I want to talk to you for a moment about mid-century American landscaping.
Wait! Don’t go! I’ll get to the point. Trust me.
In the decade immediately following the Second World War, a defining feature of America’s housing and population boom was the rise of the industrial suburb, and with that, the suburban lawn.
Unlike earlier iterations of the grassy enclosure popular in Europe (affluent Victorians, for example, often grew vegetables and allowed flowers to bloom naturally in the space), lawns in 1950s USA were a sea of homogeneous green rectangles, meticulously manicured and void of ecological purpose.
They were status symbols, focusing on aesthetic value so much so that men – and it was almost always the men – would mow their lawns so short the grassy shoots were kept in their embryonic stages, prevented from ever growing into their matured, more resilient state.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
Maybe this will help.
We’re now in the third week of the Fund the Front Line, a public awareness and 100% match fundraising campaign seeking to stimulate discussion and collective action around the underserved principle of enabling effective local organizations to take the lead in development.
After all, we rely on local actors to provide the short-term responsiveness and long-term sustainability required in global development, yet these same actors continue to be marginalized in decisions concerning their future and the future of the communities they serve.
In the same way that lawns were imposed with strict boundaries and limited growth opportunities, so too are many local organizations in the development ecosystem; relegated to the role of ‘subcontractors’, unable to invest in their own capacities or unlock pent-up potential.
Both are wasteful exercises, unviable in the face of today’s challenges.
And so, Fund the Front Line asks individual and institutional donors to reconsider who they give to – and, crucially, how they give – to help usher in a more inclusive development model.
With the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Pears Foundation and Charities Aid Foundation already on board, the campaign has been a qualified success. But much more still needs to be done to amplify the message and create more diversified giving portfolios that reflect donors’ recognition of the advantages that come from supporting local organizations more directly.
Advantages that improve the efficiency and sustainability of the global development project, and in turn help to redress an inherent power imbalance that is as out of date as a Mowamatic Rotary Lawn Mower (you can take my word for it: that’s an old lawn mower).
In the coming weeks, we’ll be reporting on the success of the campaign and what we’ve learned from the experience. But for now, I’ll leave you to mull this mowing metaphor. And invite you to comment here or on the Guardian microsite dedicated to the campaign.
Let’s stop cutting the grassroots. And watch this garden grow.
Muna Wehbe is CEO of the Stars Foundation.