Connecting the dots after the annual EDGE Funders conference


Maria Amalia Souza


Though I expected to be able to blog during those intense conference days, I realized I wouldn’t do it justice writing from the heat of the experience.  Now, after my 20 plus hours from Barcelona Centro to my hideout in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil, things get sorted out in my brain and heart. 

We were about 260 activists and funders from all corners of the world, some who do the hard work in the proverbial frontlines, some who try to cover their backs as funders as we attempt to support their protagonism, so necessary in this challenging world. All of us trying to figure out how best to cooperate to make the broadest and most systemic impact.

Not a very modest attempt I would say, but then again, this is what is called of us at times like this: to be bold, hold on to each other, and learn how to navigate the quicksand of our current global crisis,  together finding the stepping stones forward, and safeguarding each other’s integrity as best as we can muster.

Sitting at Can Masdeu 2 days ago, a 15 year old squat created in response to the mortgage crisis in 2002, and learn that one of the original leaders today is part of the Barcelona City Council, just demonstrates the power society can have when it wants to change things.

Listening to the movement leaders from across the globe talk about their trajectories of struggles, losses, victories, and most of all lessons learned that can be shared with peers and with us funders, was also a key aspect for me.

A lot of discussion is happening in philanthropic field about how to improve its practices to achieve what we want to see in all fields and aspects of society.  One group talks about shifting the power to local communities, others, like at Edge, emphasize the concept of participatory philanthropy, be it to involve grantees in funders’ boards, be it in figuring out other ways to make them proactive in deciding where funding can best be used to support their work.

Just Transition Collaborative is a strong vein calling the field of philanthropy to ‘(re)organize our power for systemic change by supporting an economic transition based on global equity and justice, guided by ecological principles, rooted in place, culture, and community self-determination.’

All that resonates a lot with the work we do at CASA Socio-Environmental Fund here in South America, of course.  But what specially concerns me currently being a South-South funder created to bridge resources from large polls to the rights and solutions based work of the grassroots groups, is the  increasingly restricted funding we are getting.  Our work as funders that respond to local strategic and results based agendas needs more flexibility.

The restrictions we receive hinder our ability to respond to the full array of needs that could truly leverage the full systemic change we all say we want to see happen.  Systems thinking maps quick feedback loops as the best way to restore the balance in a healthy system. A multilayered, multi-approach, and most of all timely funding is what local funders do best.

Not only that, but the security of rights defenders across the globe is critical to our agendas at the moment. As we are so close to the ground, our own realization is that the more invisible the funder becomes, the more protected the groups are.

Even encouraging more in-country funding disbursement structures could be strategic to protect local work.  Edge Funders Alliance undoubtedly is a venue for these kinds of discussions.

There is much to do, but we come home inspired that we are walking the difficult but necessary track of self-criticism and discomfort that produces true systemic change.

Maria Amália Souza is co-founder and former executive director of the São Paulo-based CASA Socio-Environmental Fund.

You can read more from the 2017 EDGE Funders annual conference here.

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