Sustainability: the grantmaker’s paradox

David Bonbright

Termed the ‘S-word’ by development consultant Alan Fowler, sustainability is a matter of great interest to all actors in the development process. For grantmakers, who naturally wish to see the activities they support continuing when their support has ended, the first step is to come to terms with a paradox: that the ideal status for a grantmaker is eventual redundancy.

Sustainability is a complex and relatively new way of thinking about economic and social organization. The term is used in many different ways, usually with the emphasis on one aspect or another depending upon the point of view of the narrator. Grantmakers, as financiers, tend to see sustainability in terms of a desire that the activities that they support continue to yield benefits after their investments cease.

The challenge for grantmakers involves something of a paradox. They finance programmes partly to end the need for their funds. This article focuses on the grantmaker’s paradox and proposes four steps to resolve it.

Step one: a sense of irony

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