP program would not be able to continue as planned this summer. The DDCSP Program Staff have worked incredibly hard to translate the in-person experience into a meaningful virtual experience that still allowed for deep connections among Scholars, personal and professional growth, and exploration into a range of conservation issues through research and other projects and internships. The programs are hoping to find ways to bring the cohorts together in-person in the future, although it remains unclear when it will be possible to do that safely. If you have specific questions about how your program adjusted the summer experience, please reach out to them directly.  

DDCSP-UM and Dr. Taylor’s Transition to Yale 

We wanted to share the exciting news that Dr. Dorceta Taylor has taken a new role as full professor with the Yale School of the Environment, following 27 years with the University of Michigan! As the principal investigator of DDCSP-UM, she launched the program in 2016 and led to its growth and support of 101 amazing Scholars. Please see the DDCSP-UM five-year program overview for a wonderful summary of the program and the individual UM Scholars.  

As part of this transition, Dr. Taylor has decided that the 2020 UM Cohort would be the last, with the UM program winding down in 2021 following the 2020 Cohort’s second summer. This timing aligns with the end date of DDCF’s current grant to UM (and the timeline DDCF would have considered a renewal grant for the program). At this stage, it is unlikely that a new faculty member would take over the program at UM, and DDCF is just beginning to consider options for the future. We plan to engage you in the process of how we move forward but please feel free to reach out to us if you have specific questions about Dr. Taylor’s decision.   

DDCSP Alumni Network

Over the last few months, a Steering Committee of Alumni have been working to support the development of a new contract between DDCF and Environmental Leadership Program (ELP), which manages the Alumni Network. The Steering Committee has shared an update on the members of the committee and its work to date in a recent blog post

New Environment Program Initiatives

The DDCF Environment Program has launched two new initiatives to support a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive conservation field: funding to support Black, Indigenous and people of color-led organizations in conservation and funding to support the diversity, equity, and inclusion capacity building of conservation organizations. Vanessa Springer (DDCSP Collaborative 2014 Cohort)  is an advisor to DDCF on the first program, and Keren Alfred (DDCSP-UW 2015 Cohort)  is an advisor to DDCF on the second program. Both were selected through an application process shared through the Alumni Network earlier this year. These initiatives are starting points for the Environment Program to engage more deeply on issues of race in the conservation field and racial equity beyond DDCSP. 

DDCF Internal Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Work 

DDCF initially formed a DEI Working Group in April 2018 with the goal of launching our DEI change efforts and identifying a facilitator for a foundational/101 racial equity training. We worked with Race Forward on the training and have since also held monthly informal DEI learning sessions that DDCF’s staff organize and a few facilitated book discussions (e.g., “White Fragility” and “The Person You Mean To Be).” In Fall 2019, we worked to formalize the DEI Working Group by crafting a charter and developing DEI organizational goals. We’re currently in the process of identifying a consultant to work with the foundation longer term to support our DEI organization change efforts and learning and implementation of our DEI goals. While we have made some headway, we still have a long road ahead.

As of early 2019, 66% of DDCF’s 29 staff members identified as female, 24% identified as male, and 10% declined to respond. At the board level, 60% of DDCF’s 10 board members identified as female and 40% identified as male. 

Forty-five percent of staff members identified as White, 14% as Black or African American, 10% as Asian or Asian American, 10% as Hispanic or Latinx, 7% as Multiracial, and 14% declined to respond. The highest levels of leadership (e.g., President, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Investment Officer) identify as white men, and two out of the four program directors (senior level staff) are women of color (there is also one white female and one white male). 

At the board level, 40% identified as White, 30% as Black or African American, 10% as Asian or Asian American, 10% as Hispanic or Latinx, and 10% as additional ethnicities not listed. We feel deeply grateful that DDCF is as racially diverse as it is, though as noted above, we have a long way to go to ensure our culture and work environment is equitable and inclusive. 

Origins of Wealth 

DDCF also recently launched a working group to explore the origins of Doris Duke’s wealth. This includes better understanding the impact of the tobacco industry across all sectors of society, Duke family connections to slavery, and other areas of interest that emerge over the course of the exploration. The goal is to deepen staff understanding of these issues, publicly share the stories that can and should be told about Doris Duke and the Duke family, and determine what action needs to be taken moving forward. This exploration was inspired by Edgar Villenueava’s book Decolonizing Wealth

Related to this was a recent Vanity Fair article  about Doris Duke killing Eduardo Tirella, her friend and interior designer, in 1966 at her house in Newport, RI. DDCF’s offical statement on the matter is that the author did not consult the public, historic archives at Duke University (Doris Duke Archives at Duke University’s David A. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library; links here, here, and here), which contain various information that contradicts claims in the Vanity Fair article.

Announcement of a $100M Bond 

DDCF announced the issuance of a $100M bond to enable us to stabilize or increase our grantmaking during a time when the non-profit sector is facing devastating economic impacts due to COVID-19 and an unprecedented demand for its services – all magnified by racial injustice. We are in the process of determining how these resources will be allocated across program areas and strategies (equity will be a key focus) and will update you as we have more information to share.

DDCF President Transition 

Earlier this year, DDCF’s President, Ed Henry, announced he would be stepping down at the end of 2020 (though this may now be early 2021). We don’t anticipate this impacting the foundation’s programs in the near term, including DDCSP, and will keep you updated as DDCF’s Board identifies his replacement. 

Previous DDCF Updates

We’ve shared a few other updates over the last year, including on the decision to wind down the Northern Arizona University program and the addition of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst program to the DDCSP Collaborative. These updates can be found here.