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Occupy Philanthropy: how can we devolve the philanthropic power of the 1% to the 99% to create the social change we need?

May 4, 2012

On 21 April a group of seventeen activists and donors came together to a meeting titled “Occupy Philanthropy: how can we devolve the philanthropic power of the 1% to the 99% to create the social change we need?” to discuss how the power of philanthropy could both be devolved to, and help support, grassroots activists and marginalised communities to create radical social change.

The discussion started with the importance of accessibility. Some of the group commented that funding needs to be accessible to as many groups as possible and therefore several considerations need to be taken into account. Firstly, we need to move away from forms as much as possible. There are many groups which are unable to complete application forms for a variety of reasons, ranging from not having internet access to download forms or receive them by email, not having computers, having difficulties communicating in English and not being able to understand the jargon often used by funding bodies. Many of the group also agreed that the norm is for groups to tailor their applications to what the funder wants to support.

Groups should be able to introduce themselves in a way that suits them and the application process should rely more on personal visits and phone calls than on forms. Often what is presented in a form does not accurately portray the passion, skills and vision of the group. However, application forms are often used in the place of visits because it’s much quicker; a large group of trusted people will be needed to conduct visits if this path is taken.

It was agreed by many in the group that both activists and the communities that we aim to help should be included in the decision-making process. A form of online direct democracy could be useful, as well as bringing people together for meetings face-to-face. Many in the group felt that funders should also be part of the process as it is an educational exercise for them and they also have a valuable perspective. Others felt that having funders involved would change the feeling in the room from one that is supportive (where groups can share challenges as well as successes), to one of competition. Careful thought will need to be given to the power dynamic between funders and activists but also how it might affect the activists involved in decision-making in the wider movement.

Facilitating events to bring funded groups together for skill-shares and support could be a powerful way to strengthen groups and projects.

A popular idea was for the Edge Fund to be run regionally. This would make sense in terms of visiting and assessing groups as a relatively small group of people could not be expected to travel the entire country to do this. Also, funders could be involved in decision making only for those regions they are not funding personally to potentially overcome issues of power dynamics where funders are present. On the other hand, if all funds are pooled, would this be necessary?

Transparency is also vitally important. Minutes should be made available, although it was agreed that identities of individuals should be protected if they wished. Could decisions be made in public? We also need to ensure that it is clear that the Edge Fund is a work in progress; to be approachable and open to input and ideas from others.

Towards the end of the meeting was an important discussion about how some NGOs are co-opting social movements and the need for supporting grassroots activism.

Since much more discussion is needed to draft plans for the fund, another meeting will need to be scheduled with a suggested date of 19 May. Location to be decided. We will find a slightly bigger room so more people can be invited, although the group will remain under 30 people for now, until the public session.  The original group are welcome to invite others, particularly if they represent issues/ communities not already represented within the group.

Full minutes will be available shortly.

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