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A year in the life of Edge – a review

June 11, 2013

Almost a year after our very first meeting, Edge members came together to review how it has gone so far. Whilst we still have a way to go to live up to our own expectations, it did feel like an achievement to: find a group of people willing to make this happen, agree on our aims and values, work out some democratic grant-making processes, raise some money, receive and deal with hundreds of applications, give grants to 28 groups, begin sharing our model with others in the field, open round 2 – and start the review process!

The first review – and some quick fixes

From the beginning we discussed the importance of reviewing how we’re doing and committed to keep learning and evolving. After the first round we tried to gather as much feedback as we could from members as well as successful and unsuccessful applicants through online surveys and conversations in person, on the phone or email. In the final funding meeting of Round 1, where applicants and members came together to decide how funding should be distributed, we also commissioned Shilpa Shah, a trainer and facilitator in radical community empowerment, to attend the meeting. Her role was to observe the meeting, have discussions with people before and afterwards and report back with suggestions for improvement. As an independent person, she was able to get some critical feedback that is crucial for the review process.

Some of the points raised during the review process were easier to resolve than others. For example, we have introduced a new rating system, which we feel requires more considered thought and therefore will be fairer. We’ve ensured members give more feedback when scoring applications so we have more information to give applicants.  We’ll also make sure we provide more information to applicants in plenty of time before the final meeting, as some felt that knowing who else would be there and having a better idea of the process would help reduce nerves on the day and everyone wanted to know more about each other’s work. We also need to try to slow down sometimes, even though that can be difficult when there’s always such an urgency to address what’s going on around us.

Diversity, inclusivity and participation

To ensure we include and give equal say to people from many different backgrounds, and particularly those most often marginalised by society, we are looking more closely at how we work and how that affects who is able to take part and who holds the power. As an organisation with an aim to create an equal and just world it’s particularly important we get this right. Even with a flat organisational structure that gives everyone an equal say, this often doesn’t happen in reality since higher levels of confidence, experience and knowledge, plus cultural and other factors, can give some people a louder voice.

From our first meeting we’ve struggled to get good representation of people from different communities and backgrounds involved. A participant of the final meeting of Round 1 commented, “the largest group of people there were white, male and university educated”. Low diversity has meant that at times throughout the process some people have felt like lone voices and struggled to be heard – and in some cases been unhappy with decisions made as a consequence. Generally, it also resulted in some lack of understanding of the different models of change of different communities.

Without question the practices of some charities and funders, past and present, make it difficult to gain the trust of communities. It’s not surprising considering often people running charities and funds are from privileged backgrounds, often making decisions about people very different to themselves – and often the wrong ones. This relationship between funder, charities and communities often also reinforces power inequalities in society. Some communities are suspicious about sources of funding: who’s behind the scenes; what’s the real agenda? So it was never going to be straight forward, but we also have to put up our hands and say we’ve made some decisions along the way that have made it more difficult for us to reach out beyond the usual networks.  For example, we’ve made some decisions regarding venues for meetings, language used in materials and choice of people to carry out certain roles that may have made people feel unwelcome or that we are not for them. This all needs to be thought through more in future if we’re to effectively break down power structures and become more inclusive.

Taking action on diversity issues

Often when organisations attempt to tackle diversity issues it becomes a tick box exercise. The first step is getting lots of different people involved in your organisation, but that’s just the first step. The harder part is ensuring everyone is actually taking part and being heard. During the review meeting we talked about barriers to participation, which included the points above about diversity and inclusivity but also time, financial considerations, ability and location. Following on from discussions at the meeting we’re looking more closely at these aspects and are starting to develop ways to make it easier for everyone to take part.

A major decision we made at the review meeting was to set up an Advisory Group. The Advisory Group is made up of members with personal experiences of facing discrimination and injustice on the grounds of gender, sexuality, race, class, disability, political views and other grounds. For Round 2 they have the first say about applications with relevance to their own backgrounds and identities and give guidance to the membership. This will hopefully improve the decision-making by ensuring concerns about applications from people of relevant backgrounds are raised before members score them – in round 1 concerns could only be addressed afterwards which made it difficult for us to address them properly. We’re also hoping the Advisory Group members can help to reach out to their communities and networks. We hope this will have a major impact on Edge’s reach and decision-making. It will hopefully ensure voices representing relevant communities have a louder voice and are heard first, as well as allowing us to better support different communities’ strategies for creating change.

Celebrating successes

Whilst we’re doing our best to be aware of and address areas we need to improve, we should also celebrate what our members have achieved. Now we’re part through Round 2 we’re glad to see a much wider range of applications, and many more from self-organised groups from frontline communities. We have also recently welcomed new members, bringing total membership to 55 and more importantly making it a little more representative of all the different communities in the UK. We’ve started getting people in the same room who would not usually cross paths. We’ve raised around £150,000 so far and we’ve funded some inspiring groups with a real dedication to justice and equality who have virtually no other options for financial support. We’re now being invited to write articles and attend meetings about funding so are starting to get the word out about a different way of working. It feels like the project is starting to build some strong foundations. It’s early days, but we’re making progress.

We set ourselves a challenge a year ago – much of what we’re doing has not been done before and we never expected to get it right straight away. We have chosen to set up a member-run fund which will back grassroots groups, using a simple application process which keeps barriers to funding to a minimum, and which deliberately avoids being a ‘charity’ with all the patronising connotations of that system. We are committed to working in solidarity. We’re hoping others will join us; we’re always looking for new members, donors and applicants.

To create a just and equal world we need to develop new ways of organising ourselves and our resources. That’s going to mean working together, being creative, stepping out of our comfort zones, taking risks, making mistakes, learning and evolving. Edge is committed to playing a small part in this process of reinventing the society we live in.

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This is just the beginning of an on-going learning and reflecting process. We’re thankful to everyone who has given time and thought to share feedback openly with us and to all our members for all their work. Feedback is welcome at any time. You might also want to read the full minutes of the review meeting and our first year of expenditure.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Paul Munim permalink
    June 11, 2013 1:16 pm

    I am impressed by the level of reflection and the acknowledgement that the Edge Fund is not perfect. Perhaps it is difficult to achieve true equality in any role where resources are being distributed because people are different and have diverse needs. I wish I could have taken part in that reflection because it seems the Edge fund is asking itself serious questions that other far larger funders should have asked themselves a long time ago. Reflection and learning is an ongoing process that is crafted together by experience which is how we should all review ourselves. I suggest applicants themselves need the opportunity to reflect on their own practices. Funders do not fund reflection and learning type projects and instead simply ask for policies. Perhaps there is scope for asking some of the projects to come together and share their learning and experiences so that vulnerable groups realise they don’t have to have all of the answers and it is ok to say that we are learning. That would make an interesting funding application!

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