Supporting those on the margins

Ben Simms

I am writing to applaud the position taken in Regan Ralph’s article ‘Supporting grassroots activism in Guatemala’ and to contribute my own example in the hope of encouraging others to embrace her conclusions.

The key to success when working in unpredictable and volatile environments, Ralph argues, is ‘giving locally rooted organizations the resources to shape and lead on the issues that affect them most’. This has long been the argument of the disability movement and of people living with HIV, the two communities I have worked with most closely. Aside from the principle ‘nothing about us without us’, it is the expertise and energy of such communities that is up for grabs.

I’d develop Ralph’s theme further in two ways. First, her focus is on funding advocacy, but many of the locally rooted organizations are pioneering psychosocial and medical care, and this too needs funding.

Second, Ralph uses the term ‘locally rooted organizations’ but many grassroots responses are loosely configured collections of individuals. When the anti-homosexuality bill was passed in Uganda this February, STOPAIDS scrambled to respond to requests from the transgender community in particular, and to challenge donors to release immediate funds. This is a community operating on the margins of the also-marginal gay community in Uganda. With support from the David Cairns Foundation, we were able to forward modest funds without expectation of receipts, confident in the knowledge that we were supporting individuals with a long-standing and proven leadership role in their community. The response from other UK-based donors was considerably more cautious.

As a result of Ralph’s article let us hope that more donors will measure their success by their ability to partner such groups.

Ben Simms
Director, STOPAIDS

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