Here are some ideas of what a grantmaker interested but unexperienced in civil society learned in the EFC conference session “The shrinking space for civil society – What can we do?”. There was a panel of funders working in different parts of the world, and the session was moderated in a charming way by Dharmendra Kanani (Consultant, EFC).
- Accountability and transparency belong to the sphere of communication in that you have to take into account the different audiences who are interested in your funding. If an official wishes to know why you are funding the projects that receive financial support from you, you must have the answer, even if the question is asked in a hostile manner.
- Protect your grantees from harm even at the cost of transparency. It is considered a best practice to publish the names of the grantees on your website, but this must not cause problems for the grantees.
- Be prepared to answer the question of why you, as a foreigner, should be interested in funding something in another country. Although you do not necessarily see yourself as a representative of any particular country, try to understand the mindset of someone who does not see the world as as one. As far as countries are concerned, take the history of international relations into account. There is a lot one can learn, for example, of the experiences of American or German funders in Russia, and adapt them to your own situation.
- Be versatile: the contexts you are working in will constantly change. The role of funding from public sources will evolve. You can contribute to the evolution by addressing the public sector with questions like “Shouldn’t the state be funding the reintegration of former inmates to the society?”, although this may be risky for your reputation especially if you are a foreign source of funds. In addition, take into account developments in the local funding scene, because new forms, or “popular philanthropies” may emerge. According to Maria Chertok (CAF Russia), one of the panellists, such a phenomenon can be detected in Russia. The emerging forms of funding will probably not be similar to those you have been offering. Although some governments have tried to limit the possibilities of civil society organizations to solve societal problems, they can rarely stop inspired funders from making the world better.
Kalle Korhonen is head of research affairs at Kone Foundation, Helsinki.