Building connected global philanthropy — salient learnings for grantmakers

fredericks_300By Beulah Fredericks

The WINGSForum 2014 tagline “The Power of Networks” says it all. In March, WINGS convened more than 250 participants from around the globe on a space of mutual interaction, sharing of ideas and transformative thinking.

Although this was my first WINGS Conference, I felt welcome and at home. Reconnecting with colleagues and meeting new acquaintances and friends reaffirmed the value of organizations engaged in social justice and philanthropy convening in trying times marked with the shrinking space of civil society.

Solidarity is such a supportive mechanism and once again the repository of information on networks and building a connected global philanthropy left me feeling buoyant and sustained by hope.

The first day set the pace for transformative thinking. Danny Sriskandarajah (CIVICUS) reminded us of the shrinking space of civil society. According to him evidence points to this, despite efforts to nurture this important space. Our challenge is to find meaningful and appropriate ways to preserve and nurture this space. He cautioned us on the use of various tools for measuring impact, emphasising the overuse of logframes, which have killed radical implementation processes. In concurring with Sriskandarajah I thought about how donor-driven the sector has become, allowing the linear development approach to set the agenda, pushing back the grassroots community agenda for sustainable development.

Community Grantmaking

The debate on grantmaking as a tool for development brought interesting perspectives to the discourse. The DNA of grantmaking has changed and traditional grantmaking is not only fading, but looks different from where we sit in the world. The Community Development Foundation Western Cape (CDF) in South Africa, and where I’m the Executive Director, has since its inception in 2007 never made a formal call for community grant proposals. This was not necessarily a strategic decision at the time, but rather the default, given the small size of our funding pool in comparison to the demand for community grants.

Cultivating the grant process and not grantmaking per se was shifting the focus to a more engaging and participatory practice. We’ve done this by creating spaces for community conversations, deep listening, trust building, prodding, and mutual learning and sharing. By not focussing on grantmaking, CDF Western Cape was creating a lattice of community connections and support structures that bridge the trails out of poverty.

Cultivating the grant process sets in motion an appreciative inquiry, using and building on available assets, followed by a series of listening, trust building and mutual learning and sharing community conversations. Demystifying ‘logical solutions’ means countering intuitively and thinking beyond the obvious, recognizing that what appear as ‘logical solutions’ could exacerbate the problem and stifle courage for a push towards better outcomes. Ownership and sustainability, critical components in the DNA of grantmaking, are being embraced with longevity beyond funding and the grant cycle.

Although grantmaking is not easily understood, it remains an important tool in the Foundation-speak toolbox. We should however have better conversations regarding grantmaking processes – it’s not “business as usual”, given changing trends in philanthropy. Ideas and input come from unexpected places, i.e. grassroots grantmaking builds the field of local community, elevating the voice of the voiceless. These are approaches worth documenting.

About Networks

As a representative of the SACGLF (a.k.a “the Forum”) I keenly followed the discourse on the importance of networks. It has become evident that a network is built around a shared vision and purpose of its stakeholders. Gathering evidence, and knowledge collected from the field and from stakeholders, make for optimum functioning. In this regard the plenary session on infrastructure development, data, accountability and transparency focused on an important shift that should take place: moving from the number game in data collection to wisdom in action (being qualitative rather than quantitative).

Data gathering and mapping processes are advocacy tools for the philanthropic sector. Grantmakers should be key resources for data gathering and redistribution. Focus areas include: activities; tools; funding trends; challenges and opportunities; legal aspects; economics; and friendly websites—to name a few.

Mapping processes cost money and should be shared, reviewed and regularly updated by stakeholders. The value proposition of data gathering and mapping refers to deciphering, applicability and implementation of information to the advancement an interest of others. I’m so pleased that the comprehensive data collection and mapping process included in the Forum’s three-year strategic plan will come to fruition later this year, thanks to a partnership with the Technical Support and Dialogue Platform and SGS Consultancy. This information would be shared at various platforms.

A few salient learnings and reminders for SACGLF and its members were:

  • Networks are as good as member participation;
  • What do we have in common (the holding glue?);
  • Take advantage of diversity;
  • Trust, not control;
  • Humility, not brand;
  • Node, not hub; and
  • Mission over institution

Network competencies included: leadership; network development; measuring impact; dealing with change and conflict; communications; learning systems; policy and advocacy; and resource mobilisation.

Beulah Fredericks is Chairperson of SACGLF and Executive Director of CDF Western Cape.

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