The current Black Lives Matters movement, as well as other social movements, are highlighting where funding gaps are in the social sector and where additional support is needed to help shift the power to different people and organisations.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, I’ve felt fear when passing others in public, pulling my sons in close and balancing along the edge of the curb as I crossed paths with passers-by. Each time, it reminded me of occasions I would be walking down the road and others would cross the road as I approached. Now, with COVID-19, I get to reminisce on the fear some people in society have of me as a black man.
I’ve previously written about fighting for justice for George Floyd (RIP), and what the International Development sector should learn from this tragic, sad, and blatant event. But what can philanthropy learn in this moment, where the eyes of the world have shifted away from other crises to the injustices and racism against Black people that still exist in our modern world?
Prejudice, discrimination, and racism
The current Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is about Black people still receiving an unbalanced amount of prejudice between individuals, discrimination from organisations, and racism by individuals and systems.
We are where we are today because individual minds, organisational culture, and public institutions have not made a big enough shift away from foundational structures and principles. The injustice continues alongside the imbalance of power, negative media narrative, and unequal access to finance capital – and that is why we still have these movements in 2020.
The power behind movements
Movements help bring silent injustices into the light. They give a voice to silent struggles and share honest stories that have been hidden or ignored. Movements change and adapt – they are led by passionate leaders and help bring different voices into the conversation.
Social movements are, in many cases, led by young people who bring a fresh perspective and renewed energy to fights that can be centuries old. This gives us the opportunity to gain new insights, change direction, and access the heart of communities.
Many organisers of social movements find that working closely with local NGOs is a major advantage when it comes to advancing their causes both locally and beyond. Philanthropy should take this opportunity to invest in a sustainable and long term way in social movements and local NGOs, which though are the heartbeat of the social sector, only receive drops of funding that start, stop, start, pause, shrink, flood in during an emergency, and then disappear again.
We need to find these young leaders, local movements, and NGOs and invest in them. Invest in new ideas and allow them to select their partners. Fund local NGOs that have a clear vision and can see the change needed not just on paper but in real life.
The power behind philanthropy
Philanthropy has the added advantage that it can act fast, tolerate more risk and innovation, be more open, and invest in a variety of places and people that may not fit the mould of traditional funders. Philanthropy is in a position of privilege and can benefit from the rewarding experience of helping to shift the power in a way that Pan Africans have been talking about for years.
Two famous African proverbs help bring this too light.
‘He who knows not, that he knows not, is a compound fool.’
We need to listen to the people we want to help before throwing money at the issue.
‘Remember when you go up to send the elevator back down.’
More funding needs to find its way to local NGOs – and good, impactful, local NGOs are never far away from a powerful movement. Most movements are calling for a redistribution of power and help to level the playing field. It’s time for international funders to allow more local NGOs to apply directly for funding and select their partners – the partners who can really support and complement their strengths, match their values, vision and help them scale transformational programmes.
George Floyd was a loving father, a brother who helped people turn their life around and build his community. His story has now become part of Black history: the part of history when the world became aware that black and poor communities have a knee on their neck, stopping us from breathing true freedom.
These communities are crying for breath and philanthropy can provide the lifeline.
Segun Olowookere is Finance Director at Restless Development, a trustee for The Blagrave Trust, and Treasurer for SafeHands. He is also a social entrepreneur, passionate about inspiring young people, and the author of the motivational book You Might As Well.