Christian (he / him / his)
Democratic Republic of the Congo
This story is part of ‘Resourcing youth-led groups and movements: a reflective playbook for donors and youth organisers.’ You may listen to and/or read Christian’s story down below or jump to the proposed exercises for donors or to those for youth-led groups and movements.
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What was the inspiration to start Peacemaker 360?
I grew up in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a region affected by decades of conflict. During my undergraduate studies in Kenya I had the chance to get to know young people from other African countries similarly recovering from or undergoing violent conflicts. Students hailed from Burundi, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and Uganda, among others.
I was inspired to learn about their experiences and contexts. I wondered why so much of my curriculum was written by academics from the global north: there was so much richness in the knowledge of my peers, knowledge that felt so alive! I dreamed of creating opportunities to connect global south youth organisations of peacemakers so they could start interacting more sustainably, learn from each other and work together.
This dream matured when I was granted a scholarship to study peacebuilding in the USA. As part of my master’s programme, I built a beautiful friendship with a young migrant from Colombia named Isaias. Isaias and I exchanged stories about the history of our countries and spent long hours composing music together, creating lyrics inspired by our work and studies. With Isaias I started experiencing the power of storytelling – of evoking emotions to build empathy and create cultural bridges.
As I researched young activists working on peacebuilding for my master’s thesis, I realised that the stories and insights of young peacebuilders were invisible in the media. I launched Peacemaker 360 to tell and give visibility to those stories.
What has been your experience resourcing your work?
Early on I got really disillusioned with donor-led funding models.
In the DRC, I was working with a small CSO promoting youth leadership. We were pretty successful in obtaining funding – we had four funding partnerships and we were growing, under the paradigm that assumes that more financial resources equals organisational growth.
But I got tired of it. I felt all I was doing was answering to the donors. We were caught in the bureaucracy of making deadlines.
This was a big dilemma for me. I kept asking myself: how much am I willing to offer in terms of my own vision and my own passion in order to accommodate the donors’ requirements?
After that experience, it has been harder for me to resource my work. I have become more critical of traditional funding models, more interested in doing things not bound to funders’ structures.
Right now, Peacemakers 360 does not have a financial sustainability strategy. We manage individual donations and have received small grants for specific projects. This being said, I set up the project so that it would not need funding for its sustainability.
So what are you doing instead?
We are building a network of peacebuilder organisations so that we can all support each other and help raise our profile and visibility. I hope that in the future we will be able to work more closely with our partners so that they can help us sustain our work.
When starting Peacemaker 360 I simply followed my impulse to create a community to exchange knowledge. I was tired of the top-down logic that many youth-led organisations fall into that we cannot do anything without money.
I think there is a value in asking ourselves: what can we do without funding?
To do things without funding is empowering; it reduces the risk of dependency from the donors’ funding model.
Of course, alone we can’t do it all. I do believe that by taking on a more independent mindset we can get more creative and develop our unique experience. This can give us an edge so that other institutions can recognise our work, respect it and treat us as equals. Or this at least is my hope.
The problem is that donors are less likely to give you funding if you don’t already have other grants because they fear you don’t have the capacity to manage finances: it’s a chicken-and-egg dilemma. I think this is a faulty argument though. Donors should support organisations based on their impact, and if we achieve impact with little or no funding, they should help us develop the capacity to manage more.
How do you understand the practices around impact measurement?
I believe that impact and indicators should be defined by the communities themselves. In the case of the DRC, when we tell a big donor that we are making an impact working with youth leadership, what they are looking to see are the numbers. They ask: how many? How many? How many?
But the value of this work is not about ‘how many’. It is about the quality of relationships that these young people are able to have with themselves and with their community as a result of our work. The quality of the relationship is so much more important for youth organisations, at least in our case, than just the numbers or ticking the box to please the donor. This is a very different worldview that is important to talk about when we talk about impact and indicators.
How do you support yourself ?
I am working as a consultant, and often get contracted as an individual. It’s not ideal, but at this moment, it is helpful for me to keep Peacemaker 360 and my own livelihood separate
What is the best relationship you have had with a donor?
I am so grateful to the Pollination Project. They provide small seed funding of around US$1,000 but are able to give a boost to organisations that normally would not qualify. I reached out to them in 2017 explaining that we wanted to publish a book with 25 stories of young peacebuilders. They were very responsive. They replied promptly, with an informal tone, and had very basic application requirements.
I enjoyed how kind and caring their communication was. For example, they were flexible with the publication deadline. Plus, they even sent me a list of other organisations that they had supported with publishing a book so that I could learn from them and expand my network. That was really encouraging to me.
It can be so frustrating to receive no feedback or an automatic email after spending so much time on a funding application!
Do you have recommendations for donors that want to work with youth-led groups and movements and experiment with new funding models?
I would suggest they focus on the social impact that youth-led groups and movements are already making and develop flexible funding mechanisms that enhance that impact – and understand that impact is not all about numbers. This includes reducing reporting bureaucracy and having quick response basket funds that are accessible to address issues like the protection and evacuation of youth leaders from life-threatening situations. All this is possible if the relationship between youth-led groups is neither transactional nor top-down, but one of equals who choose to work together to transform social injustices around the world.
Exercises for donors, allies and enablers
Who selects grantees?
Christian mentions being funded by the Pollination Project, a donor that provides seed grants of up to US$1,000. We asked the Pollination Project to share some of their best practices:
“One of our most successful best practices involves engaging past grantees in selecting new grant recipients. We do this by inviting past grantees to volunteer as ‘grant advisors’.
We believe that philanthropic projects need to distribute and decentralise their decision-making power; the profile of those taking decisions should reflect that of the individuals that we are trying to support.”
Reflection questions: Who selects grant recipients in your institutions? How could it be ensured that young people are more involved in decision-making processes on funding allocation?
Christian highlights that it is important for donors to be able to trust and see potential for impact for youth-led groups and movements that don’t have the trappings and track records. What would it look like to develop a process to help understand and assess potential?
How do your grant recipients value their work, and what can you learn from them about different ways of measuring impact? How could you redefine your assessments for impact, keeping in mind that youth-led groups and movements might not think of impact in the same way you might?
Step 1. Empathic and generative listening
What is the quality of your listening when you are engaging with your colleagues and allies? The Presencing Institute theorizes that we listen in at least four different ways of listening. Refer to this video to learn about Otto Sharmer’s four levels of listening.
Using the visual below, identify your typical level of listening and where you would like to progress to.
Practise listening with these different levels in your next conversation with your youth-led partners.
Step 2. Practise authentic communication
Christian values affection and care in his interactions with partners and donors. He feels the type of shared experiences and quality of communication generate relationships that are more authentic.
Here are some tips on how to practise authentic communication:
- Listen to yourself first, so that you know how to listen to others.
- Identify where your assumptions inhibit your ability to listen.
- Check your motivations for what you are about to say.
- Use words to express your feelings that allow others to do so as well.
- Speak specifically rather than generally.
- Ask for clarification, such as ‘what specifically do you mean / expect by that?’
- Allow for silence.
- Become aware of when you need to speak and when you don’t.
- Do not formulate your response whilst someone is speaking.
- Respect differences.
- Be aware of your own barriers.
Reflect on this list with your team. Is there anything you would like to add or remove?
Once your adapted list is ready, keep it next to you in your interaction with youth-led partners and check whether you are communicating authentically. What are you already good at? What could be improved in your communication according to the list you and your colleagues drafted?
Use your next meeting to have a short debrief. What has each of you noticed and improved?
Exercises for youth-led groups and movements
How much are you willing to compromise?
Discuss with your team Christian’s question: how much am I willing to offer in terms of my own vision and passion in order to accommodate the donors’ requirements?
Clarifying your model
Christian is clear that for now he prefers 360 to be a platform that can run with little resources. He thinks of his livelihood as separate to 360. This might not be the case for every young person working with a group or movement. Yet it is useful to be clear about your model.
What are the financial resources you need to run your group or movement?
Have you thought about alternative revenue sources? Youth organisations around the world are experimenting with different models, such as social enterprises, provision of services, sales of products and membership models. What could be a model or combination of models that works best for your organisation and context?
You could spend some time doing desk-based research and reaching out to other local youth-organisations to inquire about and be inspired by their funding model. Or you could organise a roundtable with other organisations to share challenges, learn and develop new ideas together.
In what ways can you translate the knowledge you gain through your engagement in civil society into other streams of revenues, for example through consultancies or developing services around that knowledge?
Other stories and exercises
Did you do some of the exercises above? How did Bonnie’s story inspire you to view your role as a donor or youth organiser differently? You can let us know your thoughts by writing to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
These and other exercises and stories are also available in the pdf version of ‘Resourcing youth-led groups and movements: a reflective playbook for donors and youth organisers.’