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Welcome to the Giving Thought Podcast, a bi-weekly exploration of trends in global philanthropy and civil society from the Charities Aid Foundation’s in-house think-tank, Giving Thought.

In each episode your host Rhodri Davies (formerly with co-host Adam Pickering) explores a big issue, theme or trend and analyses what it means for philanthropy and civil society around the world.

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Sep 15, 2020

In this episode we talk to Regan Ralph, President and CEO of the Fund for Global Human Rights, about her experience of funding right-based movements around the world and what she has learned about the challenges and opportunities of funding social movements through philanthropy. Including:

  • What does philanthropic funding for social movements look like? i.e. what are the various elements of an overall movement that can be funded- e.g. grassroots organising/movement building, policy work, advocacy, legal challenges etc?
  • How can a funder determine where best to allocate their resources in order to support a movement most effectively?
  • Are traditional nonprofits and funders too often a reflection of existing systems and power structures to push for the kind of radical solutions we need to deal with huge global challenges like the climate crisis and racial inequality/injustice? Is that why more people seem to be looking towards social movements?
  • Can we find forms of philanthropy that are genuinely able to support fundamental reform to the very systems in which wealth has been created? What are some of the hallmarks of this type of philanthropy?
  • How big a risk is there that foundations and other funders co-opt social movements by deliberately introducing grant stipulations etc aimed to direct the focus of the movement away from controversial areas or soften their tactics?
  • Is there also a danger that even well-intentioned funders inadvertently skew the direction of movements by virtue of the choices they make about what to fund and what not to fund? How can we avoid this risk?
  • Does a desire for “measurable impact” from funders limit their willingness to fund social change movements, because the success of their work may not be easy to attribute or quantify?
  • Can funding from donors/foundations confer legitimacy on movements as well as financial resources? Is this useful for the movements?
  • Can funders play an important role by taking a “helicopter view” and helping to share knowledge and insight between social movements that might otherwise never come into contact? How do they ensure they do this within becoming directive?
  • Why is core-cost and multi-year funding so important when supporting movements? Are we seeing more funders recognise this and adapt the way they fund?
  • There is a lot of focus in global philanthropy and civil society at the moment on “shifting power”- from funders to recipients, from the global north to the global south etc. Why is this so important, and how do you ensure through your work that power is transferred at the same time as financial resources?
  • Are there limits to empowering the grassroots? I.e. are there situations in which it is better for expert funders and organisations to set aims and design programs to deliver outcomes that are in the best interests of communities? Or is it always better to empower people to seek their own solutions, even when those solutions might be less “effective”?
  • We are seeing particular focus right now on the idea of “leaderless” movements, with decentralised or non-hierarchical structures (e.g. XR, #MeToo etc). Are there particular challenges for traditional funders in engaging with such movements?


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