Croatan Institute is an independent, nonprofit research and action institute whose mission is to build social equity and ecological resilience by leveraging finance to create pathways to a just economy.


We envision an equitable world where finance supports flourishing communities, vibrant places, and resilient economies.


In our work we strive to be:  Rigorous – Interdisciplinary – Inclusive – Independent – Trusted


Croatan Institute is an independent, nonprofit research and action institute whose mission is to build social equity and ecological resilience by leveraging finance to create pathways to a just economy. Since our launch on Earth Day in 2014, we have worked collaboratively with more than 200 organizations, including environmental nonprofits, community development organizations, farmers and land stewards, impact investors, foundations, and government agencies, on complex problems at the intersection of finance, social equity, and ecological resilience. Our team has prioritized equity and inclusion, building relationships of trust with practitioners in the field and with movements for social and environmental change to expand the footprint and impact of our work.

The Institute’s team includes a group of committed, interdisciplinary scholars, scientists, financial activists, advocates, and analysts who have developed a reputation for delivering rigorous research and actionable insight working on issues at the intersection of finance and social equity and inclusion, climate change solutions, farming and forestry, food systems, institutional accountability, business and human rights, and resilient communities, as well as by developing useful frameworks and data analytics for sustainable and impact investing.

Headquartered in the Research Triangle of North Carolina, Croatan Institute has a networked team based across the South,  Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, West Coast, and in Geneva, Switzerland. Croatan Institute was initially incubated at Tellus Institute, the Boston-based sustainability think tank where several of the founding team members and advisers began their collaboration.

How We Deliver Impact


Croatan Institute’s work touches many complex systems including racial equity, climate change, regenerative agriculture, human rights, and accountability. The thread that connects all our work across the Institute is finance. Transformative finance is embedded in our mission, and it is the lens through which we consider systemic change on a regional, national, and international basis. Finance is also the main lever for action across our theory of change: Redirecting Finance, Making Finance More Accessible, and Fostering Magic in the Middle.

This short video serves as a case study to demonstrate how the intersection of Croatan Institute’s three guiding pathways can be a powerful focal point where unique progress can be made. The video is meant to highlight one powerful example of how the Institute collaborates with place-based partners and capital providers to deliver impact rather than to be wholly representative of the Institute’s work.

This video features Institute partners including William Barber III, the Founder and CEO of Rural Beacon Initiative, and Michael Reilly, Executive Director of Foodshed Capital and highlights some of our work across the Southeast. Croatan Institute Senior Fellow and President Josh Humphreys and Senior Fellow Sharlene Brown are also featured.

Why “Croatan”?

Croatan Institute’s name draws inspiration from the Native American Croatan people associated with the “Lost Colony” of Roanoke, the first effort at English settlement in the Americas. In the late sixteenth century, families of more than 100 English-speaking colonists settled on an island nestled between the Outer Banks and the inland coast of present-day North Carolina. Within the space of less than three years, the colonists had mysteriously vanished. When the colony’s governor returned to rejoin the settlers, his crew found an abandoned settlement with the word “Croatoan” carved in a gate post and the letters “CRO” on the trunk of a tree. The name Croatan Institute evokes competing social and environmental references associated with the Croatan people’s past and persistent problems of global encounter and exchange, social cooperation and conflict, environmental conservation and ecological regeneration, state power and possibility, and unmet demands for recognition and justice. Read more. 


Learn more about our interdisciplinary team of scholars, scientists, financial activists, advocates, and analysts who have developed a reputation for delivering rigorous research and actionable insights.



To solve some of the greatest challenges facing our world today, Croatan Institute recognizes that diverse stakeholders offer distinct perspectives that must be integrated into our collective efforts to build social equity and ecological resilience.

We acknowledge that racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, and other systemic forms of prejudice reinforce not only the power and privilege of America’s White majority but also the influence of post-colonial empires on emerging economies. This global understanding of the imperatives of equity and inclusion, rooted in our interdisciplinary approaches to research and problem-solving, pushes us to embrace a wide array of life journeys and perspectives. While identity may begin with what we see, we recognize that diversity is often far more complex than what public conversations about race might lead us to believe. A person’s life story is collectively shaped by their identities in complex ways. Our commitment is consequently to honor the complexities of individuals and communities while we partner to build bridges to a more just economy.

As a nonprofit research and action institute, we are on a journey to embed equity and inclusion across our organization—into our governance, operations, and partnerships. We have been fortunate to have thoughtful advisers on this journey from the outset, and we continue to create policies, practices, and platforms that reflect the need for social equity.

Since its founding, Croatan Institute has been committed to the principles of equity and inclusion in its actions:

  • When the Institute publicly launched in 2014, our multi-racial founding team was advised by a Board of Advisers reflecting racial, gender, and LGBTQ+ diversity.
  • In 2014 we convened an internal brain trust of fellows and advisers to explore the lack of diversity in finance. The seed planted by this group blossomed into our Racial Equity, Economics, Finance, and Sustainability (REEFS) program in 2018.
  • In 2015 we released a major collaborative study on “Investing for Positive Impact on Women.”
  • In 2016 we released “Investing in LGBTQ+ Equality,” a pathbreaking paper, and simultaneously organized investors with more than $2 trillion in assets to oppose North Carolina’s transphobic “Bathroom Bill.”
  • In 2018 we created an organizational policy to formalize our practice of embedding equity in vendor selection.
  • In 2020 we created an honorarium compensation policy for speakers and interviewees from low-resource communities and organizations led by people of color.
  • We’ve assembled a team of staff, affiliated fellows, and Board members that bring together a diverse range of racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, socio-economic, and immigrant identities.

Learn more about our future plans for continuing to embed equity and justice across our work in our Strategic Plan 2021-2023.

Equity Honoraria Policy

As a nonprofit research and action institute, we are on a journey to embed diversity, equity, and inclusion across our organization—into our governance, operational processes, and project partnerships. However, we recognize the burden on low-resource and minority stakeholders to participate in Institute projects and events. We have therefore committed to fairly compensating Indigenous Peoples, racial and ethnic minorities, and low-resource organizations for their contribution to our work by providing an honorarium for their time and input.

Strategic Plan

In 2020, Croatan Institute embarked on its first formal strategic planning process, released in June 2021, and covering a three year period from 2021 – 2023. During this process, we took stock of our accomplishments and the lessons learned in our first seven years of development and worked to assess and articulate the Institute’s values, vision, mission, as well as develop a more unified theory of change to guide our work over the next three years. The process included a series of focus groups with staff and fellows, a public stakeholder survey, and a set of individual interviews with key external stakeholders. We also developed a concrete 24-month work plan with enhanced governance, communications, and development strategies.

Our 2021-2023 Strategic Plan includes five strategic priorities that will guide our efforts to deepen our capacity and manage our growth in a sustainable way:

  • Streamline Our Programs and Communications
  • Fully Integrate Equity and Justice across Programs and Operations
  • Diversify Revenue Streams and Build Development Capacity
  • Enhance Operational Capacity
  • Strengthen Organizational Governance

Our full Strategic Plan provides an overview of the outcomes of this process and a foundation for the Institute’s next phase of development.

How We Work

Croatan Institute works toward change by redirecting finance to support social equity and ecological resilience, making finance more accessible for place-based practitioners and frontline communities, and fostering what we call the “magic in the middle” by working in unique ways between these two pathways.

What We Work On

Our work at the nexus of finance, social equity and ecological resilience addresses the following cross-cutting themes:

Human Rights
Climate Solutions
Equity & Inclusion
Farming & Forestry
Food Systems
Frameworks & Data Analytics
Resilient Communities


Who We Work With 

Learn more about how we Consult, Convene and Collaborate with a wide and growing array of partners, including

  • nonprofits, cooperatives, and community-based organizations mission-aligned sustainable, impact, and community investment firms, and major investor networks
  • philanthropic and corporate foundations
  • government funders, primarily the US Department of Agriculture


To learn more about all of the clients we work with, follow the “Hire Us” button below. 

Partners, Sponsors & Funders

To learn more about all of the partners, sponsors and funders we work with, follow the “Collaborate with Us” button below. 

Founders Circle

In 2015 – 2019, Croatan Institute launched an ambitious five-year founding campaign inviting donors and organizations seeking to play a highly engaged role in the early stages of our work to join the Institute’s Founders Circle. By pledging to support Croatan Institute with major gifts, Founders Circle members helped seed the Institute with unrestricted anchor funding during this critical phase of our growth, helping us to maintain our independence, deepen our impact, and achieve our vision. We are grateful to our Founders Circle members for their generous support: