Managing neutrality paradox dilemmas by confronting their sources


Mahathi Kumar


For a platform like GlobalGiving, which has nonprofit partners all over the world, each home country’s reality varies. This lends itself to countless manifestations of Neutrality Paradox dilemmas that GlobalGiving now navigates using their thoughtful, process-oriented initiative ‘Ethos.’

For the Mexican, grassroots-oriented Psicología y Derechos Humanos PSYDEH (Psychology and Human Rights), we see the Neutrality Paradox through our global south lens. It might be a real-world cost of doing business, but not an inevitability.

Looking at Mexico, we see a country that has a large economy, ample resources, an entrepreneurial mindset, and is strategically located. Mexico also wrestles with corruption and growing poverty and inequality. And nonprofits confronting these challenges have been under existential attack since 2019. With almost 100 per cent cuts in public funding for civil society in the name of fighting corruption and Covid-19, nonprofits look to other funding sources. For example, many must either go out of business or accept political-party funding in exchange for promoting votes. The reality is that global south nonprofits might just need to make decisions that invite dilemmas in order to keep their doors open and continue being change-makers.

What can be done? Platforms can and should proactively work with nonprofit partners to lean into and work within their realpolitik with an eye to sustainable-impact focused, capacity-building and resource sharing. For example, they can implement programs and structures that help nonprofits avoid situations inviting Neutrality Paradox dilemmas in the first place. And doing so might even help platforms rightly evolve from not just offering equal access but equitable access to resources. From where we sit, this is an exciting 2020 rethink of how charitable giving can be facilitated.

A low-hanging fruit idea of our own centers around the reality that it is more common than not for grassroots outfits’ staff and local partners to lack the resources to obtain and sustain a corporate partnership, one of many resource streams we use to avoid dilemmas. A win-win corporate partnership can lead to new funds, seconded staff consulting and doing, or donated media buys. When used smartly, such a partnership can increase value-added through an enhanced brand or increased donor network, and the nonprofit is less inclined to deal with a political actor, avoiding the dilemma.

Thus, platforms might consider a program that they themselves produce to link nonprofits to pre-selected, vetted, corporate partners, while training on better practices to build and manage these relationships. Fortunately, we don’t need to recreate the wheel; there are already many programs from which to model such an initiative, e.g., Dentsu Aegis Network’s ‘RouteTo Good‘ program or 3M’s Impact initiative. Nonprofits and corporate partner donors win an impact-making collaboration, and nonprofits win skills they can leverage in gaining and sustaining collaborations to come. We recognize that this is not an insignificant undertaking, costly in time and HR and money. Still, if we’re serious about not just reacting to dilemmas, and transforming the charitable landscape, this is exactly the kind of initiative we need to build in markets like Mexico.

Neutrality Paradox dilemmas are real and complicated. Platforms can react to them as they come, or they can see their complexity as an invitation to innovate when taking a more active role in nonprofit partner capacity building, especially for those in the global south. By investing in nonprofits’ skills and experience and the human resources they want, platforms empower nonprofits like PSYDEH to gain the resources we need to avoid dilemmas altogether. Moreover, in doing so, platforms own more fully their power to redefine how resources are equitably redistributed to civil society around the world.

Mahathi Kumar is Special Projects Coordinator at PSYDEH

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