Participatory grant-making works!

women_riseParticipatory grant-making helps to shift power relations in Mexico.  Powerful results surfaced when a Mexican women’s rights funder began to give decision-making power to local activists.
By Jenny Barry

Recovering the values of feminist philanthropy

Fondo Semillas’ participatory grant-making journey started within the framework of a strategic planning, during a process to build consensus around our institutional values and principles as a grantmaker. To do so, we divided into working groups that included staff and board members, current and former grantees, and other key allies from the Mexican feminist movement. These groups highlighted values that are central to the fund’s feminist identity, such as shared power, inclusion, horizontality, and diversity. Through these conversations, we reflected on the extent to which our own practice of resourcing women’s rights mirrored these ideals. We agreed that it was imperative to pay closer attention to the politics of how our grant-making was carried out—who is included and excluded, what style of leadership is recognized, as well as how decisions are made and agendas set.

In our 27 years of funding women’s rights activism, we have learned that it is not our role to be prescriptive in our grant-making by pushing for specific policy changes. Rather, our experience is that these changes are the result of a strong feminist movement, which also plays a critical role in resisting setbacks and preserving previously-won victories for women’s rights. We soon realized that it was somewhat hypocritical to assert that grassroots women are the experts on the issues facing their communities, while not fully involving them in decisions regarding how to allocate funding to grassroots women’s groups. Previously, Fondo Semillas made grantmaking decisions with the support of small selection committees made up of staff and board members, as well as a few experts who were sometimes—but not always—former grantees. We decided that, in order to truly reflect our values, grassroots feminist activists had to play a much more central role in the decision-making process.

Defining participation

The term “participation” gets thrown around a lot without much clarity. Many different models of participatory grantmaking exist, some of which include representatives of certain movements or communities in grantmaking decisions, while others involve the applicants themselves.

With the support of current and former grantees and other feminist allies, Fondo Semillas reviewed existing models and ultimately decided to include two main forms of participation in its new selection process. First, Fondo Semillas hosted a forum with 40 diverse representatives of the Mexican feminist movement. Fondo Semillas selected the representatives based on their availability, knowledge of specific regional contexts, and areas of thematic expertise. After reviewing the organizational profiles of potential grantees, the forum participants engaged in small-group discussions regarding the status of feminist organizing in Mexico, first by region and then by thematic area.

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Don’t Get Disempowered!

Don't Get Disempowered!How a Human Rights Movement gets disempowered?
By Sunil Babu Pant, Blue Diamond Society

Activists from the ‘global south’ hear, far too often, from our donors that we should ‘Learn how to become professional, make your NGO management efficient’.

Let’s decode what “becoming professional” means and what “efficient management means”:

1) Professional means a person engaged or qualified in a profession. ‘Profession’ is the key word here, and donors would like to make sure that you become a ‘professional’ activist, and want to see you taking it (human rights work) as a profession.

2) Efficient management means performing or functioning in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort. For conventional NGOs this means achieving targets, writing professional reports and submitting it in a timely manner. To really understand the “danger” of becoming efficient, you must compare it with effectiveness. Being effective is about doing the right things, while being efficient is about doing things right (no matter how far you have moved away from human rights ‘activism’ to be part of an efficient management team).

As soon as a well-meaning group of activists start the process of becoming a NGO, the problem begins. No matter what is said at the outset about the ‘NGOs being free to act the way they have envisioned’, the truth is that the NGOs are deeply indebted by donors, well-funded NGOs are even worse. This is start of a ‘professional’ submission to a system that repeatedly dis-empowers and controls the movement, denies the freedom of a human rights movement to do what it is supposed to do, all slogans of ‘grassroots-led and empowerment’ not-upheld.

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