The dedication that grantmakers and funders bring to facilitate equity and justice in grantmaking continues to drive the quest for stronger and more sustainable Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to enhance the attainment of their collective evolving mission. The serious thought and consideration of the key role of capacity building in this process prove just how clued-in and motivated both CSOs (grantees) and funders are in establishing a more reliable knowledge base about the potential influence of capacity building.
The co-creation of a contextually relevant set of standard measures for this is critical.
Under the current conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic and elevated struggles around racial justice issues, the question still remains about how grantmakers and funders can deploy resources to respond to the capacity building needs of grantees. Some of these issues are critical to funders and grantmakers for continuous learning and growth. The outbreak of this pandemic has contributed to a drastic transformation in global grantmaking including capacity building. The reminder is that capacity building goes beyond individual and organisational skills development to include the ability to understand the ecosystem in which the organisation operates, the skills to respond to that ecosystem, and the structures to effective operation.
An opportunity in crisis
As part of the grantmaking culture, most funders have been asking a lot of questions during this pandemic for more in-depth knowledge about their grantees and how the pandemic has impacted their programmes and roles in their field. Opportunities are usually provided for grantees to also ask questions, though more could be done in this area so that both funders and grantees could work collectively to respond effectively to emerging challenges and be positioned to sustain the facilitation of change while removing the barriers to justice and equality.
Some grantmakers and funders are collectively working to insulate the larger ecosystem from the impact of COVID-19, dismantle societal injustice and inequities, increase efficiency, effectiveness, and scale grantees’ efforts. This process involves strengthening systems, structures, and skills necessary for transformational impact. The role of capacity building is critical in this process. But some funders believe capacity building is complicated, an interference and in some cases, criticised for being stale. Others applaud it as a measure of good stewardship and a driver of efficiency. Many practitioners have acknowledged that the discourse on capacity building has not kept pace with the evolution of the sector, hence the urgency in elevating this dialogue.
A lot could be achieved if grantmakers who respond to capacity building aspire to be grantee-centred and adopt techniques for advancing growth, sustainability, and building back stronger.
Most funders describe capacity-building as the nerve-centre of transformative grantmaking. Others believe capacity building is one of the critical driving forces that help organisations, movements, networks, coalition, etc. wrestle with deep-rooted systemic issues. What is critical here is that as most funders have amended their grantmaking processes and procedures, in response to the pandemic to align with the current challenges, capacity building seems not to have received similar attention and reflections on a wider scale. Evidently, capacity-building strategies may not necessarily be the same to provide the cushioning required by grantees both during these moments and beyond. A critical issue most grantees are reflecting on during this time is how the philanthropic sector plans to equip them with a set of customised tools through capacity building to help bend the arc toward building resilience, equity, and justice. Otherwise, it would result in the inadvertent creation of impediments to fairness. No action should not be an option in this situation since it would translate to be an action against fairness and advancement. Sometimes organisations that need capacity building support the most are those highly vulnerable during these unprecedented times such as minority-centered organisations, organisations based in low-income countries (especially the Global South), where resource mobilisation is challenging. Others may be movements and networks devoted to justice for disadvantaged and marginalised populations, an area where resource mobilisation could be challenging thereby the urgency of capacity building support to bolster their efforts.
A lot could be achieved if grantmakers who respond to capacity building aspire to be grantee-centred and adopt techniques for advancing growth, sustainability, and building back stronger. The grantee-centred approach refers to as the ‘Capacity-building Choice’, provides opportunities for both grantees and grantmakers to embrace partnership and focus on grantees’ priorities. Many grantmakers and funders regard themselves as huge supporters and cheerleaders of grantee-centred capacity building. Thereby, facilitating a means to create systems that allow grantees to initiate the process of addressing the capacity building needs of their choice.
It is general knowledge that there are no systems more in need of urgent change than donor-initiated, donor-led, and in some cases donor-run capacity building programmes. In most situations, this approach tends to trap organisations into failing ‘partnerships’ while paralysing their growth. Over the past few decades ‘Capacity-building Choice’ has become a catchphrase for those supporting the strengthening of CSOs, especially marginalised ones, as part of their efforts in field strengthening. ‘Capacity building choice’ for CSOs and movements is one of the most important social justice issues of our time.
This is about freedom and justice – the freedom for grantees to choose what is best for their organisations, staff, departments, networks, movements, and the larger ecosystem. Grantee-centered capacity building that embraces justice and fairness supports the legacy of an effective, equitable system of CSOs advancement at their own pace while contributing to global and national development goals.
Emmanuel Otoo has several years of international experience in organisational development, human rights, social and economic justice issues. He is passionate about community-driven solutions across Sub-Saharan Africa and a promoter of Capacity Strengthening.