To grassroots non-profit organisations ‘neutrality paradox’ is a double-edged sword!


Leah Wandera


The sustainability of the most grassroots non- profit organisations highly depends on the support from esteemed donors like GlobalGiving. However, before this relationship and connection comes into existence, these organisations must go through a diligent vetting or appraisal process of GlobalGiving’s aid and philanthropy systems. This connection involves exchange of resources, information that will later be cemented by trust and accountability by the grassroots organisations. This means that, the possibility of many of these organisations chance to be funded is subjected to the values embedded in this aid and philanthropy’s system. Among the values such as transparency and integrity, neutrality becomes the focus. And yet, this is a double-edged sword because so many grassroots organisations may not see light of the day in terms of being included in the funding stream as they lack capacity to qualify. And yet, they might be the only organisations reaching the very marginalised groups.

How then does ‘Neutrality Paradox’ of funding/philanthropy platforms like GlobalGiving affect these grassroot organisations?
In most cases, for grass-root organisations, do not have standardised capacity to qualify for the eligibility criteria that sometimes is set and systematised by ‘big’ funding platforms. Therefore, besides ground visits to ascertain their work, neutrality becomes the only equity and defense for them. The only lenses through which the works and service of grass-root organisations could be seen, bridged, and supported without any impartiality. Through ‘Neutrality virtue’ these organisations are enabled to tell their stories to the funding platforms, in their own narratives. And the funding platform, listens to them with an open heart and mind. By being neutral, philanthropy has a chance to show that they are approachable, friendly, and receptive of grassroots organisations ideas to change the world through their daily smaller actions.

But when faced with the dilemma, the confusion, the complexity of not knowing how to be and maintain the ‘neutrality’, does not only affect philanthropy system, but greatly impact the survival of the grassroot organisations.

But do, the grassroot organisations, face ‘Neutrality Paradox?
On the other hand, experiencing ‘Neutrality Paradox’ is not only a philanthropic platform issue.

Given the nature of the intersectionality of social issues, these organisations encounter dilemmas in implementation of their projects, that pose questions to them: HOW neutral should you be neutral? And WHY should they be neutral. For instance, as Hope Foundation For African Women (HFAW) who work to safeguard girls from FGM/C, we may encounter a parent(s) who has allowed their daughter to undergo female genital mutilation, even after being warned. As per the Anti-FGM law, such a parent(s) must be imprisoned. We are the moral agent of this law. At the same time, we should protect this child against any suffering in the future. Owing to the nature of the child dependency, does imprisoning the only person(s) she depends on protect her? In the same case, let us say, HFAW manages to advocate for the girl’s right and the parent(s) is arrested. But two other organisations in the same operational area as HFAW, one advocating for conservation of tradition, and the other disrupting imprisonment of women, these two join efforts to have the girl’s parent released. To make it more complex, you realize the three grassroot organisation are being funded by same funding/philanthropic platform as GlobalGiving. As HFAW, how do we handle this dilemma to ensure effective impact of our work?

Is the solution to ‘Neutrality Paradox’ brought forth by GlobalGiving of help, therefore?
Therefore, five guiding principles; ‘Talking about Ethos; Moving beyond the why and focusing on the how; Centering in on integrity; Understanding this is about treating each other right; and Improving the way we interact with people throughout the lifespan of a dilemma’, are not only key to GlobalGiving and other philanthropic platforms, but they are important tool to non-profit grassroot organisations.

Philanthropy can also do three things to help. First, visit grassroots organisations to ascertain which work is credible and worthy funding. Second, provide funding for grassroots organisations to build their capacity and support (such as administrative and staff costs) to avoid eliminating them before they begin because often, these grassroots organisations are the only available thing to the marginalised groups such as rural populations. Third, provide a chair for grassroots organisations to be at the table so that they can speak for themselves and be heard

In a way, philanthropy is already doing some of these suggestions. Because for example GlobalGiving did not only invite grassroots organisations to a meeting recently to look into internal dilemmas, but also invited them to that space, to initiate meaningful conversation on how to address these external dilemmas. A key question that leads to how best can grassroot organisations, collaborate, or partner, to enhance effective outcomes and impacts through their projects.

Leah Wandera, Hope Foundation For African Women

Tagged in: Funding practice neutrality paradox

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