The complexity of
competing for and
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 Dumi’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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The becoming of an activist
Dumi’s schooling in South Africa transformed their understanding of injustice. The exposure to a more vibrant civil society landscape and a rich history of activism contrasted with that of conservative Botswana. The movement against the apartheid government, the youth uprising in 1976, post-1994 actions for LGBTQI+ equality and the provision of free antiretroviral ARV treatment to manage the HIV/AIDS epidemic opened up space for engagement and improved the civic participation of the LGBTQI+ community.
It was only on return to Botswana that Dumi became aware of the injustices faced by sexual and gender minorities in their country. Dumi had experienced abuse as a younger person, but they had not known how to react and navigate their gender, sexuality and life experiences. They were now moved by a desire to end the normalisation of pain and harm inflicted on young minorities in Botswana.
Dumi started volunteering with larger CSOs while working in the private sector. As a volunteer in a youth collective, Dumi found it challenging to be heard and supported. For example, they wanted to host the first ever local pride event in Botswana. Many community members were going to join Johannesburg Pride and Dumi decided to organise one for those who could not afford to go to South Africa. Although logistical support was promised, the youth collective was left to arrange and execute the event on the day. Power dynamics and politics led to a swift exit and establishment of an advocacy blog (PinkAnatomyBW) and subsequently, Success Capital: a grassroots CSO working on moving young minorities from survival to success. Success Capital aspires to become the first choice of knowledge for LGBTQI+ young people in Anglophone Southern Africa.
Competition for resources – youth organising set up for failure?
Dumi took on the challenge of resourcing Success Capital’s work. They would spend at least two hours a day after work seeking out open grant opportunities and applying. They could not reconcile how theories of change for improving the lives of young minorities could fit within a year’s log-frame.
To sustain themselves, many young organisers and activists take up part-time or full-time employment. While this can create financial security, it can also prevent young people from having sufficient time for their civic engagement.
They were challenged with how proposed log-frames could be realistic in pre-empting Success Capital’s impact or contribution to changing society and transforming individuals. What were the right measures of documenting the shift from survival to success?
Dumi’s efforts resulted in generic emails of rejection or no response at all.
Success Capital was competing for the same money that larger domestic and regional organisations were eligible for. As grant opportunities kept opening, Dumi became more frustrated with the process of securing funding. Most opportunities were limited to a focus on HIV/AIDS, the biggest source of financing for minority-led organisations.
Through engaging with the LGBTQI+ community while conducting their master’s research on organisational development within minority-led organisations, Dumi discovered high levels of toxicity and abuse of power within civil society. Peers were experiencing mental health issues with no safe spaces for support, within or outside civil society. Yet project proposals on these issues were never successful in grant proposals
Success Capital’s concept notes on nurturing activism, curating knowledge and addressing unemployment among youth minorities were also just not making the cut. For example, Dumi questioned how non-binary people living with HIV/AIDS could navigate adulthood in poverty. Calls for proposals seemed too narrow, disregarding the complexity of people’s experiences.
Success Capital kept operating with little resources. In five years, only two grant proposals were successful – one related to HIV/AIDS and one around sexual and reproductive health and rights.
A gatekeeper is a person who controls access to something, in this case information and resources. Dumi refers to the perception that a few people and organisations are aware of and have access to funding opportunities, while others are excluded.
Although there were volunteers, availability and skills were intermittent challenges. Dumi was forced to ensure continuity in managing finances, monitoring and evaluation, project implementation, reporting and stakeholder management, among other roles, whilst working full-time and navigating civil society politics and gatekeeping.
Passion and intermittent contributions from other volunteers could only go so far: funding was restricted to project activities, there were no stipends for volunteers and board members had competing professional commitments.
Training volunteers requires investments of time and resources that grants often do not account for.
This juggling of roles whilst figuring out organising, collaborating with others, studying part-time and having no support structures led to several breakdowns, disappointments and tension at the personal and professional levels. It was clear that some aspect of Dumi’s life would have to be compromised.
Exercises for donors, allies and enablers
Researching underfunded areas
How can you learn to reach underfunded areas better? To do so, you might have to learn to sense emerging trends, needs and ideas.
Weaving in different theories of social change, Doug Reeler (2007) suggests that when supporting social change, before asking ‘how do we change things’, it is useful to ask ‘how are things already changing?’
Once you have taken some time to explore the different types of social change, reflect on these questions:
• How can the resources you provide enhance their ongoing work to unlock social change?
• How can you align your vision of change to theirs?
Reflecting on competition
How does your institution prevent competition between grassroots youth-led groups and movements and more established, larger and international CSOs?
How can you support more established, larger and international CSOs to work in partnership with grassroots youth-led groups and movements? One example of this is might be by encouraging the formation of multi-stakeholder partnerships or consortia in which smaller organisations have proper recognition and voice.
Be mindful of power dynamics and think about how you can support youth organisations to flourish in spaces of competition. You can also co-design agreements with different parts of civil society that include detailed steps on how to support enabling power dynamics and avoid co-option.
Reflect on where your money and resourcing can be most useful
Are there topics or areas linked to the mission of your organisation that you are passionate about but which are underfunded? How can you plan for your support to be directed at groups and movements that are globally under-resourced and unattractive?
What can you do to avoid forcing square pegs into round holes? For example, in the case Dumi shared, what does it look like to avoid providing all support through the lens of HIV/AIDS funding which not only rules out other approaches, but risks distorting activities to qualify for funding?
How can you tailor your support to the work of youth organisations that are leading on the ground rather than forcing them to adapt to your support package?
Reflect on Doug Reeler’s analysis of different types of social change. How can you develop a support package aimed at enabling emergent and transformative change? What would this entail in terms of rethinking reporting, accountability and other requirements for the youth-led group supported?
Exercises for youth-led groups and movements
Grassroots mental health support
This is a useful practice that can be done individually or in a group in check-ins.
Personal check-ins are an invitation to ask yourself: ‘What is moving inside of me right now?’ The simplest version is a weather check-in: ‘Am I feeling sunny? Stormy? Cloudy? Foggy?’
Once you have checked in with yourself you can find an expression for the way you feel. Checking in with yourself can also help you identify and clarify a need. This could be writing a diary entry,
practising mindful activities such as meditation, painting or going for a walk.
Check-ins can also be collective. In a group setting, you can each share your feelings while the others engage in active listening. When doing this, make sure that everyone has an opportunity to share. Once everyone has had an opportunity, the group can decide whether there are some actions that need to be taken to respond to each other’s needs.
To get inspired, you can check out the examples shared by Ember, a project promoting grassroots mental healthcare. Resources from Extinction Rebellion are also very useful.
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 email@example.com.
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.’