Learnings from Grantmakers East Forum 2018


Nathan Koeshall


It had been a couple of years since I last participated in the cherished annual gathering of grantmakers, big and small, who have a concentration in supporting and funding all things related to East, as in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, Russia and the Caucuses.

On my drive from Belgrade to Budapest, I was filled with excitement and anticipation at having the chance to interact and engage with 100 or so of my peers and colleagues from the field, to rekindle old acquaintances and to make new ones.

As quickly as it started, it seemed like it was over…a whirlwind 24 hours of intense presentations, conversations and challenges to my thinking about how can we best support social change in our ever-changing region.  I leave with a few important takeaways:

  • We started with a bang, with Indy Johar’s mind-boggling and conscience-jarring keynote that challenged us all on changing our understanding towards solving problems by understanding them as what they are: complex, systems-based, and multi-layered that require a deliberate space to be made for identifying causal pathways and designing interventions that address the underlying systems that revolve around any issue. I will be ruminating about what it means to be human, on new concepts of governance and how to differently approach problem solving for weeks to come
  • It was incredibly inspiring to hear how the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union has bucked conventional wisdom about what individuals and companies in a given country will fund and is now raising 30 per cent of its annually from these sources. This has made them a more nimble and quick-to-react organization, allowing them to immediately organize events around current and pressing issues, something they are not able to do with their traditional project-based sources of funding.  This is a model for all nonprofits working in the human right fields to both admire and aspire to.
  • Funding conversations between grantmakers and nonprofits can and should be about using a diversified approach to achieving nonprofit goals. The both/and view of combining traditional donor funds with the vast range of alternative sources of financing that now exist in our field should be the norm, rather than the stove-piped project-based, sole-source funding model that has perpetuated through the emergence of this diversified set of funding approaches.  Dialogue, collaboration and honest conversations about benchmarks, and yes, funding exits, should be a part of this both/and equation.

I will definitely be in Tbilisi next year to continue this conversation and contribute new learning and experiences to the always fantastic and diverse GEF discussions.

Nathan Koeshall is the co-founder of Catalyst Balkans, a non profit philanthropy intermediary organization that promotes philanthropic data and best practices in the region

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