“The way to get things done is not to mind who gets the credit.” Benjamin Jowett
A few weeks into this role, I was invited up to Glasgow to take part in a Sharing Forum which was being hosted by Tripod Training and the Edge Foundation. To my shame, I’d never visited Scotland before this event and since I was only there for less than 24 hours, I’m not entirely sure it counts!
It was held in the city’s Quaker Meeting House, a lovely welcoming building. The group in attendance came from a diverse set of backgrounds and while they were primarily working towards a particular aim – such as climate justice, migrant rights, and support for survivors of in-care abuse and their loved ones – it was clear from the start that there were huge areas of overlap.
One of the facilitators from the Edge Fund talked about the importance of providing equity of access to information – to stop organisations and individuals getting an edge, funders need to ensure that their messaging is spread as far as possible so that it’s heard at the same time across the board. It was this that prompted me to design our leaflets and posters, but unfortunately the coronavirus has halted my plans to spread them across the borough!
You can get the poster here if you want to put it on social media or into your family WhatsApp group.
As we got further into the discussions, some big concerns were raised – one individual said that she felt bigger organisations put too many conditions on accessing spaces and funding, to the point where her group risked losing its identity in exchange for a room or a small pot of money. She described feeling like she was being swallowed up and that her group and their campaign was being taken up by organisations with more power, that they weren’t being treated with respect, that they weren’t being worked with, and that there wasn’t a sense of co-operation. Instead, it felt like they were losing their independence.
The feeling from the group was that, if an organisation wants to help someone, it should ask how they want to be helped and not assume that it knows what is best. In short, if people want to give money to a cause, that shouldn’t come with conditions which impose their values. The needs of a community shouldn’t be overwritten by the needs of the funder.
So what does support look like? Answers from the group fell into the following categories:
- Media support
- Legal support
- IT support
- Communication support
- Care support
From these ideas we started to discuss if funders could help support a community by funding smaller organisations that will handle one type of support for their community, rather than funding one big organisation to do everything? We then talked about what that might look like, and what would need to be in place to make sure the network met the needs of the community. These included:
- A platform for gathering learning and support in sharing that learning
- Skillsharing workshops where needed
- Imaginative ways of campaigning and telling each organisation’s story
Another focus of the group was health, particularly in the context of activist burnout. If you’re unfamiliar with this concept, burnout is when someone feels like they have used up all their mental and physical resources campaigning on an issue.
Some members of the group highlighted that there is a marked difference in campaigns between people who are allies of a cause and the people who are directly impacted by it. For example, migrants campaigning for their rights are dealing with the current immigration system at the same time – allies (by and large) are not.
I said that what helped me was trying to free myself from the productivity culture of the private sector – indeed, it’s what prompted me to leave my last job. No matter how much I beat my targets by, I was expected to beat them by even more next time – something which becomes mathematically impossible at a certain point! It doesn’t make sense for me to use that way of thinking in the work I am doing now, especially as I know first-hand how that made me feel. In reimagining how we build and support our communities, we should not copy the systems that have left many feeling disconnected, isolated, and worn out.
Learning to carry forward
Towards the end of the day, I asked the group if they had any advice for BD Renew as a new funder to stop us making the same mistakes – it’s nice to think that what has been happening in Glasgow has not only helped the communities there but may end up changing the lives of the residents of Barking & Dagenham.
The things that people liked about the Edge Fund’s model of participation was that it was more democratic and therefore minimises relationship bias and improves impartiality, that the application from was simple and easy to understand, and that it promotes the independence of movements. There was also a general sense that the act of being funded helped give a sense of legitimacy, a power which needs to be wielded carefully, but which helped keep them motivated. The downsides was that it felt like it came down to luck regarding how people found out about it – most in attendance had happened to chanced upon a leaflet or heard about it through word of mouth. Outreach and visibility are always going to be issues for charities so if you have any ideas about how B&D Renew can improve on this, please let us know!
When I asked the group what support we could offer in addition to money, they were very forthcoming with suggestions, which helped me to frame our application process and might help others in a similar position:
- Support around campaigning (inc. social media platform and training)
- Providing a network of resources (such as a printing press, sound systems, creche, banner making, accessible space, tech support)
- Advocacy and raising awareness for ideas we fund, especially to bigger funders who have a fixed idea about outcomes
- Being explicit about what support we can offer and to whom
- Holding knowledge, learning, and resources which can be freely accessed and shared
- Hosting networking events and training sessions
- Looking after community resources and doing the administration around people accessing them
In all, I had a wonderful day of discussions and spent the six-hour train ride home carefully unpacking my thoughts and seeing how they might be realised in Barking & Dagenham. My only regret is not spending more time in Glasgow!