The Just Giving conference started with an adapted version of the union organizing song ‘What Side Are You On?’ Little did I realize at the time how much that little ditty would affect me throughout the first day of dialogues.
My first breakout session of the day focused on ‘The importance of intermediaries in advancing social justice’. I chose that workshop because I assumed they would talk about organizations like the one I represent. Then, somewhere in the middle of the presentations and questions from panellists, I became confused by the way we were talking about intermediaries.
The panellists shared that, to them, intermediaries are:
• Issue experts and thought leaders
• Networkers and collaborators
• Making grassroots organizing possible
• Helping big donors disburse grants to small organizations
• Offering political cover to foundation staff looking to overcome trustee tendencies towards traditional philanthropy
• Important mechanisms for getting resources to the base
• Providing technical assistance to grassroots organizations
• Giving funders the stories they need
• Making it possible for their organizations to seek systemic change
• More effective messengers for change; and/or
• The most loyal and strategic funder partners
While some of these ideas fit my organization, others did not sit well.
Then Nora Murad, from the Dalia Association in Palestine, which I consider to be a peer organization, asked a question, making it clear that she does not see her organization as an intermediary. Nora and I had an opportunity to talk for a bit about this after the workshop and, through that conversation, I realized my confusion lay in the fact that the discussion focused on being intermediaries for the funders.
For me and my colleagues at the LIN Center for Community Development in Vietnam, our intermediary role was constructed to benefit our community. The work that we do and the organizations we support are and always have been determined based on our mission – to improve social outcomes by organizing different stakeholders that desire change. As such, I really like and better relate to the term and description for Backbone Organizations, as coined by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and FSG, in a 2012 report. While we track the outcomes of our small grants, more important to us is how we can build common ground, how we can help to form new partnerships and how we can ensure good communications and a transparent process that people can understand and trust.
That’s all just to say that I do know what side we are on.
We are on the side of humanity.
Dana Doan, LIN Center for Community Development.
First published by Global Fund for Community Foundations.