Four takeaways for philanthropy from #ShiftThePower

12 Feb 2024

This blog originally appeared in Alliance magazine’s special feature on the #ShiftThePower Global Summit.


(From top) Ayan Ahmed, Jesse Eaves & Lexi Ferry-Smith of Humanity United

Five members of the Humanity United team traveled to Bogotá, Colombia in December to participate in the #ShiftThePower Global Summit, joining with a community of peacebuilders working toward a global civil society and funding system that centers equity, justice and flourishing lives for all.

We have been connected to the #ShiftThePower community since 2019 when some of our team joined the Pathways to Power Symposium in London. With the Summit being held in Colombia this year, a country our peacebuilding work has focused on for several years, we saw a real opportunity to elevate peacebuilding as part of a system where international actors (especially funders) follow the lead of those from the context.

In line with our organizational value of curiosity, we approached the Summit as an opportunity to listen and learn from those engaged in impactful work around the world. We wanted to deepen our journey of knowing how we can support communities that are using their power to address issues that impact their ability to thrive. There were several themes relevant to our areas of work that emerged, including the need for collective action, the power of relationships, the importance of prioritizing well-being, the importance of working through networks, and the idea that communities hold the solutions to the problems they are facing. However, one of the biggest recurring themes that came up throughout the Summit, and in many of the conversations our team members participated in, was around the power dynamics between funders and those seeking funding.

Through our participation in the Summit and engagement with other participants, including some of our grantees and partners, we came away with four important takeaways for ourselves and our peers in the donor community:

  1. People leading social change efforts are experiencing significant burnout. Funders should prioritize supporting their well-being to enable them to stick with the work for the long haul. Whether it is covering time off, providing access to mental health support, or helping meet requests relating to physical safety, participants at the Summit acknowledged and called out the importance of being able to take care of themselves to have the collective impact they want to have.
  2. Funder-driven documentation and reporting often fail to capture what’s really happening in the communities they support. A revolution is needed around measurement and learning to ensure the data being produced is most useful for those doing the work.
  3. Funders can begin to address power imbalances by simply taking a step back and asking their grantees how they would like to be supported. Questions like “What do you want to do?” or “How can I help you achieve your mission?” can go a long way. First listen then explore together how to act on what you heard.
  4. We as a global community need to conference and gather differently. Funders need to support gatherings with spacious agendas that inspire us and facilitate building relationships to carry forward the work long after the conference ends. Incorporating things like art, music, spaces for rest and reflection, and opportunities to ground ourselves in the customs and traditions of the community where we are meeting. Our work is based on human connection so we need to support gatherings that bring us joy, deepen relationships, and create space to adapt based on what emerges.

Our team left the Summit excited to take what we learned back to our colleagues as we continue improving the way we work and show up with our partners. It is clear that we also need to bring these lessons with us when engaging with our peers in philanthropy, using our influence and access in funder spaces to share the perspectives we heard and hold ourselves and our peers accountable in responding to what those doing the work on the ground say they need. In a moment where philanthropy is reckoning with its role in supporting positive change led by proximate actors, the #ShiftThePower community has offered a venue to learn and a vision to support.

We collaborated with our partners at Peace Direct and the Robert Bosch Stiftung to support the attendance and participation of a contingent of peacebuilders from around the world. We look forward to seeing how these initial connections continue to grow and weave together while also examining our own practices as a funder.

While the event was a refreshing logo-free space, we want to extend our deepest thanks to those who brought us together in Bogotá, especially the GFCF, Global Nation and TerritoriA.


By: Ayan Ahmed, Manager of Strategic Communications; Jesse Eaves, Senior Director – Peacebuilding; and, Lexi Ferry-Smith, Manager – Peacebuilding at Humanity United. 

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