Peer dialogue: Achieving solidarity needs a brave strategy

Halima Mahomed and Theo Sowa

Guest editor, Halima Mahomed talks to Theo Sowa, CEO of the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) about how funders can support social movements

Halima Mahomed: Most institutional philanthropy goes to particular types of institutionalised civic action – CBOs, NGOs, thinktanks, academia. Why is it important for funders to engage with other forms of action, and particularly the social movement space?

Theo Sowa: A lot of funders have started to see the importance of social movements. For example in the area of violence against women, a lot of the research tells you it’s women’s rights movements, feminist movements where there have been successful responses. The problem is that social movements don’t lend themselves to being funded in the traditional ways. Also, people have started interpreting social movements as being NGOs or CBOs and people talk about civil society as if it is only NGOs or CBOs. That’s led to a dangerous trend where you are talking about one thing, but you are funding something very different. In a few years’ time, funders will turn around and say ‘well, we tried to support social movements and it didn’t work’. In fact, you were undermining rather than supporting those movements.

HM: Do funders put too much emphasis on how movements can be useful in meeting funders’ goals rather than on movements as sites for local voice, and agency and power?

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