What does funding to change structural injustice actually look like?


Chandrika Sahai


It started in a café. Representatives from the Trust met people from a children’s charity based in the North East of England, Children North East, to discuss their request for a small grant to celebrate their 120th anniversary. They wanted to bring a big-name speaker from London for an evening lecture. The theme was to be that, despite popular belief, child poverty is not a thing of the past.

But we questioned whether an evening lecture would have the desired impact and offered a larger grant for a full day’s conference to enable more extensive discussion. For their part, Children North East suggested that children should play a part in the conference – both in preparing for it and on the day itself. We were unsure about this, but we went along with it.

This is an excerpt from one of 11 short stories from the collection Effective philanthropy: another take produced by the Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace. The purpose of this collection is to address the quetsion what does funding to change structural injustice actually look like?’ that the Working Group has been asked many times.

So what does it look like? Collectively the 11 stories tell us that funding for social change produces real results when grantmakers listen for solutions from those at the centre of the problem (often the most marginalized communities) and devise interventions based on a deep analysis of the rootcauses of the problem. The story from which the excerpt is taken is of a grant made by the Webb Memorial Trust in UK for children’s empowerment (written by Barry Knight). It reiterates the message that the path to funding structural change is not cut-and-dried. There are uncertainties and risks along the way, but with a long view and a flexible approach, they are manageable and rewarding.

The new take in Effective philanthropy: another take is that the case is grounded in real human experiences of grantmakers, sans technical frameworks, tackling all sorts of considerations, challenges and dilemmas a grantmaker wrestles with when making a grant to effect positive social change. At a time when the field of philanthopy is seeing a proliferation of numerous new business models and technical frameworks to make it more effective in creating a just and equitable world , Effective philanthropy: another take offers an alternative view that shows, as the editors of the collection Caroline Hartnell and Andrew Milner write, “that a just approach should inform the means as well as the ends of the work”.

The stories in the collection broadly fall into three categories:

Supporting marginalized groups and communities to achieve change in their own lives

  • Naseej Foundation supports the mobilization of collective effort for community projects in Palestine, including extending a local school.
  • Fikra, a fund established by four European foundations in response to the Arab Spring, supports the ideas and aspirations of local communities in Tunisia.
  • The Webb Memorial Trust supported efforts to give children a voice on poverty in the UK.

Fighting for justice and opportunity

  • Indonesia for Humanity is supporting a community’s struggle to overcome the legacy of authoritarianism.
  • Brazil Human Rights Fund supported Mothers of May in their fight for justice for victims of structural violence in Brazil.
  • The Ford Foundation supported 27 local education reform programmes throughout the Philippines and the subsequent establishment of Synergeia, in an effort to improve the country’s failing education system.
  • The efforts of businessman and philanthropist Patrick Taylor led to the passing of a law in 1989 in the US state of Louisiana that every child who achieves certain standards should be allowed to go to college regardless of their parents’ ability to pay.

Challenging accepted attitudes and ways of thinking

  • Community Foundation for Northern Ireland’s support to the Rainbow Project helped spark a change in public perceptions of LGBT people in Northern Ireland.
  • Bernard van Leer Foundation’s programme to reduce violence in young children’s lives involved shifting social norms to make violence less acceptable and promoting evidence-based policies to prevent violence.
  • The Ford Foundation’s International Economic Policy portfolio fostered networks of analysts and activists to develop an alternative economic narrative to challenge the prevailing globalization agenda.
  • Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust’s early support for the Carbon Tracker Initiative helped to bring the term ‘stranded assets’ into the mainstream of global economic thinking in just five years.

Effective philanthropy: another take is being shared under a Creative Commons license for affinity groups, associations and networks of grantmakers, foundations and all others who want to provide services to, partner with, and/or otherwise encourage effective grantmaking. We hope that you will be able to use/ develop/ adapt/ spread these stories to provoke discussions about the impact and nature of philanthropy, to help grantmakers reflect on their own work, and to generate more stories and knowledge about how philanthropy can be more effective in addressing systemic problems. 

Click here download the collection

The report is being launched tomorrow at the annual EFC conference.

Chandrika Sahai is the coordinator of the Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace. Email chandrikasahai@gmail.com

Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *