Despite serving as the world’s largest carbon sink and greatest climate regulator, the ocean is one of the least invested areas of focus in the world. The ocean covers 71% of the earth’s surface. Yet, it only accounts for roughly 7% of total environmental philanthropy in the United States. From the local coastal communities who are facing the disproportionate brunt of climate change, to a shift in global markets around the world, the ocean, and the way in which humankind stewards it, this has rippling effects on nearly every corner of the earth. 

In response, the global community is beginning to take action.

The United Nations has declared that 2021-2030 is the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. Asset managers and financial institutions are rallying around a Sustainable Blue Economy, while local island communities continue to demonstrate remarkable examples of climate resilience. It’s time Philanthropy takes action too.

Therefore, for the first time, the Network of Engaged International Donors (NEID) convened an Ocean-Focused Giving Circle (the Circle) to explore the intersectionality of marine conservation, local livelihoods and climate resilience by examining the greatest threats to our world ocean and the most effective solutions being locally deployed. From regulating the climate to providing food security to billions of people worldwide, this Circle was rooted in the firm belief that we must invest in a healthy ocean if we wish to experience a healthy future. The Circle was co-facilitated by Jason Donofrio from The Ocean Foundation and Elizabeth Stephenson from the New England Aquarium. 

The Network of Engaged International Donors (NEID Global) is a unique peer-to-peer learning network based in Boston that serves a community of passionate & dedicated international philanthropists across the world. Through strategic networking, educational opportunities, and information sharing we strive for transformational social change. NEID Global members foster equitable partnerships, learn from each other, connect deeply with one another, inspire each other, and act together to build a world where everyone can thrive. To learn more, visit us at

The New England Aquarium (NEAq) is a catalyst for global change through public engagement, commitment to marine animal conservation, leadership in education, innovative scientific research, and effective advocacy for vital and vibrant oceans. Elizabeth serves as the Director of the Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF), supporting the long-term success, impact, and influence of ocean conservation leaders in low and middle-income countries across the globe.  

The Ocean Foundation (TOF) was founded in 2002 as the only community foundation for the ocean with a mission to support, strengthen, and promote those organizations dedicated to reversing the trend of destruction of ocean environments around the world. Jason Donofrio serves as the External Relations Officer handling community and corporate partnerships, donor and media relations. Jason is also the Chair of the Climate Strong Islands Network (CSIN) and Local2030 Islands Network’s Development Committees. In a personal capacity, he serves as the Vice Chair and Development Chair on the Board of Directors for The School of Architecture (TSOA) founded by Frank Lloyd Wright.  

The Circle spanned across a six-month series, focusing on both ocean-specific topics (including blue carbon, ocean acidification, food security, plastic pollution, local livelihoods, climate resilience, ocean diplomacy, island communities, protection of endangered species), as well as key grantmaking values. At the end of the Circle, a consortium of about 25 individual donors and family foundations came together and provided a number of grants to local communities that embodied the Circle’s values and priorities. It also provided an opportunity for donors to learn more as they focus on their own annual giving.

Some key grantmaking values identified in this process were projects or organizations displaying a systematic approach over immediate outcomes, Indigenous or locally led, women-led or displaying gender equity within the decision-making levels of the organization, and demonstrating pathways to expand access or equity for communities to utilize local solutions. The Circle also focused on removing barriers for local organizations to receive philanthropic funds, such as unrestricted support and streamlining the application process. The Circle brought in leading local experts focused on key ocean issues to identify solutions and the people working to implement them.

TOF’s Jason Donofrio gave a few remarks during the event.

Speakers Included:

Celeste Connors, Hawai’i

  • Executive Director, Hawai’i Local2030 Hub
  • Senior Adjunct Fellow at the East-West Center and grew up in Kailua, O‘ahu
  • Former CEO and co-founder of cdots development LLC
  • Former U.S. Diplomat in Saudi Arabia, Greece, and Germany
  • Former Climate and Energy Advisor to the Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs at the U.S. Department of State

Dr. Nelly Kadagi, Kenya

  • Director of Conservation Leadership and the Education for Nature Program, World Wildlife Fund
  • Principal Scientist, Billfish Western Indian Ocean (WIO) 
  • New England Aquarium Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF) Fellow

Dr. Austin Shelton, Guam

  • Associate Professor, Extension & Outreach
  • Director, Center for Island Sustainability and the University of Guam’s Sea Grant Program

Kerstin Forsberg, Peru

  • Founder and director of Planeta Oceano
  • New England Aquarium MCAF Fellow

Frances Lang, California

  • Program Officer, The Ocean Foundation
  • Former Executive Director and Founder of Ocean Connectors

Mark Martin, Vieques, Puerto Rico

  • Director of Community Projects
  • Intergovernmental Liaison
  • Captain at Vieques Love

Steve Canty, Latin America and the Caribbean

  • Coordinator of the Marine Conservation Program at the Smithsonian Institute

There is a real opportunity to engage and educate donors about what is being done right now to protect and properly steward our ocean, to meet the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We look forward to continuing the conversation with all those devoted to protecting our world ocean.

For more information, you can contact Jason Donofrio at [email protected] or Elizabeth Stephenson at [email protected].