Participatory grantmaking in Palestine: Taking the time to make it just
27 May 2019
At the end of February 2019, Rawa: Creative Palestinian Communities Fund held a three-day forum launching its first grant cycle. With Rawa team and advisory committee members supporting the process, Palestinian community members animatedly and with great pride deliberated over the grassroots projects they had collected to consider for Rawa’s first grants. It was a historic moment full of soul and intellect. 26 grantmaking decision-makers from across historic Palestine (Rawa’s “cluster members”) collectively chose 23 participatory, creative, interdisciplinary grassroots community development projects. These initiatives now serve as the core of Rawa’s holistic grants and support model, which was developed through a local-global collaboration nearly five years in the making (the following animation introduces Rawa, and this infographic describes the grants and support model).
Rawa started in response to a basic question posed by many other community-led and participatory grantmaking initiatives around the globe: What if people were asked how they would build something better to support just and equitable community development in their society? While Palestinian society has been at times flooded with international funding, these interventions have too often come with political strings and damaging, if unintended, effects – dependency, competition, and the deepening of Israeli occupation and apartheid’s strangling, destructive impact on the Palestinian economy and social body. Palestinians have few opportunities to make decisions on resources that rightfully belong to them. In working to change that, some emerging lessons from the Rawa experience include:
1. Shifting power takes time and requires flexibility, courage, a commitment to learning, and an openness to mistakes.
Top-down grantmaking can be efficient – a few people at the top make decisions, while others follow, with little communication or information flowing back up. Participatory grantmaking takes more time and coordination. Rawa was intentionally designed as an experiment (a three-year pilot model) to explore a more collaborative approach. We expect to make mistakes and are eager to learn, adapt, and grow from them. As Rawa advisory committee member Nisreen Haj Ahmad explains, we keep experimenting and learning so as to come ever closer to justice, not perfection – “a spirit of learning…of reflection and growth, until we get it right, and perhaps right is just.”
Rawa is fueled by many dedicated people who contribute to this work as a labor of love. Most do it in addition to other part- or full-time commitments. The challenge of finding time to come together is exacerbated by Israeli-imposed movement restrictions and the ongoing siege on Gaza. We held our first cycle forum in Jericho so that our West Bank, Jerusalem, and ’48 cluster members could meet in person. We organized a separate gathering in Gaza with a video conference link to allow for synchronous discussion. These efforts are challenging and resource-intensive, but they offer a rare opportunity to bring people together (cluster members and supported projects) from across a fractured political and physical landscape to share knowledge, build networks, break down political barriers, and collaborate to bring about positive change.
2. Redefining and evaluating success on our own terms is scary and uncomfortable, but essential for transformational change.
Ultimately, we aspire to create an equitable, community-based, democratic, and holistic re-granting and support model. We continually evaluate how to create governance and decision-making practices that are open, collective, and transparent, and have the greatest impact. For us, shifting power includes an ongoing practice of decolonizing our own minds, as many of us have backgrounds in traditionally structured NGOs, development agencies, and funding mechanisms. Questioning the usual terms and assumptions brings uncertainty, but is necessary for experimenting with alternative practices around decision-making, accountability, and holding power. Rawa’s community of cluster members, supported partners, and funders desires to work with and learn from each other about how, based on our values and experience and diversity, we define success and amplify positive change. We foster this with workshops, mentoring, and network building events.
3. Participatory funds are much more than “intermediaries.”
Participatory funds are innovators in the philanthropic field, taking inspired risks, demonstrating what’s possible, sharing what works, and documenting challenges along the way. While the term “intermediary” is often used to describe participatory re-granters, it falls short descriptively as well as aspirationally. Far from simply transactional, participatory funds are incubators and advocates for transformative resourcing—for the equitable redistribution of wealth and building of resilient, regenerative solidarity economies and support networks. Participatory funds are often locally owned and self-governed. They focus on enhancing social capital, civic engagement, leadership, and the democratization of access to resources. They connect donors to projects vetted by the communities that know best how to solve the problems they face. They offer a way to genuinely support communities’ aspirations, generate trust, and build relationships based on dignity and mutual respect.
4. “Shift the power” is a verb/call to action, requiring ongoing reflection and practice
As the GrantCraft guide on participatory grantmaking (Deciding Together Shifting Power and Resources Through Participatory Grantmaking, by Cynthia Gibson and Jen Bokoff) notes, among other challenges, “Participatory grantmaking doesn’t eliminate the potential for bias” and “it can be difficult to ensure representativeness.” Rawa takes this to heart, realizing the need to continually and at every level consider the power dynamics at work. We also practice avoiding ‘analysis paralysis’ by creating spaces to experiment: implement, evaluate, tweak, try again. We recruit a diverse group of community members from across historic Palestine as decision-makers serving up to three-year terms. As resources allow, the number and geographic location of decision-makers and funded projects will grow together over time.
5. For us, a hybrid grassroots-global approach is the best path forward
Despite the many challenges of a model like Rawa, in the long run the impact of collective, participatory work – like greater trust and social cohesion, elevated voice and hope for underrepresented groups, strengthened larger networks/movements, and support for more innovative/risky projects usually overlooked by funders – far outweigh the costs.
Developing an initiative owned by people from grassroots movements and within global philanthropy has been advantageous. Even good grassroots initiatives can fail without an international footprint, and the most sophisticated international initiatives will continue to fail without local buy-in or a grassroots structure from the get-go.
Rawa’s hybrid structure is designed uniquely for the context within which we work. It is essential for our journey, as the global diasporic and solidarity community is our key ally in advocating for a more equitable philanthropic practice and widening the circle of support for Palestinian self-determined liberation. That said, Rawa cannot succeed if it is primarily supported by a few institutional funders, so we continue to keep focused on increasing our diversity and expanding to include many stakeholders for local community philanthropic support.
By: Colleen Jankovic & Moukhtar Kokache, Rawa: Creative Palestinian Communities Fund