Honnold Foundation receives $5 million gift to launch capacity building program


The Honnold Foundation (HF) was founded ten years ago by professional rock climber Alex Honnold with a mission to partner with marginalized communities to expand equitable solar energy access.

In the past three years, the Honnold Foundation has helped 48 Partners in over 20 different countries and territories use solar energy to build equity, increase climate resilience, and support communities’ right to self-determination. The foundation doubled its grantmaking this year to fund $2 million in solar energy projects.

PSYDEH is one of HF’s partners. This organization in the Sierra Madres mountain of Hidalgo, Mexico that works with women in indigenous areas. With support from HF and in direct collaboration with women leaders, PSYDEH is bringing five solar powered technology hubs to communities that previously lacked access to most Information and Computer Technologies, including the internet.

Another partner, Coalfield Development, is based in West Virginia’s coal country and dedicated to investing in neighborhoods that are facing barriers to prosperity. In 2020, HF funded a large-scale solar array for Coalfield Development’s West Edge community facility and supported a solar job training program. This year HF is helping Coalfield Development build solar on mine-scarred mountaintop sites.

In recent news, the foundation announced that venture capitalist (VC) Peter Levine is providing a multimillion dollar gift over the next three years to launch the Levine Impact Lab in partnership with the Honnold Foundation. The lab intends to offer long-term support to organizations and individual leaders who otherwise might lack access to the best-in-class resources typically reserved for VC-funded startups.

“The repercussions of climate change are felt in every corner of the world with rising temperatures, increased frequencies of natural disasters, food and water insecurity, and economic disruption,” said Honnold. “Meanwhile, communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis are receiving the least amount of support, despite the best efforts of grassroots organizations and community leaders.”

“I’ve been involved with the Honnold Foundation and a supporter of Alex’s vision for a long time, and the Lab is an evolution of our longstanding relationship,” said Levine. “In my work, I’ve seen that money plus time equals the best outcome. So, it’s not just the dollar donation, it’s the fact that our team is willing to bring the concepts of best-in-class venture capital and company-building to nonprofits, striving to get the best outcomes for the organizations we serve.”

The lab has announced its initial cohort of domestic partners who will attend a three-year program to strengthen their skills in strategy, operations, and governance, as well as executive coaching and leadership development.

Among the initial cohort of domestic partners, the Lab will be working with grassroots organizations that include:

  • Native Renewables, an organization that empowers Native American families on the Hopi and Navajo Nations to achieve energy independence by improving access to solar energy and providing off-grid power solutions.
  • BK Rot, Inc., a non-profit based out of Brooklyn converts organic waste from local businesses into high-quality compost, while also providing employment opportunities and valuable experience to low-income communities.
  • Chicago-based Eco House, which fosters bottom-up economic development in the under-resourced Englewood neighborhood by transforming vacant land into flower farms and employing local youth to grow, maintain, and sell their products.

Commenting on her organization’s enrollment in the Lab, Suzanne Singer, executive director of Native Renewables, said, “We are thrilled to be a part of the first Lab cohort! This type of investment is so valuable for smaller nonprofits, we are excited to apply the resources and tools we gain over the next three years to growing our impact in tribal communities.”

The lab has plans to partner with 50 initiatives from around the world by 2050, working toward supporting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals 7 and 13, described as ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all and taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

In addition to the launch of the Impact Lab, the Honnold Foundation plans to continue to strategically target community-based solar energy projects, with an emphasis on community-driven projects that are located in traditionally underfunded regions facing the immediate effects of the climate crisis.

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