After eight years of evaluating advocacy and development programs for the big British grant-maker, Oxfam, Allison Davis noticed a common factor in success stories.
“The No. 1 thing that determines the success of anything seems to be how much people feel ownership of it,” she says.
Davis takes that observation to heart in her current career as a grant-maker. Now, she’s at Global Greengrants Fund, one of a small but growing set of funders that are handing over decision-making power directly to people they serve, a practice known as participatory grant-making.
Participatory grant-makers support a wide range of causes, including environmental work, disability rights, community development, and more. But they all share some version of that deceptively simple guiding principle common in grassroots and community work – that people closest to a problem have the knowledge, the commitment, and the relationships to solve it. And that they have a right to do so.
That’s such an intuitive concept, you’d think it would be a more natural conclusion in a sector charged with moving money to solve societal problems. But it’s also an idea that cuts deeply against longstanding power dynamics in philanthropy – likely one reason it’s been limited, and slow to spread to larger or more traditional foundations.