In part I of this piece, we explored how the situation presented by the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increased focus on transforming funding practice, and the role Capacity-building Choice can play in strengthening CSOs. Now we will examine how the significance of effective and fast track deployment of tools promptly to keep grantees anchored to their mission and for field strengthening continues to be more evident.
Grantmakers continue to do this by seeking clarity and listening while being flexible in their grantmaking procedures in a way that demonstrates humility and respect for both their limitations and capacity levels and that of their grantees. Some believe the provision of general operating support grants or guaranteeing long term funding provides freedom for grantees to be creative in responding to their capacity-building needs. But how well has this been tracked to confirm that assertion? Does a general operating support grant really support capacity building, or it is meant for relieving operational cost? It might be helpful to be intentional and explicit about capacity-building initiatives while being mindful of some of the power dynamics between grantees and funders.
Some key players in the philanthropic field are convinced that the pre-COVID-19 dismissive approach to capacity building has contributed to the poor success of systems change initiatives. It has also fuelled the uncontrolled spread of inequalities, contributed to weak movements and ineffective networks, thus reinforcing the wild escalation, and deepening of vulnerability, marginalisation, injustices, and inequities and sometimes unfair and unbalanced grantmaking practices. Most grant recipients believe the COVID-19 pandemic and intensified issues of racial justice present grantmakers and funders an opportunity to alter this perception.
…it is time to spark discussions by reflecting on grantmaking approaches and attitudes towards capacity building…
Relying on grantmakers’ ingenuity, a more positive attitude could be adopted to enhance the effectiveness of capacity building support. Taking steps to reduce complications of capacity building applications while being gentle with ‘imperfect’ approaches would be a welcome idea to grantees. These and other open-minded attitudes can potentially be a game-changer. Recognising the complementary role of intentional, measurable, and grantee-centred capacity-building and core thematic programme-oriented grants could be impactful in achieving systemic change.
It could also result in a long-lasting positive impact propelling the realisation of more capacity building initiatives with bold and clear equity lends. Some grantees see this pandemic as an opening to reduce the rationalisation of capacity-building support not just as an addendum rather an opportunity for grantmakers and funders to be more purposeful about it while embracing it with modesty and thoughtfulness despite how contentious it could be at times. Funders taking time to reflect and avoid being shielded by majestically crafted mission and values statements could be strong allies in elevating equity-oriented, grantee-centered capacity building dialogue.
This is because though grantees embrace donor-accountability, they seem drained and fatigued trying endlessly to justify their capacity building ideas and priorities to attract funding. The good news is that funders still have an opportunity to be more compelling by taking more courageous and progressive steps to be influential and drive an impactful systemic change while supporting the growth and resilience of grantees through grantee-centred capacity-building. It is comforting to know that it is never too late to pause and look internally to overhaul systems, practices, and beliefs around capacity building alongside other sobering grantmaking refinement efforts. Lessons and learning from the COVID-19 pandemic and the invigorated struggles around racial justice issues have presented the philanthropic sector with a chance to be more reflective and not defensive.
Perhaps it is time to spark discussions by reflecting on grantmaking approaches and attitudes towards capacity building and the following questions could be starting points:
- How are funders ensuring that their capacity-building efforts are not underpinning power dynamics between them and their grant recipients?
- How are funders facilitating spaces to embrace the grantee-centered capacity-building approach?
- How do funders hold themselves accountable and subject themselves to deep self-critique on their views and practices of their grantees’ capacity building efforts?
- How do funders’ capacity building approaches measure up when viewed through a racial equity lens?
While some results may have been achieved with funder-assisted capacity-building initiatives, it is essential to note that grantee-centred capacity-building is likely to be more impactful and transformative in building a stronger, solid, and resilient organisations, networks, and movements.
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.