Through the vision and leadership of Hans Schoepflin and with the support of his daughter, Patricia Wefald, the Panta Rhea Foundation began in 2001 as a progressive family foundation supporting organizations building a just and sustainable world.
Our foundation name, Panta Rhea, is inspired by Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus. It roughly translates to “You never step into the same river twice” or “All things change, all things flow”—suggesting both inherent constancy and change as a fundamental of life itself.
Hans first made his mark as a risk-taking and innovative funder by supporting a successful campaign that fought the privatization of an aquifer in the Mojave Desert. Hans worked closely during this initial period of corporate campaign funding with his long-time thought partner and good friend, Frank Arundel.
In 2006, Hans invited Diana Cohn, who had been leading the Solidago Foundation, to lead the Foundation and our growing presence in water rights and preservation in the Western States, corporate accountability, and integrated arts and education. Early in her tenure, Diana, in partnership with Ann Dowley, researched best practices and designed a unique capacity building program for Panta Rhea grantees, Building Capacity for Organizational Resilience & Renewal. With Diana’s leadership, Panta Rhea’s Deeper Learning & Social Imagination funds catalyzed innovation and advocacy in arts and education and social change movements across the country.
During the foundation’s early years, Hans’ daughters, Lisl Schoepflin and Patricia Wefald played key roles. Lisl formally became a trustee in 2008 while Patricia joined in 2011. Lisl worked with Diana to incorporate arts, youth, and civic engagement issues into Panta Rhea’s grantmaking. Patricia began the Foundation’s food grantmaking program, which Anna Lappé later evolved into a focus on food systems transformation when she joined the staff formally in 2016.
In 2015, Panta Rhea also began its evolution from a family foundation with only family members on the board, to an expanded board of directors who would steward the Foundation’s mission going forward. Hans initiated the governance change to ensure Panta Rhea’s continued legacy, stewardship capacity and operations in the United States as his philanthropic presence and commitments increased in Germany. At this time, three family friends were invited to join the board: Daidie Donnelley, Holly Roberson, and Nico Dosenbach.
In 2016, post-election, Diana led the expanded board and staff to launch Panta Rhea’s time-limited Dignity, Freedom & Solidarity initiative, which invested in grassroots movement building organizing throughout the US. (DFS would evolve into the ongoing People Power Fund in 2021).
In 2017, Lisl Schoepflin became the President and Board Chair of Panta Rhea, while Hans remained an active board member, advisor, and thought-partner to Lisl.
In 2019, Connie Archbold Robinson joined Panta Rhea. As CEO, Connie collaboratively stewarded a strategy update with grantmaking funds focused on food sovereignty, community power building, and grassroots liberation around the globe. The board further expanded to welcome non-family trustees who embody the foundation’s commitment to global social justice by appointing Solomé Lemma of Thousand Currents and Cedric Brown of Obama Foundation in early 2021. At the same time, the board shifted to a co-chair model, with the board leadership role shared between family and community through a partnership between Lisl Schoepflin and Holly Roberson.
To fortify our grants management and administration, the Foundation invited Gerlie Collado to join the team in 2020. In 2022, she helped launch our Flow Fund for Climate Justice, a participatory creative arts and expression grantmaking initiative.
In late 2022, in an effort to facilitate the Foundation’s strategic direction collectively with the Trustees, staff, and our partners, Panta Rhea appointed Amalia Brindis Delgado as its first Chief Strategy Officer and new Resilience & Renewal program lead.
The Foundation is actively expanding our climate justice solidarity giving beyond the United States while deepening our intersectional justice and anti-racist efforts across the portfolio. In light of this focus, Panta Rhea is exploring how its funding priorities as well as its Resilience & Renewal program can best offer responsive resources to our partners throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.
The Foundation will continue to take important steps to redistribute our power and resources through participatory grantmaking and other collaborative, community-based models that put our values into practice. Additionally, we will continue to leverage our reach by engaging our colleagues in the philanthropic sector to join us in our efforts for global solidarity. Finally, we are deepening relationships and exploring transatlantic partnerships with our sister philanthropic and nonprofit entities in Germany, including the Schöpflin Stiftung and Spöre Initiative, also founded by Hans Schoepflin.