Faiza Khan: Listening and voice should be key to funders

We need to understand when it is helpful for us to be there and when to get out of the way

Faiza Khan
Faiza Khan

What place does ‘voice’ have in grant-making?

This is a question that we have been asking ourselves at the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. We know that we are in a moment when our responses to societal challenges need to be joined up with those that we fund, those that we work alongside and those that we seek to support.

Listening and giving voice are a key part of that. Austerity, the lobbying act, trust in charities are all big issues, some of which have now been helpfully acknowledged by government in its recent Civil Society Strategy.

As foundations, we are privileged to back innovative, inspiring people and, as an independent funder, we can back organisations that campaign overtly for change. We can stay the course with them, making a long-term commitment to support them, free from political cycles and some of the commissioning constraints that we have seen widely reported. We can fund new approaches to long-term social issues and can help to safeguard the capacity for people who want to develop solutions but see other forms of funding dry up.

Yet we have more to offer than money. We are thinking about what else we can offer to support innovation and give voice. For example, brokering networks, working with others to make our joint resources go further, brokering intelligence and expertise and being willing to step back and listen so that we can learn. All form an important part of effective grant-making.

Issues of legitimacy, however, are very different when funding changes. We understand that we are there to provide the resources needed to facilitate change. The expertise, the vision and the innovation happens in the fields that we fund. We need to understand when it is helpful for us to be there with those that we fund and when we need to get out of the way to let change happen and practice develop.

We want to play our role in pioneering philanthropy, both as an independent grant-maker and as a partner to others seeking to achieve social justice. Our responsibility is to share knowledge, open data, make expertise easily reachable and share the work of those that we fund so it can go further than an individual grant alone can achieve. Collectively, over time a better understanding of the work that our grantees are pursuing we hope will lead to more investment in their work, a greater degree of trust in civil society and an understanding of the value of this work, especially after the significant cuts that we have seen in the sectors in which we operate.

There are big challenges ahead: the drive to make the most of digital technology that can support charities and movements like never before, the challenge to be honest about diversity and in particular racial inequality, the humility to recognise when we are not meeting the needs of wider society and need to change our approach and being ready and able to work with grantees to get their stories heard, whether that is by funding organisations to make the invisible visible or by using the platform that we enjoy as funders to share the experiences that can most effect the change that we wish to see.

Faiza Khan is director of policy and communications at the Paul Hamlyn Foundation

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