Vita is a 33-year-old Irish overseas aid agency focused on enacting climate justice through strategies of sustainability, adaptability and mitigation. Vita partners predominantly with communities in the Horn of Africa – particularly Eritrea and Ethiopia – which face the greatest challenges as a result of climate change.
To learn more about Vita’s work, we spoke with Ciara Feehely, Head of Communications and Fundraising.
Ciara explained that Vita takes a two-pronged approach to addressing the climate crisis. First, and anchored in its history, Vita runs several scaleable development initiatives that pursue sustainable agricultural practices, food security, and gender justice.
Each programme is guided by a model called Community-led Total (CLT). One programme involves enabling women to build and maintain fuel-efficient cookstoves, which both improves the health of women and prevents large numbers of trees from being cut down and used as firewood, a process that emits millions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere daily across the developing world.
In harmony with the community
This programme works in harmony with the community waterpoint repair programme, which enables communities to repair their own water points. This significantly reduces the amount of time and energy women use for fetching water and again, saves trees from being cut and burnt to sanitise dirty water–reducing millions of tonnes of carbon emissions.
These initiatives, Ciara mentioned, both improve quality of life for participating communities while also mitigating further climate damage: in the words of Laudato Si’, they answer 'both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor' (LS, 49).
Further stressing Laudato Si’s call to subsidiarity, accompaniment, and listening, Ciara explained that how Vita implements its initiatives is as important for development and the state of the planet as the initiatives themselves. For Vita, this means learning from communities and prioritizing partnership and ownership (click below to hear Clara explain this):
Vita’s second approach to climate justice is impact investing, particularly through the creation of the Vita Green Impact Fund. The Green Impact Fund is revolutionary in its design. By selling carbon credits ‘harvested’ from Vita’s development programmes – like its clean cookstove initiative – the Fund allows corporations from around the world to invest in Vita’s work and further its impact. Click here to hear Ciara explain the mechanics and cyclical nature of the Fund.
Grants haven’t worked
By harnessing the investment potential of corporations, Ciara says that the Green Impact Fund stabilizes development efforts. 'Grants haven’t worked'” she says. 'People have poured billions into these countries, and yet their problems haven’t been solved. New ways of supporting these communities have to be found.'
The Fund also serves as a stable funding source for Vita, which no longer has to depend on the 'whims' of some grantmakers. Impact investing is the new frontier of developmen t– and it makes a powerful, tangible difference in communities and in the race against climate change. For Vita, impact investing combined with community-led total development enables fast, inclusive and cost-effective scaling of life-transforming programmes – the golden opportunity for climate-impacted communities in Africa.
For Vita, the example of religious organisations, particularly congregations of women religious, have led the way. For these institutions, Ciara says, impact investing is both part of their strategy and their charism. 'The religious lead and the corporates follow in this context, there’s no doubt about it. They are pioneers of the triple bottom line.'
And for congregations, Ciara explains, impact investing is part of their legacy, part of their vision – it is a way of living their spirituality in concrete places and circumstances.
'Their whole lives are transformed when you invest in them, when you have a little bit of faith in them. They never let themselves down' – Ciara Feehely
For organisations thinking about beginning a journey toward impact investing, Ciara stresses that anyone can get involved regardless of their means, sharing these important insights.
Finding the right partners, Ciara says, is especially important, as is broadening the typical understanding of financial return. Impact investing, too, has the power to catalyze relationships and transform lives. This power, Ciara explains, provides the ultimate motivation to take the first step.
For the women she has encountered, Ciara says, 'their whole lives are transformed when you invest in them, when you have a little bit of faith in them. They never let themselves down'.