In early August, nearly 30 representatives from grantmakers across Africa joined together in Nairobi to discuss how small grants can mobilize social change. One of the resounding messages that was repeated throughout the day is that ‘small’ grants are not small at all. In fact, for these grantmakers, most of whom are making grants of around US$5,000, ‘small’ grants for local organizations can have a bigger impact than the huge chunks of cash poured into larger NGOs.
The participants – the Foundation for Civil Society, the Kenya Community Development Foundation, the Open Society Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Urgent Action Fund and Global Greengrants Fund – don’t all focus on the same issues. Collectively, we work on oil and gas advocacy to address ‘corporate and government impunity’, livelihoods for rural women, youth leadership and much more. Our grantmaking spreads across Africa: from Kenya to Zimbabwe to Ghana, and employs distinctive strategies to address the unique social, economic and environmental challenges we face.
It was the first-ever meeting of African grantmakers focused on small grants. Though we each brought a unique perspective to the table, our deep value of local leadership and local knowledge joined us together. Participants articulated the power of complementing local leadership with broader networks to achieve change at multiple levels – community, nation, region. Many highlighted the incredible successes that local groups were able to achieve; successes that were set in motion by grants of only a few hundred dollars in some cases.
For small, local organizations, small grants can be major stepping stones. They can fund infrastructure and staffing, and build the capacity of local leaders to take their work to the next level. They can enable exchanges among communities facing similar issues and unite diverse constituencies.
Above all, it is not about the money itself. Money does not create change. But comprehensive support and mentorship can. Pouring millions of dollars into a particular problem is no guarantee of its resolution. But if accompanied by careful and thoughtful mentorship and capacity building, a small grant can resonate in a powerful way.
Just a few of the concrete funding strategies suggested included:
- Supporting core organizational costs
- Providing flexible, relevant and responsive funding
- Strengthening new networks
- Funding advocacy
The energy and solidarity in the room during this meeting were palpable. It was just the beginning. Conversations and collaborations will continue, and they promise to unite and strengthen our work to amplify local voices for change.
The 5 August convening in Nairobi, Kenya was co-sponsored by the African Grantmakers Network and Global Greengrants Fund.