EntreMundos and GoPhilanthropic on the art and craft of shifting power
29 May 2019
As the conversation about shifting power is beginning to gain some traction in development circles, two organizations from the “north” and “south” are demonstrating what these partnerships look like in practice. EntreMundos, in Xelajú, Guatemala, promotes grassroots development for local and national impact and supports communities’ capacity to defend their rights. With a seven-person staff and local board, EntreMundos makes about 100 grants annually to community groups and indigenous organizations, offers grantee gatherings and certification trainings, publishes a magazine, and runs a volunteer programme to increase visibility for local people’s solutions. U.S.-based GoPhilanthropic Foundation is a community of donors, including “everyday philanthropists,” that provides funding and networking support for some 40 local programmes in Central America, Asia, and Africa. GoPhilanthropic’s mission is to strengthen the impact of “courageous people quietly accomplishing great things.”
The organizations have joined forces to support communities working on local solutions and strengthening their own resources to realize their vision for change. In 2018 GoPhilanthropic provided support for EntreMundos’ community grant portfolio, and in 2019 GoPhilanthropic is investing in EntreMundos’ local capacity building efforts. But the goal of the partnership goes far beyond funding. Following is a conversation conducted by Mary Fifield, on behalf of the GFCF, over email with Yessica Pastor, Executive Director for EntreMundos, and Linda DeWolf and Lydia Dean, co-founders of GoPhilanthropic, about working together to shift power.
Mary Fifield (MF): Does the term “community philanthropy” resonate with your work, and if so, how?
Yessica Pastor, EntreMundos (YP): I hadn’t heard of the term “community philanthropy” before, but I think EntreMundos has been part of the community philanthropy movement for a long time without knowing it. It relates to our mission in two ways: 1) the creation of networks and synergies based on common values, and 2) the recognition of the work of grassroots organizations. We seek to create awareness and relationships so that communities develop their own local institutions. In fact, we are proud to be an example of this type of empowerment, since 18 years ago we began as a project started and operated by foreigners, and now 80% of our team is Guatemalan. This doesn’t mean we no longer collaborate with foreign partners; on the contrary, having a local team has strengthened our connection to, and credibility with, foreign volunteers and donors.
Linda DeWolf and Lydia Dean, GoPhilanthropic (LDW & LD): We believe that effective philanthropy includes a shift from traditional models of giving to a more participatory, open model of trust and understanding and that many of our most intractable problems can only be solved with a collaborative global approach. This belief acts as our cornerstone and, we feel, captures the genuine essence of community philanthropy.
In all honesty we did not necessarily start out this way when some eight years ago we created the GoPhilanthropic Foundation. In the beginning, we were more than a little naïve, with limited experience and knowledge in international community building. Our goal was to help solve global issues through supporting grassroots NGOs around the world, but we were not as sensitive to some of the key issues of community philanthropy as we are now, such as each region’s unique cultural and historical variables, not to mention the subtle interplays at work between an international (Western) funder and a grantee.
As we spent more time in the field, we began to more clearly understand how complicated community philanthropy can be. We came to understand that the only way to be truly effective is to come with a “listen and learn” attitude, acknowledging that those who are affected by an issue typically have the best solutions. We also found that we had much to learn about other cultures and their traditions and that even a choice of words can quickly shift the dynamics of a situation. Our years in the field have taught us that a true partnership involves a genuine shift in power from grantor to grantee, providing support as needed but then letting go and embracing a commitment to community ownership and long-term sustainability.
MF: Do you consider shifting power to be part of your work?
YP: We definitely see it as a shifting power. In the six years we have worked on the grant programme, we’ve learned a lot about how our approach influences positive attitudes and actions in organizations. The programme began in a less structured way, but each year we continued improving our methodology. Whereas we used to make “donations,” now we give grants; we encourage organizations not just to receive but also to contribute. Grantees agree to a series of commitments and responsibilities with us, among those to contribute some of their own resources for the project. It surprised us that once we requested that communities make a contribution of some kind (such as materials, workshop space, food, etc.), the project results improved. For some organizations we were their “first donor”, so the experience also provided them tools to apply for larger grants from others.
When we work with groups through our grant programme, we also link them to our capacity building programme. Our intent is that organizations that receive funding also participate in training to improve their administrative processes and project management skills. Our goal is not for them to enhance the skills they use to execute the project funded by EntreMundos but to strengthen their skills for any project.
MF: What are your reflections about shifting power as an international grantmaker? How do you educate donors on this topic?
LDW & LD: There can be a lot of power (whether intended or not) associated with grantmaking in terms of where the money sits, how expectations are set, who has authority, etc. Our intention and goal – and we are not saying we always succeed – are to establish true collaborative relationships with a balance of ownership and power in order to make the most impact within a community. We recognize that we may sometimes come with unconscious biases, even unintended actions that send the wrong message. This journey towards becoming a fully intentional community philanthropist is not always easy, but we are fully committed to being open in our thinking and to trying different approaches in grantmaking.
Our GoPhil journeys (visits to partner sites) are one of our most powerful tools to help educate donors about shifting power and community capacity building. We find donors often start their first journey with us with a traditional “deficit model” of thinking, i.e. that there are problems they have the ability to solve, handouts they need to take and give out on visits, decisions they need to make about what’s best for a programme – in other words, the perfect storm of a typical donor-driven model. Our role has been to carefully and thoughtfully educate our donors, to help them discover through an orientation on the particular culture and programs how to become informed grassroots philanthropists. The most powerful catalyst in this learning journey however is giving donors, or potential donors, the opportunity to hear for themselves how community development has the greatest impact when the beneficiaries are involved and empowered to lead the way. During a trip, we reinforce this awareness before and after a partner visit through careful preparation and debriefing sessions and, again, encourage travelers to be in the moment and to listen deeply to what they are hearing.
MF: How important is it to build local resources, including funds from the local community, and how do you do it?
YP: The experience of the last 18 years has shown us that collaboration (not necessarily just for funding purposes) is very beneficial but not very common. However, at EntreMundos we always encourage our partners to build alliances amongst each other, and we’ve felt some satisfaction seeing some examples of this: organizations collaborating on human resources needs or sharing contacts and experience on a particular theme. We try to model collaboration by offering partner organizations volunteer support and free space in our magazine so that they can share their own opinions and analysis on local development.
I think that fundraising at the local level is a huge challenge. There are a lot of barriers such as a culture of individualism, lack of knowledge, and above all the economic limitations faced by the majority of the Guatemalan population. However, at EntreMundos we’ve always tried to raise social awareness among organizations and the general public. Our organization is experiencing significant financial challenges currently, but these same challenges have allowed us to identify new opportunities we hadn’t explored previously. For example, in June 2018 we had the opportunity to launch a project to support people affected by the eruption of Volcán de Fuego, and we asked people from our community (Xelajú) to donate food, medicine, clothing and other items for those who had to move to shelters. The response was very positive. We are now working on a similar project to support EntreMundos’ general operations called Bazar Solidario. We ask people to donate to us second-hand items in good condition, and we sell these items at very low cost to raise money for the organization.
LDW & LD: We believe communities are strongest when they do for themselves. That means working with our partners to help identify and create diversification strategies such as local partnerships and funding as much as possible. A high priority for GoPhil is to avoid dependencies, thus over the past year or so we made the decision to fund programmes for a shorter period of time (typically up to five years) which we make known to our partners upfront.
Part of our funding process is also to engage in regular conversations that help us understand the skills and assets needed for a diverse network and funding base. We have developed a model that centers around technical support and capacity building – both at an organizational as well as a more recently on a personal leadership development level – based on a self-assessment tool, which we created with a few partner programmes in order to understand areas our partners wish to focus on. We are looking back at that tool now with additional partners to understand how we can ensure these tools are not influenced, unconsciously, by Western points of view.
MF: What reflections do you have on your partnership with each other, especially as it relates to building and sharing power?
LDW & LD: EntreMundos is our first partner who represents a vast network of local, community- based NGOs in Guatemala. We were quickly able to find grant opportunities that matched GoPhil’s priority areas, such as the Small Grants and Fuego Disaster Relief efforts. We feel that our partnership helps us to understand issues in Guatemala far better than we ever could on our own, and we love EntreMundos’ grassroots philosophy of identifying issues from the inside out, not doing “for or to them,” and investing in building local skills and capacity. With this model we feel we each carry a level of accountability required of any responsible grantor or grantee.
YP: GoPhilanthropic and Entremundos are both looking to strengthen the impact of grassroots organizations through training and education and building solidarity among organizations, donors, and direct constituents. Because we share these values, vision, and approach, we are creating trust as partners. We work together to determine how best to use the funds and respond to needs as they arise. For example, this year GoPhilanthropic is supporting our capacity-building workshops, but in the future we would like to develop new grant programs for education, health, or perhaps another topic that we brainstorm with donors based on shared priorities and values.
MF: What reflections or advice do you have for other grassroots grantmakers looking to shift power, especially those with small budgets?
YP: I think for all donors it’s important to create strong links with the organizations they are supporting. Our grant programme really helped us get to know grassroots organizations and become familiar with their team, work, location, needs, and context. It’s clear that for geographically distant donors with small budgets it is hard to achieve the same face-to-face relationship with grantees, but there are always ways to compensate for the physical distance and maintain contact. It’s just a matter of identifying the different ways to be connected to each other.
These connections are very important because they allow the donor to see more than just short term results. Regular communication between donors and grantees provides information about how support over the long-term is positively impacting the organization and the community and creating shifts in power.
LDW & LD: We’ve come to appreciate how necessary it is to take risks and be flexible, because changes are inevitable. Effective communication, as Yessica says, is essential for us as grantmakers to navigate those curves in the road with our grantee partners. This is especially important when different cultures are coming together, as things don’t always (in fact, rarely!) go as planned and shifts sometimes need to be made on the turn of a dime. Being a small organization with more nimble decision-making processes gives us an advantage in these situations.
Likewise, it’s important not to over complicate things and look for small wins. Small wins show tangible results to people who may be skeptical of their own agency to change systems, and they also help us show our donors the power of small grants. Achievement of a small but meaningful goal builds confidence not just in the outcome but in the people and processes that made that outcome a reality. That confidence is a major catalyst when we talk about shifting power. So many of us in Western cultures believe that bigger is better and therefore more effective, when in fact lasting change comes from people doing for themselves at the scale that makes sense in their context.
Mary Fifield is a writer, community development practitioner, and principal of Kaleidoscope Consulting. Mary has carried out a variety of research and writing assignments with the GFCF, including An untapped resource? The extractives industry and community self-management of assets.