Alliance webinar: Social movements philanthropy

Amy McGoldrick

With physical events still unsafe for the foreseeable future, Alliance hosted a webinar to facilitate an in-depth conversation on social movements philanthropy with the new issue’s three guest editors: Halima Mahomed, Romy Kraemer and Graciela Hopstein.

Also invited and expected on the call were Selma Moreira (Executive director of Baoba Fund and co-author of a piece in the June issue on racial equity, Caitlin Schaap from KOZP and Ebrima Sall, TrustAfrica (who also responded to questions on building a social movements fund in this issue). Unfortunately, technical issues failed us on the day and these three valued speakers were unable to have their voices heard live on the webinar. Alliance magazine acknowledges their disappointment, understands their frustrations and below we have placed their comments as they would have been presented at the time. You can also view Selma Moreira’s speech in full here.

What would it mean, and what would it take, for philanthropy to begin engaging with such civic spaces, of which movements are probably the most visible example?

‘While this issue was planned well before the current interest stemming from the Black Lives Matter protests, movements have for some time been playing a central role in civil society,’ began Charles Keidan, Alliance editor and moderator of the discussion. ‘Yet they’ve rarely featured in funders’ strategies and theories of change, with less than one per cent of funding directed by philanthropy to movements according to Candid’s latest data.’

Halima Mahomed. Independent philanthropy consultant and researcher.

First to speak was Mahomed, who said that over the last decade, she has been spending a lot of time trying to understand the role of philanthropy in building a more just society. Throughout this time, the themes of agency, power and voice of those most affected by injustice have reappeared over and over again. There needs to be a fundamental shift in philanthropic orientation, approach and practice. ‘I found myself asking – What would it mean, and what would it take, for philanthropy to begin engaging with such civic spaces, of which movements are probably the most visible example?’

‘I focus on the word ‘engage’,’ continued Mahomed, ‘because at the very least, even if you’re not supporting movements, your work – and the work of those you do support – is fundamentally influenced one way or the other by movement action. Not understanding the role of the broader civic space, and their goals, is a disservice.’ Philanthropy should not also not be the one to determine what the appropriate level of support is – beyond just issuing grants, ‘what we engage with and how needs to be informed by those doing the work, not by our own limited sphere of knowledge from afar.’

Mahomed looked in particular for movements in Africa for the June issue, and noticed that there was almost no discourse in philanthropy informed by movement voices – and that this state of affairs was replicated globally as well. This led Mahomed to interviewing movement leaders across the continent; three things in particular stood out:

  1. Any conversation on social movements needs to first recognise the sheer scale of philanthropic contributions by activists, members and supporters. ‘Many movements relied on internal movement and local resourcing for their co-activities, and they preferred to continue this. Interestingly, they were not opposed to engaging with philanthropy, but it was the ‘how’ of engagement that was critical. Their experience is that despite good intentions of institutional philanthropy, they have not been very good at stepping back from agenda-setting, or trying to influence movement activities. The reality is that money came with power, and movements had to decide if they wanted to engage with the implications of that, and how. Many, many chose not to. That’s quite an indictment on our sector.’
  2. Philanthropy is too concerned about form, and giving to legally registered institutions. ‘It’s pushing for movements to have structures and systems that make its own grant and accountability processes easier to manage, [taking] precedence over enabling support that allowed these spaces to be as effective as they could. There have been significant negative consequences emerging from this.’
  3. There’s a strong call for funders who want to engage with movements, ‘to radically rethink about the substance and the processes of their work. All of this needs to be transformed.’

Here Ebrima Sall, chief executive of TrustAfrica, would have said: ‘Funders seeking to support established movements only: i) miss an opportunity to support a lot of emerging movements doing great work, and ii) they come too late. Missing opportunities to intervene when their interventions would be extremely critically important. Are funders capable of funding swiftly enough?

‘I really think that mindset shift of resourcing grassroots movements and the forms of collective empowerment that come with that, is the strategy. All goals, outcomes and impacts being produced come from the movements themselves. If you manage to wrap your head around that within a foundation, I think you’re on a really good pathway.’

Secondly, ‘regarding having close connections with movements, yes, that is very important; but it is also important to let them take the lead in deciding what funds should be used for: in the TrustAfrica hosted Social Movements Fund, decisions are made by reps of the movements themselves.’

Relationship between funders and movements

Romy Kraemer, Guerrilla Foundation.

Kraemer was next to speak, and spoke of the thinking behind the Guerrilla Foundation when she and founder Antonis Schwarz set it up four years ago. ‘We really looked at where he could create the most impact in Europe with the money he wanted to give… we looked at social entrepreneurship, but very quickly realised that there’s a lot of money going into [this], but very few resources going to social movements. … We stand in line with amazing funders, such as the Patagonia Foundation and the x minus y foundation, but also amazing international funders like Mama Cash, Grassroots International and the Global Greengrants Fund. In that realm there’s also Fund Action which we helped co-start, a participatory fund run by European activists which funds social movements and activism in Europe, and also the EDGE Fund in the UK.’ Kraemer added that the majority of funders in this space are quite small, and this needs to change.

However, Kraemer had advice for these larger foundations. ‘In the UK, for example, JRCT went through a process of engaging with movements like a consultation, to find out how they can support and resource that space. I think that’s a way to go as a foundation.’ This led to Keidan’s next question – why is there such an uneasy relationship between funders and social movements?

‘I think it’s all about mindset,’ responded Kraemer. ‘Traditional funders don’t have a funding movement mindset, where funding movements is the strategy itself, instead of working toward specific outcomes. ‘I really think that mindset shift of resourcing grassroots movements and the forms of collective empowerment that come with that, is the strategy. All goals, outcomes and impacts being produced come from the movements themselves. If you manage to wrap your head around that within a foundation, I think you’re on a really good pathway.’

Most people involved in social movements and driving change are unpaid volunteers.

There are, of course, many hurdles. Kraemer referred to organisational structure, the expectation around the professionalisation and institutionalisation of collectives in order to be able to fund them, and demands around reporting and engagement, to name a few. ‘The worst mistake you can make is to mistake an NGO for a movement, and expect the same style of working… Most of the people who are active in social movements and driving change at a societal level are unpaid volunteers. If you realise that and tell yourself that repeatedly, that’s a very good first step to engaging in a fruitful conversation.’

‘It is important that – from a European perspective – speaking black and brown activist leadership is allowed to distribute the resources. They are experts on what is happening and very invested in communities.’

Kraemer also spoke about the issues around foundations and their timescale of thinking. ‘I think a lot of foundations think in very linear theories of change, and expect the organisations that they fund to have these. [But] if you think about the women’s movement, how long did it take for women to gain the right to vote, to not have to ask their husband’s permission for getting an appointment? Sometimes there are periods of increased activity, like we’re seeing now with Black Lives Matter, but that is a very punctual event in a much, much larger history that these movements already have.’ Funders can engage with these spaces at different times, to more or less radical effects. Foundations can identify young, emerging groups and be more catalytic, or you can move in later and provide resources to grow and build strategy. ‘I think a lot of foundations are afraid to get into this, because they think they have to support the super-radical early-stage activists, and I don’t think that’s the case necessarily.’

Lastly, Kraemer spoke about how the Guerrilla Foundation determine who gets funding. Their foundation tends to look for early-stage, grassroots groups who have a multiplier effect, and inspire beyond their immediate area of activity. They’re also looking for groups and activists willing to build intersectional movements. ‘You sometimes encounter groups that have been trained, so to speak, by the funding sector to think on a specific issue, to not be intersectional, because this is where the funding goes. ..I think that is what we have to change – that we push people, movements, into this mould just to be able to fund them. I think we have to change, not movements.’

Leadership matters

Caitlin Schaap from KOZP would then have spoken on her experiences. ‘I am part of the anti-racism movement in the Netherlands and have been organising activist activities like the #BLM protests since 2016. With KOZP, we fight anti-black racism in the Netherlands and the first large funding we have received has been from the Guerrilla Foundation. The main reason is that here, we are considered to be too political.

‘I am also active as a woman from the Ka’lina nation from the Amazon, fighting water pollution and the right to land. The way to get to funding can be excluding to the groups that need them the most. It requires a specific set of skills, specifically being skilled in the use of language that matches funds. Indigenous organisations in Suriname are currently trained in Western forms of organising in order to get funding. This is damaging to the so-called ‘traditional’ structures of leadership, with an organisation going directly against the ideology to protect these communities. It is important that – from a European perspective – speaking black and brown activist leadership is allowed to distribute the resources. They are experts on what is happening and very invested in communities.’

It’s important to look at the history of social movements

Graciela Hopstein, Brazilian Philanthropy Network for Social Justice

Hopstein was the third panellist to present her views. ‘We need to contextualise the analysis by talking about pre-pandemic and pandemic scenarios.’ Latin American social movements that emerged at the end of the 90s had agendas ‘linked to diversity, intersectionality, access to rights and the recognition of identities.’ They also fought against conservative agendas like patriarchy, colonialism, racism and sexism, in opposition to neoliberalist politics and the conservative wave that had been impacting the region in those years.’

Current social movements emerged, ‘but have installed new forms of collective organisation. More horizontal and democratic, and new strategies of struggle, [such as the] occupation of public spaces and communication platforms – because in fact, communication is a key fight in the strategy for these emerging movements.’

In Brazil, ‘we observe the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement as one that is a very relevant and significant demonstration of resistance’, Hopstein said.

These dynamics can be found in the recent protests across Ecuador, Colombia and Chile in late 2019. These ‘were marked by the presence of youth, women, Indigenous people and residents of the peripheries of large cities. Their struggles were focused on the demand of public agendas, based on universal access to citizenship rights, with the intention to build inclusive, democratic societies.’

Referencing international foundations such as Ford, Oak, OSF and others, Hopstein called them ‘important players in supporting social movements. Many of them work in partnership with local funds – women’s funds, social justice funds, community funds and community foundations – that have the capacity to reach out to the movements to make grants, due to their knowledge about their demands and their networks.’ Conversely, says Hopstein, ‘Brazilian philanthropy… specifically foundations linked to corporate philanthropy, is powerful in terms of financial resources and [isn’t] used to donating to civil society organisations, much less to social movements or minorities.’

Black lives matter for everybody and if social justice and equity are in the heart of the philanthropic world, we need more allies working with funders and social movements to build another world, and to build justice in societies which preserve lives and dignity – which preserve and highlight that black lives matter.

Whilst the pandemic has ‘put the breaks’ on these movements and protests, ‘but in the peak of the pandemic in Brazil, which as everybody knows is a country which is facing high levels of contamination and death… we observe the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement as one that is a very relevant and significant demonstration of resistance.’

Current social movements

To talk more on these new waves of social movements, and specifically about BLM in Brazil, Hopstein invited Selma Moreira to speak. Unfortunately this was not possible on the day, however this is what Moreira would have said:

‘Brazil is one of the most inequitable countries in the world, when we look at it through a racial lens. Afro-Brazilians are 55.8 per cent of the population and still considered a ‘minority’. Like second-class citizens, we carried the burden of centuries of structural racism that resulted in huge gaps.

‘This of course, includes a lack of investment in social movements, especially those investments to promote rights and racial justice through social justice funds/initiatives, and a lack of financial resources to build sustainable solutions like an endowment.

‘This is the situation where Baoba Fund was created in 2011, to promote a philanthropic and social justice agenda in Brazil, mobilising people and resources to be our allies in the racial equity agenda. Our mission is to promote racial equality [for the] black population in Brazil.

‘Our Vision is to be a reference, among social justice funds, of facing the racism in Brazil.

‘Our history started as an initiative from Kellogg Foundation within their strategy to leave Brazil. They were compromised to donate up to $ 25 million as a match fund to build our endowment fund. Until 2019, we already integrated $10.3 million and are compromised to support projects within more $4.5 million in contracts for the next few years, needing to raise $10.2 million.

‘Our work focuses on four programmatic areas of investment as crucial to overcome the obstacles that prevent racial equity in Brazil: life with dignity (which includes health promotion, violence prevention, marrons community rights among others), education, economic development, communication and memory. From 2014 to 2019, Baoba invested approximately 10.2 million reais, not counting resources invested in emergency actions to combat the coronavirus and impacted more than 100 thousand lives across the country.

‘I would like to mention our program to accelerate Afrobrazilian women’s leadership skills. This initiative is one of the answers to highlight that the tragedy [which] happened with councilwoman Marielle Franco will not block the black population and mainly black women on their disruptive movements. The event showed the urgency to mobilise players of national and international philanthropy to embody racial inequities into their investments. So, aligned with our strategy, we mobilised Open Society Foundations, Ibirabitanga Institute, Ford Foundation and Kellogg Foundation. On this occasion we mobilised $3 million USD to invest in black women leadership.

‘Baoba Fund was created to raise funds and invest to build capacity among black organisations and individuals, focusing on the promotion of racial equity. As other funds for Social Justice, we have strong relations and commitment with social movements and grassroots initiatives, making social investment to promote their social and programmatic strategy, such as making investments in capacity building for institutional development.

‘We welcomed the visit of the Kellogg Foundation executive delegation (March – April 2018) when we had the chance to negotiate a new agreement for the leverage of donations received by [the] institution and renew the agreement of sustainability.

‘But we need more support. Black lives matter for everybody and if social justice and equity are in the heart of the philanthropic world, we need more allies working with funders and social movements to build another world, and to build justice in societies which preserve lives and dignity – which preserve and highlight that black lives matter.

‘What about starting now? Let’s make the investment to promote racial equity. Join us in order to promote a better world.’ The full transcript of Selma Moreira’s speech can be found here.

Q&A tackles structural hurdles in way of movement support

Keidan then began to look at the attendees’ questions and remarks within the webinar chat. Martin Modlinger asked if there is something about larger foundations which makes it harder for them to engage with movements. On a related point, Felicity Jones raised a question around institutional constraints; certain funders are only able to work within certain parameters and are constrained by charitable legislation about what they can fund – namely, the very NGOs that we’re being warned about turning movements into.

Kraemer responded that ‘most charitable legislation always also has that clause that you, as a charitable funder, determine whether or not the activity you fund is charitable in your eyes, in your perception. Does it help you, as a funder, to fulfil your stated charitable goals? If yes, you can fund that, even if the organisation, or not-registered group of people carrying out the activity is not necessarily registered as charitable. So that is basically what we are running on, with the Guerrilla Foundation.’

Mahomed answered that there is an interesting conversation going on in the chat around legislation and what, as a charity, you’re allowed to fund. But also, if you’re an intermediary and you have to account to your donors, what are you then also allowed to fund? I think there’s the legal framework that shapes what you can and can’t do, but there are also many things that we can do within that legal framework that we sometimes are not bold enough in exploring. … Recently we’re seeing collaborative funds having a little bit more wiggle room to fund things that you, as maybe a large funder, cannot do for all sorts of different reasons – be it process, or institutional systems, or just the fact that you’re not anywhere near the ground.

‘I think the biggest thing to ask is where are the legal limitations, and where are our own, institutional limitations that are set by our frames of mind around what we think our role in philanthropy is? When we start to shift what we think that role is, it opens up space for a different kind of discussion, and it opens up avenues for different forms of support to go to movements.’

Tatiana Cordero, of Urgent Action Fund – Latin America, asked if Hopstein could comment on the role of women’s funds, and whether their nature of a more horizontal and democratic system presents a good model. Emmanuel Otoo of Wellspring Philanthropic Fund then asked how funders can help build capacity and fill gaps, particularly for community-based movements.

Hopstein responded that ‘local funds are really very connected to social movements; they know exactly where they are, what they are doing. I don’t like to think of them as intermediary funds, because they are much more than that, but I think these partnerships – specifically with women’s funds as they are really active in the region – it’s really very effective in terms of making grants and supporting social movements. … For example I know that Urgent Action Fund know exactly where the defenders are, and what they need. I think that a partnership between the big foundations and local funds is very important and effective in funding social movements.’

Kraemer spoke to capacity. ‘[Social movements] have the capacity to create change. That’s what they want to do. They want to create an impact, and they need the resources for that.’ If there are worries around their capacity to fulfil requirements, ‘maybe you want to rethink that and work with them and ask them what impact means to them, how they would like to report on this. …[Empower] people in your organisation to have personal trusting relationships with the people they fund, and making them accountable in reporting back whatever is important to your organisation, but not putting that burden on people in the grassroots group.’

The current protest that we’re seeing around BLM has, for me, I’ve seen the kinds of critique around philanthropy in this last month that I haven’t seen in years.

David Bonbright asked about the idea of effective philanthropic support, based on and cultivated by personal connections and shared values, as an important enabler – which maybe cuts across a more bureaucratic approach.

Kraemer agreed, and stated that this is why participatory funds are so important. Projects such as Edge Fund in the UK, or Fund Action, have activists deciding about the money going to other activists. ‘It’s super important and also speaks to the size of your organisation. If you are massive, such as the Ford Foundation, and you have a very centralised model of operating… then you might have a very hard time engaging with movements. But if you delegate that power to your Programme Managers, you create this slight decentralisation already. That PM [is now] working only with women’s movements, or LGBTQI, or anti-racism, knows the people, is aligned. It also comes back to your hiring policies as foundations, of course. Who do you bring into your organisation?’

Mahomed agreed, and continued: ‘It’s about how committed you are to working in a different kind of mode and it’s about your framing of what you see as your role with social movements. The onus has to be on funders to find ways to mitigate the distance; the onus shouldn’t be on movements to reach out in ways that we can understand. We need to engage and engage substantively. You can’t do movement funding from afar. It’s not possible.’

Black Lives Matter protests bringing many issues to fore of conversation

The closing comments from the panellists moved to anti-racism, and specifically the Black Lives Matter protests. Mahomed spoke first: ‘It’s really important to think about movements as bringing in alternative voices, and alternative narratives around what’s important – and what’s our role in helping to create the space for that. It’s extremely hard – funding movements is not easy work, but we’re not in this to be doing easy work. We’re in this for something else. So how do we start to make the space for those voices to really set a new table? It isn’t just about making a seat at an existing table that’s within a particular kind of framework, but what does this new table look like, and who are the voices that are influencing what the discussions at those tables are? The current protest that we’re seeing around BLM has, for me, I’ve seen the kinds of critique around philanthropy in this last month that I haven’t seen in years.’

Kraemer followed, speaking on intersectionality. ‘When you’re a climate funder, it doesn’t mean that you can’t look at anti-racism, you know? You have to. And what does that mean? You have to look at climate justice. You have to fund groups that work in climate justice, and not just white, upper-middle-class group that you maybe conveniently fund because you can better relate to them. And that relatability goes back to who works in your foundation, the issues of power which Halima referred to – who are you, and what kind of problem do we have in philanthropy with where our money comes from, [and] how we’re set up?’

Hopstein was last to speak. ‘We need to also think about individual giving in the context of philanthropy. When we’re talking about philanthropy in this discussion, we’re talking about big foundations. It’s important to look at individual giving because in fact movements and militants and activists are working all the time to mobilise resources in individual giving…[and] they [give] money [from] their own pockets to the movements’. It’s important for philanthropy to look at that… Movements are funding themselves.’

Amy McGoldrick is the Marketing, Advertising & Events Manager for Alliance magazine.

Listen to a recording of the webinar below:


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