Nathaniel Simons, the billionaire son of Renaissance Technologies co-founder and progressive donor James Simons, established the Sea Change Foundation in 2006. The foundation, based in San Francisco, California, was created as a 501(c)(3) exempt private foundation. The foundation’s mission is to address “serious threats posed by global climate change.”
At the end of 2015, the foundation’s assets were $176 million.
The Sea Change Foundation is funded by Nathaniel “Nat” Simons, co-founder of Prelude Ventures, a clean-tech investment fund. Funding from the foundation comes from the personal wealth of Simmons and his wife, Laura Baxter-Simons. The foundation also receives funding from Renaissance Technologies, the successful hedge fund that Simons’ father and major Democratic donor, James Simons, created and where Simons spent years as a portfolio manager. Nat Simons currently serves as a board member and vice-chair of Renaissance, in addition to managing Meritage Group LP, a spin-off portfolio of hedge fund and direct investments.
The Sea Change Foundation’s philanthropic interests are climate change and clean energy policy.
The foundation’s main grantee is the Energy Foundation. In 2015, the Energy Foundation received over $16 million in grants. Other major grantees ranging in the six-figures include the Sierra Club, World Wide Fund for Nature (formerly the World Wildlife Fund), Natural Resources Defense Council, Food and Water Watch, the League of Conservation Voters, and Center for American Progress (CAP).
The philanthropy blog Inside Philanthropy noted the quiet profile that Simons and Sea Change have taken, stating in 2014 that Sea Change had “what is quite possibly the world’s least informative website.”
Sea Change Foundation faced criticism in 2015 for taking substantial contributions from Klein Ltd., a firm with ties to investors in Russian oil and natural gas concerns.
Board and Key Staff
Stephen Colwell is the current Executive Director of the foundation. Colwell previously served as Executive Director of the Coral Reef Alliance and the Ocean Foundation as well as an advisor to other environment-focused grant-makers including the David and Lucile Packard and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundations.
Other key staff members of the foundation include:
- Shawn Reifsteck is the group’s Chief Operations Officer.
- Sandra Doyle, Satkartar Khalsa, and Clifford Chen are listed as Sea Change’s program strategists
The Sea Change Foundation’s involvement with environmental policy efforts and funding from overseas companies came under scrutiny in a 2014 report released by the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee titled, “How a Club of Billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA.”
The report states that an elite group, referred to as the “Billionaire’s Club,” directs and controls the center-left environmental movement, which in turn controls policy decisions of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The report also cites that “a dominant organization in this movement is the Sea Change Foundation, a private California foundation, which relies on funding from a foreign company with undisclosed donors. In turn, Sea Change funnels tens of millions of dollars to other large but discreet foundations and prominent environmental activists who strive to control both policy and politics.”
The foreign company in question is Klein Ltd., a Bermuda-based company that funnels anonymous donations for philanthropic efforts. The report finds that the company was one of the sources of the Sea Change Foundation’s funding in 2010 and 2011, contributing over $23 million to fight domestic fossil energy production.