How can we measure the impact of philanthropy in supporting community-led change

 

Rebecca Hanshaw

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This article is part of a series of articles about Community-Led Philanthropy, co-hosted by GlobalGiving. The conversation explores the ways philanthropy can support community-led change.

If philanthropy is genuine about supporting community-led change, funders need to crank up the trust lever and dial down an urge to control. There is a root and branch need for this. While some progress has been made, the way funders understand and reinforce ‘measurement’, reveals a lot about their commitment to shifting power.

At the most simple level, there’s a need to change the emphasis by overhauling the standard terminology of impact measurement: moving away from language like ’monitoring’, with its paternalistic meaning of ‘keeping an eye on’, to terms that emphasise collaboration and collective learning. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s a need to more rigorously measure philanthropy’s commitment to dismantling the status quo; testing new approaches; and supporting long term and complex change, where there are no ready-made fixes and few quick-wins.

Philanthropy is uniquely placed to be at the vanguard, supporting a better way. By embracing new ways of working, tools and thinking; by increasing flows of flexible and multi-year funding; and by supporting the priorities identified by those most impacted by inequality, inequity and injustice, philanthropy can help ensure efforts to shift the power become more than window dressing. 

Shifting power is not merely a process of global to local, and communities are not a homogenised group. Community-led change can only thrive if power is shifted and shared with those most excluded and marginalised. This requires philanthropy to move from the ‘safety’ of working with more established organisations (usually urban-based with more resources to navigate and access relationships and funding) to groups sitting at the intersection of overlapping systems of discrimination. While this may not be the ‘easy route’, it can be a game-changer. By focusing on people historically marginalised from decision making and those with reduced access to resources, philanthropy has the opportunity to challenge structural inequalities.

By embracing new ways of working, tools and thinking; by increasing flows of flexible and multi-year funding; and by supporting the priorities identified by those most impacted by inequality, inequity and injustice, philanthropy can help ensure efforts to shift the power become more than window dressing. 

If philanthropy is serious about supporting community-led, transformative and systemic change, there’s an urgent need to move from what my colleague calls, ‘bean counting’, to approaches that enable us to look at the ‘whole’. This means methodologies that focus solely on individuals and organisations are no longer adequate. They are the wrong tools for the job. In Global Fund for Women’s movement led work, movement actors lead the process. We have no pre-determined outcomes and targets. These are collectively developed by movement actors to measure the systems and structural change they seek. They determine what success looks like in their context, and what to measure along the way. This is a more iterative approach, emphasising ongoing learning and adjustment. It requires humility and the need to recognise and acknowledge the limits of our understanding and experience. It needs honesty and funder agility, as embracing learning and adaptation, demands recognising and responding to failure and what’s not working – and this needs courage. A system that prioritises results and upfront KPIs, outputs and outcomes at the application stage does not foster this approach. Yet philanthropy has the flexibility to lead and nurture an alternative way that is better suited to the complexity of supporting community-led change. 

Understanding power dynamics and power inequalities, alongside building trusting relationships, takes time and transparency. This is especially true when working with people directly impacted by discrimination, violence and trauma. Experience influences interactions and affects collective working. Space and time are needed to develop relationships and ‘healing’ can rarely be quantified. Philanthropy’s impact on community-led change can be measured by its willingness to prioritise this work, and by its emphasis on learning how this work can best be supported in different contexts. Those involved in community-led change know that attempts to project manage, downplay, or rush this work can be disruptive and damaging.

Philanthropy needs to rewire its thinking. Many donors have an unhealthy obsession with evidence and measurement. This often sits at odds with the change they say they want to support. While measurement is essential, there’s a need to measure what’s meaningful – and that question can only be answered by those demanding, driving and sustaining change.

Rebeca Hanshaw is the UK Executive Director of Global Fund for Women UK, and a co-convenor for the Shift the Power UK Funder Collective, and on Twitter at @rebecca_hanshaw.

Tagged in: Community-led philanthropy


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