Last November I was standing in a dark corridor in a shabby building on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. Down one side of the corridor sat a line of women, young and old, all of them victims of domestic violence, waiting to see a volunteer at the Women’s Legal Aid Centre.
In one of the tiny rooms at the Centre was a young woman in her early twenties, with twin boys about a year old. She was distraught. She had been thrown out by her husband, and neither she nor the babies had eaten for 24 hours. On the advice of the staff, I gave her about £5, and in return she blessed me. The staff told her to go at once and buy milk for the children and food for herself, and under no circumstances to tell her husband of the windfall. I have no idea what happened to her, but I know that in a country that is among the poorest in the world, she has few options other than to return to her husband, however violent he may be.
The transaction was a conventionally charitable one: we came upon each other by chance, she was in need, I gave her some small help, she blessed me. But what brought me there was the hope of constructing something more enduring and thoughtful, a philanthropic mission rather than a charitable one, which I hope will offer her, and others like her, locally led and more appropriate long-term support – a Strategic Fund for Tanzania.
Sigrid Rausing Trust’s Strategic Funds
This is part of the Sigrid Rausing Trust’s project to help create independent Strategic Funds in a variety of cultures and settings. So far two, in Turkey and Mexico, are operational; two more, in Tanzania and South Africa, are expected to come into existence this year; research on possible funds in Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt is being commissioned.
The inspiration for the funds springs from the strongly held belief of Sigrid Rausing and the trustees that supporting indigenously led and locally based groups is the best way to encourage a culture of respect for human rights and to cement the foundations of civil society. The aim is to throw a small but telling weight into the balance of a country’s future at a time when that is in doubt.
This is the front line of philanthropic work in the human rights field. There is great need, and brave and committed people take great risks, but there are many barriers to groups and funders connecting successfully. This initiative aims to try to overcome those barriers. The Trust’s overall intention is not to own and run these funds but to act as midwife to the birth of a set of independent funds that can attract a variety of donors and encourage wider support for indigenous human rights groups.
Each fund develops differently, but the starting point is the same. Each looks at a specific country and offers targeted support according to the needs of its civil society rather than a rigid set of rules created thousands of miles away. The aim is to fund a portfolio of local groups over a five-year period and to track how different sectors evolve and how groups’ needs change. Vitally, groups apply to the fund in their own language.
The model also aims to give groups an understanding of international standards of grant-giving, in terms of setting realistic aims, writing proposals, accounting for grants and evaluating results. Local philanthropic expertise is used and developed. Importantly, administrative costs are kept to a minimum, less than 10 per cent of the overall budget.
In practice each fund starts with research that looks at:
- The extent to which a country is undergoing a period of progressive change. These times of ‘re-ordering the landscape’ can present great opportunities for funders and activists alike. In Turkey, for instance, almost every aspect of national identity is up for debate, and the outcome will be hugely important to Europe and the Middle East. In this climate small grants can have a great impact.
- The complexity and sophistication of existing human rights groups, and the extent to which women are involved in civil and political life.
- The political and administrative space for a fund. Can groups receive grants securely? Are there acceptable legal and banking mechanisms? What is the risk in terms of corruption and what safeguards can be put in place?
How the funds work
So far funds have been set up using a ‘buddy’ system. Two consultants are identified: one with international experience of human rights as well as philanthropy and governance, the other with local experience, including fluency in the local language.
In the case of the Strategic Fund for Turkey, Andrew Puddephatt, former Executive Director of ARTICLE 19, an international human rights organization that promotes freedom of expression globally, is working with Nurçan Kaya, a young Kurdish human rights lawyer currently on short-term contract to Minority Rights Group.
The two of them meet groups, invite and assess applications, evaluate grants, and generally keep their ears to the ground. Groups apply for grants using a small grants process adapted from the Trust. All forms, letters and contracts are translated into Turkish. The research phase and the preparation of the first portfolio of potential grants was paid for by the Trust.
In the first year 16 separate grants totalling £123,000 were paid directly to groups by the Sigrid Rausing Trust. But this year the Fund has become a project of Global Partners, a UK-registered charity. Andrew Puddephatt is one of its trustees. It is now independent of the Trust, has no shared trustees, and is seeking other donors. The aim is to put around £1 million a year directly into Turkish human rights groups. The Sigrid Rausing Trust has made an initial commitment to support groups for five years, at a level which is likely to be a fraction of this total. The trustees will decide how much to invest each year. The Fund has been approached by another UK funder, the Bromley Trust, which is also considering investing. It is also applying for US non-profit status and building a website.
Essentially the consultants will decide how they wish to develop each fund. The bottom line is to provide constructive and flexible support at low cost to local groups. The Strategic Fund for Mexico is a project of the Angelica Fund, an independent foundation registered in the US. Jim Gollin and Suzanne Brown, the consultants, are Angelica board members. Every year they research human rights and environmental groups in Mexico and apply to the Trust for funds for a portfolio of groups. Last year the Trust gave £175,000 for 15 grants – some of them to groups that have now been supported for three years.
It is early days, but already there have been some hopeful signs. The research for Turkey showed that most groups were woefully underfunded. They needed to grow in order to have a sustained impact. Tohav, a group supporting victims of torture, had an overall budget of £47,000; a grant of £10,000 has enabled them to take on a full-time lawyer to pursue redress. The largest and best-known local Kurdish human rights group had a budget of £90,000; a grant of £20,000 will enable them to develop women’s rights work, including a project on ‘honour’ killings.
It was also clear that there were real needs among minority groups in Turkey – and not just the Kurds. The first portfolio included four grants to new Roma groups, ranging from £2,000 to £5,000. These are the first sums of money these groups have been given, and it has enabled them to obtain a legal identity. They are now forming a network of Roma groups across Turkey. International NGOs are beginning to find them and work with them.
In Tanzania the research is complete and the first portfolio will be considered by the Trust this summer. The trustees chose Tanzania because they wanted to work in a country where poverty is a fundamental issue (Tanzania is the world’s third poorest country). At this stage, it is likely that some of the work there will look at labour conditions in the Tanzanite mines and the problems facing Maasai groups who are being cleared off their pasture to make way for enclosed game parks. But centrally, it will focus on helping women to obtain their legal rights and a life free from abuse, in the hope that they will become less dependent on the accidental charity of strangers.
Jo Andrews is Director of the Sigrid Rausing Trust. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Mexico Fund can be contacted at email@example.com
Comment – David Bonbright
One must applaud the Sigrid Rausing Trust’s ambition to tackle the challenge of investing in local groups across the world without local staff. Theirs is surely one of the potentially best and highest impact approaches to international grantmaking. It carries risks, of course, but these will be mitigated as other donors come into the funds. Rausing can also tap into, and contribute to, the wealth of experience accumulated by the growing number of global funds that have emerged in the past 25 years.
Two lines of question went through my mind as I read Jo Andrews’ short piece. One relates to local ownership. The funds are legally established in the UK, with a mix of international and local leadership. The Mexico fund, for example, has staff in Mexico and the Fund in the UK. How will these dynamics shape the extent and quality of indigenous ownership and leadership?
My second question relates to promoting ‘international standards of grantmaking’ and keeping administrative costs below 10 per cent. My hubris detector starts jumping when grantmakers start talking about ‘international standards’, and talk about keeping overheads low always worries me. How is ‘administration’ defined? Ten per cent sounds low for making small grants. What about monitoring, evaluation and reporting – aka ‘learning’? Perhaps these costs are not included in ‘administration’?