Through an agreement with UK-based , PND is pleased to be able to offer a series of articles about global philanthropy.
In the midst of Guatemala's civil war, a small group of women in Santiago Sacatepéquez came together in 1988 to address chronic malnutrition and the lack of educational opportunities. A few years later, the , developed a robust microcredit and income-generating skills-building program.
Fast forward to June 2016, when AFEDES members were among a thousand women gathered on the steps of the Guatemala Constitutional (Supreme) Court. They were there to support a case brought by Movimiento Nacional de Tejedoras to hold the Guatemalan government responsible for preventing global fashion companies from stealing Mayan textile designs.
This small group ignited a nationwide movement, which is now about to set an international legal precedent for indigenous peoples' .
How can funders accompany more peoples' journeys toward self-determination and collective power? As a long-time funder of AFEDES and other grassroots organizations and movements around the world, we offer three insights.
First, in addition to supporting them for the long haul, our role as the funders of AFEDES is to invest (without restrictions) in their vision and goals. Long-term social transformation presents many obstacles to our grantees' work. Funders need not present more. Over the years of our partnership with AFEDES, which began in 2005, the women changed course many times. Eventually, they concluded that the oppression of women could not be solved by credit alone and shifted their primary goal from increased income to Utz 'K'aslemal (, or good living) for their families, communities, and the natural world. Making their ancestral wisdom the foundation of all they do meant AFEDES' analysis deepened and widened to include issues of indigeneity, food sovereignty, and disability.
Thousand Currents stayed with AFEDES through strategy overhauls and leadership transitions. Giving money and getting out of the way is a , where project budgets dictate the nature of most partnerships. When funders can assimilate and act on this wisdom — namely, that the people closest to problems have the most important insights about solutions — systems change becomes clearer.
Second, systems change is non-linear, often unpredictable, and requires efforts on many levels. This is why we consider our partners as part of movement ecosystems, which include and gather individual citizens, campaigners, formal and informal groups, policy analysts, civil society organizations, media makers, and others taking coordinated steps.
Though it is not our role as funders to define what movements are, we've observed that they are most often characterized by a systemic analysis, a shared agenda focused on fundamentally changing the status quo, and principled, collective, direct action focused on creating strategic pressure.
As part of larger national, regional, and international community-led movements, build momentum in response to specific social conditions and are accountable to the communities affected by them. And they are not just focused on their communities' needs, but on moving systems, structures, and institutions toward justice and equity for all people.
Finally, for a thirty-plus-year-old organization to shift its approach from funding short-term projects in the mid-1980s to movements in the twenty-first century, humility was and is required. Thousand Currents has made , but an ever-deepening commitment to continual, reciprocal learning means our grantees have become our teachers.
To deepen our own analysis, Thousand Currents builds diversified grantmaking portfolios that represent movement actors of many types and capacities so that we can learn how to support movements without imposing our own ideas on them.
Movements vary greatly around the world, with the context and people involved determining their structure and the strategies deployed. Funders must recognize that movements are made up of ideas and actions that are fluid, complex, responsive and dynamic, which is what makes traditional project funding mechanisms so ill-suited to systems change work.
When it comes to moving with movements, funders don't have to know everything. But they do have to be willing to change themselves.
Solomé Lemma )([email protected]) is executive director of and co-founder of .