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 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 and 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 in 2015-2016 when she joined the staff.
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 the foundation’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 & Board Chair of Panta Rhea, while Hans remained an active board member and advisor and thought-partner to Lisl.
In 2019, Connie Malloy joined as Panta Rhea’s Executive Director, and then CEO. Connie collaboratively stewarded a strategy update with grantmaking funds focused on Food Sovereignty, People Power, and Global Roots. The board further expanded to include non-family trustees who embody the foundation’s commitment to global social justice by appointing Solomé Lemma and Cedric Brown in early 2021. At this time the board also shifted to a co-chair model, with the board leadership role shared between family and community.
Looking ahead, we’re actively deepening racial justice and anti-racist efforts in solidarity with staff, board, grantees, and our broader community. We’re exploring how Panta Rhea’s Resilience and Renewal supports can best meet this transformative era, and weaving creative arts and expression throughout our increasingly integrated grantmaking approach. We’re also eager to continue experimenting with redistribution of power and resources, through participatory grantmaking and other collaborative models that put our values into practice.