When I read in this week’s Weekly Planet newsletter from Grantmakers Without Borders the heading ‘Many Grantmakers Worry Too Much About Risk’, I knew this was an article I wanted to read. Discovering that this Stanford Social Innovation Review article is by Sheela Patel, director of the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC) and long-standing member of the Alliance editorial board, I read with renewed interest.
What Sheela is saying – and what all in the philanthropy field should take note of – is that in the last ten years the architecture of philanthropy has changed in ways that make it challenging for certain kinds of organizations to survive. She talks of the ‘log-frame virus’ and ‘this new obsession with logical frames and business plans’ and of a professionalization of foundation staff that makes programme officers feel that they can tell grantees what to do. As we all know, ‘Grantees dare not challenge them for fear of not getting a grant.’ The ‘certain kinds of organizations’ that will find it challenging to survive include SPARC and its sister organizations in India.
Over the last ten years, if anyone has asked me to name an NGO that I really admire, I have mentioned SPARC – and Sheela. The way that SPARC works with the associations of the very poorest and negotiates on equal terms with institutions like the World Bank and state governments, and what they have achieved through doing this, is truly impressive. Sheela has written for Alliance on various aspects of the way SPARC works, and the sort of donor support that it needs.
‘Unfortunately,’ Sheela writes in SSIR, ‘the conditions that allowed SPARC to grow and succeed are changing. I cannot imagine donors in today’s world granting an organization like SPARC the kind of latitude it required in its early years.’ All donors who care about addressing poverty and injustice should take heed.
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