Building collective power at WINGSForum 2023


Amy McGoldrick


The final session I attended at WINGSForum2023 was Building Barriers, Shifting Power: A collaboration to reshape philanthropic infrastructure.

Due diligence. Risk analysis. Compliance. Vetting. These words, Matthew Patten at Catalyst2030 acknowledges, can make us shudder. Why? ‘It can present resource challenges, and real significant barriers to civil society organisations.’ So how do we shift the narrative to something that resonates?

Current information requested by funders of organisations can often be seen as imposing western standards and control mechanisms, reinforcing unequal power dynamics.

Rose Maruru – Co-founder, EPIC-Africa; Matthew Patten – Enabling Environment Facilitator, Catalyst 2030; Caroline Burrage – Director of Partnerships and Development, TechSoup; and Dawit Dessie, Community Manager, Adeso (Kujalink) were the speakers.

Maruru began by explaining that the founding of EPIC-Africa was a combination of both lived experience, and observing the space as a market and seeing rampant dysfunction. ‘One of the ways that that dysfunction manifests is that it’s not a fair playing field. It’s dominated by a few players, and yet there are all these organisations that are doing incredible work.’

Maruru identified the problem as one of infrastructure. ‘Within African organisations, which is the context I know best, there’s very little infrastructure to support this sector,’ she said. ‘So for us, data is an enabler. It’s not useful by itself, it’s what you do with it. We’re working to increase visibility, increase recognition, and increase the connections amongst civil society organisations so that we begin to heal this fragmentation and start to build a collective power in numbers and networks.’

Dessie spoke next about the creation of Kujalink, an Adeso initiative. ‘There’s always a recognition in this sector that we work in silos,’ began Dessie. ‘This collaboration is trying to create an eco-space where data is shared, where information is shared, and be able to fulfil commitments.’ Dessie referenced The Grand Bargain, where in 2016 a commitment was signed by 50 of the biggest foundations in the US agreed to 25 per cent of funds being transferred to local civil society organisations. ‘Recent research came out that at the time the commitment was made, only three per cent of funds were being transferred to local organisations,’ said Dessie. ‘After The Grand Bargain, that number went down to two per cent.’

What’s needed beyond words, says Dessie, is action. ‘It’s nice to say nice things… but stop this rhetoric.’

Burrage at TechSoup was next to speak, where the organisation acts as a bridge between those with resources to those who could use them. ‘When I say ‘resources’, I mean technology – hardware, software, systems that really enable these organisations to fulfil their missions.’ Through their Validation Services and NGO Source, TechSoup look to demonstrate ‘that through the potential of harmonised data collection and sharing, we can really broaden philanthropy’s reach to encompass organisations that might have previously been overlooked, unseen and definitely underserved.’

Burrage acknowledged that the gap between these two services was large. The vision now is to apply the knowledge that’s been learned and the ability to share at scale, but to bring in those people who are closest to their communities, to the civil society in their countries, ‘so that the dull compliance information we all hate supplying can be unlocked and used for those organisations. Then they can learn and build themselves, turn the tables and say to funders ‘This is who we are, this is what we look like’, and have more of a collaborative partnership and dialogue.’

The floor was then opened up for ways to help funders, multilaterals, bilaterals and philanthropic organisations to walk into this space together.

CAF America explained their commitment to minimising the burden on grantees as much as possible, and taking ‘the due diligence process down to its bare bones.’ A new charity’s application to be put on CAF America’s database is now just two pages, ‘and we ask them to propose to us what the work is that they want us to fund. …[They] tell us what is most important to them, what’s most important to their communities.’

Another comment from an audience member is that it is now vital to build capacity so that local actors can raise resources locally – but that capacity building should be on both sides, as donors often claim to have ‘no capacity for smaller projects’.

Dr Moses Isooba, Uganda National NGO Forum, spoke of his work at RINGO where they are looking at AI to decolonise language. ‘We’re looking to identify idioms, phrases, statements that are colonial, sexist and to an extent, pejorative – and flattening them. …The idea is to develop an intelligent website, a quasi-Grammarly where a donor can put in a concept, a report, and flatten these words, providing alternatives.’

Across all sorts of different agencies, Isooba said needs to be a ‘sense of humility. If you’re going to be truly wedded to the …. Is to be able to accept that you need your capacity to be built. It’s really not unidirectional. There’s quite a huge endeavour of competence and expertise amongst us that can help to build, and see how you can work with us on localisation.’

A powerful statement around Shift the Power came from another attendee, calling for stakeholders to all finally be in the same room. ‘It’s ridiculous to have conversations about Shift the Power with funders alone, or CSOs alone,’ said Willeke van Rijn, CEO at Resource Alliance. Similarly, there should always be a community representative in these talks. ‘The voice needs to be present, and maybe that’s a question we should be asking here too. Is the voice of the community present in this dialogue?’

Rijn’s last comment was one of impatience, and the need to move on from ‘how’ to shift power. ‘We’ve been talking about this for a decade, if not longer. It’s now really time to showcase the best practices out there.

‘Instead of talking about ‘how’ to shift, we should move to ‘why have you not shifted yet?’ Because otherwise we just keep looking back at promises we all made, we have the principles on our websites – but in the end it’s about action and it’s about proof.

Why haven’t you shifted yet?’

Amy McGoldrick is the head of marketing, advertising and events at Alliance

Tagged in: #WINGSForum2023

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Thank you for the useful information

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Amazing developments. This will take the pressure off the main CBDs and spur growth by attracting FDIs.

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