US outdoors retail co-op REI has set up a charity to enable its members to support non-profit organisations that promote justice, equity and belonging in the outdoors.
The REI Cooperative Action Fund will invest an initial US$1m in 19 nonprofit partners whose work focuses on these issues. A co-operative owned by 20 million members, REI has to date invested over $120m in hundreds of nonprofit partners across the country.
“We believe connection to nature is fundamental for the health and wellbeing of all people and that time outside is a human right,” said chief customer officer Ben Steele. “As a community of millions of members, thousands of employees and hundreds of partners, we are uniquely positioned to drive meaningful change. Through the REI Cooperative Action Fund, we can harness the collective strength of the co-op to ensure that all people have their right to the outdoors protected.”
The retailer is asking members, employees and customers to participate in Cooperative Action by donating to the Fund, lobbying for legislation that impacts the outdoors through the Cooperative Action Network, and reducing their carbon footprint by purchasing and trading in used gear.
The fund will award grant funding to organisations working on three areas: connecting more people outside, creating more space outside, and centring health outside. As part of this, the fund will support outdoor-focused organisations led by disadvantaged groups, including black and indigenous communities, the LGBTQ+ community, disabled people, and women.
It will also back community-led carbon reduction projects that bring environmental benefits closer to home for marginalised communities and fund efforts to strengthen and amplify scientific research.
“REI has worked for decades to drive meaningful change against some of the most complex issues facing our industry and society,” said Kristen Ragain, managing director of the REI Cooperative Action Fund. “Now, with the REI Cooperative Action Fund, everyone can contribute to the organisations, community leaders and initiatives building more just, accessible and inclusive outdoor spaces and places for everyone.”
The fund has been set up as an independent organisation, and will be led by its own board of directors with the support of a dedicated staff and compensated community advisors.