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Melanesia Grant Program

The Christensen Fund

Grant amount: US $50,000 - US $100,000

Anticipated deadline: Aug 31, 2019 (Pre proposal)

Applicant type: Government Entity Nonprofit

Funding uses: Applied Project / Program

Location of project: Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu

Location of residency: Preferred: Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu Other eligible locations: Anywhere in the world

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Our grantmaking strategy within Melanesia focuses on fortifying and reasserting local culturally-based economies in the face of growing extractive industries, land conversion and a steady devaluation of traditional practices. In response to global pressures driving communities into the ‘cash economy’, there are grassroots movements in the other direction, asserting the value and power of indigenous sovereignty, culture, and biodiverse landscapes as ways to make a better life and a solid foundation for national development. These movements, and the practical ideas they proffer, are where we direct our support.  As noted in more detail below, grantmaking is currently focused on the northern side of Papua New Guinea, the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, and the Vanuatu archipelago.

Primary Themes

The independent nations at the heart of Melanesia are integrated landscape-seascapes where communities have historically achieved high population densities with comparatively little loss of diversity and ecosystem integrity. They have done this through some of the most complex resource management systems seen anywhere on the planet, grounded in customary law and values based upon an immense body of indigenous knowledge. Our grantee’s challenge is to facilitate a revaluation of traditional knowledge and economies, while making culture ‘cool’ again to engage the coming generations. To reach these goals we focus our grantmaking on two interrelated themes that are in practice tightly connected:

  • Customary Land Tenure, Food Sovereignty, and the Traditional Economy
  • Cultural Renewal

Grantmaking is focused around increasing understanding about alternative development paths for Melanesia, and in particular the merits and practical applicability of approaches rooted in Melanesian land-based values and biocultural diversity. To achieve these ends Christensen works almost exclusively with local organizations doing grounded work.

Key strategies within these themes include:

  • the development and use of culturally-grounded and environmentally-informed curricula in schools and community education programs;
  • support for the strengthening and diversification of civil society organizations; and
  • the development of networks of people and organizations engaged in biocultural education, expression and revitalization.

Priority Landscapes of Focus

To leverage the current momentum of Melanesian movements, our grantmaking is directed toward the following land/seascapes, alongside some support for regional convening and networking:

    The Vanautu Archipelago: The island state of Vanuatu comprises 83 inhabited islands. With a total population of only 250,000 and over 100 distinct Indigenous languages on just 12,000 square kilometers of land, the archipelago has some of the highest linguistic diversity in the world. Traditional currencies, including pigs, mats, and special varieties of yam, taro, and banana, are still valued and used actively. After scoring first place in the New Economics Foundation’s Happy Planet Index while being classified as a “poor country” in urgent need of development, the Vanuatu National Statistics Office, together with the Malvatumauri (Vanuatu National Council of Chiefs) and the Vanuatu National Cultural Council, is testing alternative indicators of well-being that can better guide development efforts. These new measure will provide an alternative to the measurement of gross domestic product (GDP), and reflect Melanesian values and measures of well-being, including access to land and natural resources, food and health, community vitality, family relationships, environmental wellbeing and culture. Christensen is actively supporting this project, which clearly has international relevance, alongside support for national and island-based efforts to apply this thinking to local development (especially around food sovereignty) as well as the kinds of curriculum development and cultural celebration that can connect youth to a vision of the future that embraces both the traditional knowledge of their heritage and contemporary innovation.

    Bismarck Archipelago to Bismarck Range: Ocean to Mountain on the north coast of Papua New Guinea: This priority land and seascape includes the island ring around the Bismarck Sea and the unique rainforest trade route that runs from PNG’s north coast up to the Bismarck Range region of the Highlands, including its highest peak, Mt. Wilhelm (4509m). Current development policies are driving the expansion of mining, logging, oil palm plantations and commercial fishing in this landscape which is possibly the most biodiverse on the planet, and undermining traditional livelihoods that are based on coastal and riverine fishing, agro-biodiverse agriculture and forest products. Our grantees are advancing alternative approaches by deepening awareness of the biocultural diversity of this region by strengthening effective systems of traditional governance; by connecting local stewards with national, regional and international advocacy on key issues; and promoting biocultural and decolonizing curricula.

    Bougainville: The medium-sized island of Bougainville has a population approaching 250,000 and a variety of distinct cultures renowned for the central position of women. After a prolonged battle with extractive industries, Bougainville became an autonomous region with many citizens that recognize and want to explore the strength of the traditional economy as a foundation for sustainable and resilient local development. Bougainville is also renowned for the strength of its cultures and, building on the festivals founded by the renowned late cultural activist William Takaku, Christensen’s grants are focused on mobilizing cultural energies and renewal to shaping the island’s development path. Grants also support the peoples of the adjacent atolls who are struggling with sea level rise and potential relocation to the mainland.

    You can learn more about this opportunity by visiting the funder's website.


    • Grant-seeking organizations need to be US 501(c)(3) or a similar not-for-profit organization, government unit, university or museum either in the USA or in another country
    • Grants within the regional programs are generally directed to organizations based within those regions or, where appropriate, to international organizations working in support of the efforts of people and institutions on the ground.

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