The question of power is central to philanthropy: Who decides about the allocation of funds? While social movements and activists have been calling for more participatory decision-making processes and new types of collaboration with funders for a while, a number of donors also see the value of adopting democratic ways to distribute resources as a way to achieve more impact. Indeed, some funds and initiatives around the world have been operating innovative participatory grantmaking models, such as Edge Fund in the UK, Red Umbrella Fund and Disability Rights Fund.
The idea behind these approaches is simple: those closest to the issues are best placed to make decisions about things that affect them. This includes decisions about where resources intended to benefit their communities should go.
Convinced that decision-making power should be shifted from grantmakers to grantees, four members of the EDGE Funders Alliance decided at the EDGE Europe retreat in summer 2016 to take the risk and set up a new participatory fund and platform for activists in Europe.
After a thorough consultation process with social movement actors from around the continent, Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation, European Cultural Foundation, Guerrilla Foundation and the Open Society Initiative for Europe pitched in over 200,000 euro for a pilot phase of a new participatory fund: FundAction.
According to an agreed charter of values, the fund aims ‘to [resist] all forms of domination, exploitation and oppression; to [rethink] the way we relate to one another; and to [renew] our societies, our future and the path in between’.
The grantmaking mechanism is currently being designed by an activist facilitation group, and will be operational in autumn 2017.
Funding systemic change
FundAction will be hosted by the Brussels office of EDGE Funders Alliance (Engaged Donors for Global Equity), a growing network of foundations working to increase resources to support systemic alternatives for a transition to a society that supports justice, equity and the wellbeing of the planet.
EDGE will implement the decisions made by an Assembly of activists and the Facilitation Group (FG) – the governing bodies of FundAction.
The FG is composed of seven members with diverse profiles and experiences (grassroots activism, critical media, research & broader perspective on movements, foundation and grant-making experience). It includes for the moment one funder representative, but without voting and decision-making powers.
FundAction will ultimately operate around three different types of grants:
- Resist: small quick response grants for (grassroots/vulnerable/minority) groups directly affected by political events/decisions.
- Rethink: building and supporting a pan-European social change community through networking and capacity development.
- Renew: supporting initiatives and ideas with a systemic change orientation and raising awareness of the need for systemic alternatives and a just transition.
For EDGE, this experimental and atypical initiative is an example of how philanthropy can play a role in building systemic alternatives, in society and in philanthropy itself. After the pilot phase in 2017, more foundations will be invited to join the fund.
In the meantime, activists across Europe will be encouraged to join as participants in the fund when it opens later this year.
For more information:
Tobias Troll, EDGE Europe director, at firstname.lastname@example.org