By Nosibabalwe Socikwa, Membership and Network Intern.
Having worked in the human rights and social justice space, I have realised the impact of grassroots movements, organisations, and activists and their role in fighting against inequality, oppression, and unmet social, political, economic, or cultural demand. In the face of political power challenges brought by a global economic crisis, there has been a growing network of social movements, organisations, groups, and activists collectively coming together to fight against the power dynamics that often threaten their fundamental human rights.
However, despite their efforts in fighting against these injustices, they often lack funds to catalyse their growth. These grassroots groups and movements are often unregistered and have limited capacity in comparison to large and established civil society organisations. The grant-making system that supports civil society is built in a way that excludes these types of group, as they are unable to comply with donors’ bureaucratic and sometimes illogical eligibility requirements to access resources and funding.
Such donor requirements include being formally registered, providing financial audits, Monitorig, Learning and Evaluation plans and/ or recommendation letters. This is near impossible for informal or small groups that perhaps are in their starting stage and have limited capacity and resources. These groups face challenges to secure funding and tend to have a short lifespan, thus limiting their potential to drive for locally led lasting change.
To continue functioning, some groups rely on personal contributions from the communities they serve, who are closer to the problem and understand the urgency of a solution. Of course, this furthers their disappointment with donors. It is counterproductive, unfair and reinforces colonial thinking that donors continue to undermine local communities' work by excluding them from accessing urgent resources. It also enforces power dynamics and promotes donor-driven projects that have no standing to represent and reflect the grassroots groups' struggles. Grassroots groups must determine their destinies, lead their own paths towards development, and participate in decision-making. However, the current support system for civil society makes it difficult for grassroots groups to sustainably thrive.
We need an urgent shift in how grant-making strategies for grassroots groups are designed and implemented to achieve social justice. To achieve social justice for all, no one must be left behind, so it is crucial for donors and grantees, together, to transform the grant-making space with more collaborate and meaningful relationships and support practices.
The CIVICUS Solidarity Fund (CSF) is one of the initiatives I have learnt about, through my internship at CIVICUS, that has undergone such a transformation. Recently, the CSF put its grant application process under review because it was not as accessible and inclusive as they thought it was. The CSF team decided to look inward, listen to their grantee-members, understand the costs and barriers they face when applying for their grants, and make some changes to make the CSF more accessible. This process involved redesigning the application, reporting, monitoring, and learning processes by considering the power relations at play, limited financial and non-financial resources available to grassroots groups, and thinking of new ways to avoid propagating the culture of competition. Through this transformation, the CIVICUS Solidarity Fund team learnt that building relationships and trust with its grantee-members is very important to the grantees.
I hope to see the CSF improve even more and inspire and empower others who are resourcing grassroots groups. Donors and grantees need to build friendly relationships based on trust and respect to maintain civil society's long-term longevity and development.