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Edge Fund: £40,000 lighter…

March 19, 2013

2013-03-12 pounds 590

On 16th March around 35 people gathered in a community centre in North Islington, London to collectively decide how the first round of Edge Fund funding should be distributed amongst the final 15 projects. The gathering included representatives of the projects themselves and Edge Fund members. Before the day £10,000 had already been shared out between 13 runners up, leaving £30,000 for the final 15.

At the start of the day people expressed feelings of both anxiety and excitement at being the first to try an entirely new, democratic grant-making process. It is very unusual for applicants to know who else is in the running for the limited funds, let alone to get the chance to spend the day with them and the decision-makers of the fund to decide together which projects should receive funding.

The first to arrive were Edge members who came early to prepare a hearty soup for lunch. As people arrived the table filled with bread and other food to share. It was a rainy morning and the closures on the Northern line meant many people arrived late, delaying the start of the day. But people quickly relaxed in each other’s company through a few exercises to help people to get to know each other. People brought objects with them to help tell their stories of why they do what they do. A bag of freshly picked organic leaves, a Romani flag, photos of protests and other items soon got conversation going.

Ground rules were set collectively; be gentle, honest, respectful, curious, it’s also ok to challenge each other. We then laid out and discussed the funding priorities; groups which cannot get funding elsewhere who are either people facing oppression and are self-organising to challenge this or groups standing beside them to bring about systemic change. Some trial applications, one group of lesbian, gay, transgender and queer people of colour and another working in solidarity with immigration detainees, showed the diversity of opinion in the room. People stood along a line according to their score out of ten for each project and for both people were spread across the room. Questions were raised around what creates social change, what projects cannot get funding elsewhere and the importance of the most affected communities being involved in leading the work.

After lunch groups had the opportunity to find out more about other projects and were asked to score them 0-10 according to the criteria. The groups were split into two, with those in the first group setting up a space for their project and others visiting them to ask questions and learn about their work. One applicant who could not make the trip from Edinburgh joined by phone. With the added task of having to rate the projects, some challenging questions and conversations emerged. The groups then swapped, so each had the chance to visit and rate at least a handful of other groups. Edge members rated all applications since they had read the full applications beforehand.

Scores for each project were added up and averaged out. Every application had between 10 and 20 scores and the average scores ranged from 4.7 to 8.1. So what do we do with this information? Perhaps we should ignore it all together and just split the £30,000 equally between the 15 groups. Or perhaps, since the total requested was £60,000 we should give each group half of what they asked for? Most people felt that no one should go away empty handed but also that the scores should have some weighting. In the end it was decided there should be a base amount of £1,000 each and the ratings should be used to calculate how much of the remaining amount each project should receive. This resulted in all the groups going away with somewhere between £1,676 and £2,168.

Regrettably we ran out of time to discuss each project and their rating together as a group. Some concerns were raised that we should not be so reliant on the numbers and others felt that the ratings should have had much more of an impact on the final amount, perhaps with the top rated projects receiving much closer to the maximum of £5,000.

As the day came to a close people were asked to write down what went well and what could be done better next time. People liked the open process, the productive, positive and friendly atmosphere and most of all, the chance to get to know other groups and forge new connections. Next time we’ll ensure information about the groups is circulated in advance, that there’s more time allocated to people getting to know other projects, time for group discussion on each application and information on applications shared in advance. We hope next time we’ll have more money to give away and that the meeting will have a much better representation of people from all backgrounds, on class, race, sexuality, ability, gender and other grounds.

As people wrote down their travel costs and other costs of joining us for the day, such as childcare, we went around the room and asked for a few words to sum up the day, which included; great atmosphere, fascinating, more time needed to get to know other groups, interesting, overwhelmed, moved at new connections, brilliant, great to meet people, curious about next steps, ground breaking, needed more discussion on results for each application, solid foundation, unique, very equitable, unsure about allocations being split so equally, positive.

Whilst this final day was not a perfect process it’s an important first step in creating a unique, democratic way of sharing money. It’s never easy to pioneer something new from scratch and we’re committed to reflecting, evaluating and evolving as much as we need to and have plenty of feedback to make it better next time. We’re thankful to everyone who came, including our amazing facilitator, Perry, and independent observer Shilpa who came to keep an eye on participation and inclusion and to gather feedback.

Edge Fund is funded by many individuals giving what they can. If you share our aim to create a world where everyone has equal wealth and power to make decisions about their lives, communities and planet, please make a donation, join as a member or apply for funding. All other help also very welcome.

Find out more about groups that received funding. If you can, please consider making a donation to support these groups.

Comments from applicants

The idea of a network of people pooling money to financially support those causes and campaigns that often find it hard to get funding is a great one and one that I’m surprised hasn’t been set up already! The group I belong to often finds it difficult to find sources of funding that will allow us to carry out our vital work without limiting it in some way. The Edge Fund doesn’t do that and is aimed at groups like ours who can’t get mainstream support.

Sitting down with other applicants and working out with them how to allocate the funds was a unique and fascinating experience. Not only did I get an insight on how difficult it is to decide how best to financially support a wide range of worthwhile causes but the process enabled me to meet activists from many different campaigns and groups. So not only did we come away from the process with some much needed funds but we also strengthened our network of contacts!
Phill, Unity Centre

DPAC welcomes and strongly supports the EDGE fund principles and ways of working- lets hope that EDGE fund leads the way to a more democratic way of allocating funds to grass roots groups at the forefront of change. We wholeheartly support EDGE and we urge others to too.
Disabled People Against the Cuts

Most funders do not support campaigns which seek to change the system. It is great to have the support of The Edge Fund for radical campaigning to end government support of the DSEi arms fair in London.
Stop the Arms Fair

The formation of the Edge Fund is very welcome and hopefully it will be open and accessible. Of course there are a lot of radical and campaigning groups in Britain and choices have to be made but one of the problems which affect direct action and campaigning groups is that they often consist of people who are themselves suffering from the poverty that capitalism imposes on all but a tiny elite. How the Edge Fund will be able to make most difference with limited resources is a challenge that it will have to face but the idea of involving such groups in the Fund itself is innovative and welcome.
Tony, Brighton and Hove Unemployed Workers Centre

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 21, 2013 12:51 am

    This is really interesting. I hope this is indeed the leading edge of decentralised grassroots democratic support systems that engage with social innovation and genuine civic engagement and renewal. I will be watching how this develops with interest.

  2. Paul Munim permalink
    March 19, 2013 12:54 pm

    I think this is a great process which can bring groups together because many groups work in isolation and don’t have time to network especially groups that work on unpopular causes which the public find hard to understand. I would love to see a proper evaluation because I think the real benefits of bringing people together may be underestimated. I am researching social capital for a dissertation and I find it surprising that people don’t realise the true value of networking which larger organisations formally record and maintain

  3. March 19, 2013 12:36 pm

    “one of the problems which affect direct action and campaigning groups is that they often consist of people who are themselves suffering from the poverty that capitalism imposes on all but a tiny elite.”
    Well put, Tony, that, in a nutshell, is the essence of the problem.

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