To truly make a difference, we have learned that aid money must go beyond meeting short-term needs and start releasing long-term potential.
We have funded more than projects. We have funded the people and processes that drive them, and the structures that support them.
Ironically, money can be one of the most destabilizing tools outsiders wield in the work of building peace, or in any process involving international aid. From our vantage point as both funders and field workers, Catalyst for Peace saw the unique opportunity to develop a funding framework truly supporting local agency and sustainable peace from the inside, out.
Our local partners in conflict and post-conflict zones repeatedly told us that traditional, ’outside-in’ funding disempowers local voices and leadership, we listened. When we saw short-term aid generating only short-term advances, often followed by subsequent setbacks, we paid attention. We understand that catalyzing peace requires more than signing a check. We have learned that building sustainable peace (or any social good) from the inside-out requires an approach to funding grounded in important principles:
- Fund potential. Recognize immediate needs, yes. But recognize that critical resources to meet those needs reside within the community itself. Funding applied toward unlocking a community’s potential to develop sustainable solutions empowers the giver and the recipient.
- Fund process, not just product. Working from the idea that local communities have the resources they need to lead their own problem solving necessitates funding the process that helps tap those resources. It is common for funding to ignore process and focus on things that are more visible or tangible but less impactful. This needs to change.
- Fund platforms. The ‘platform’ includes the conceptualization of the work as well as the organizational infrastructure that supports it. Creating space for local leaders to define the problem and the community needs (instead of outsiders bringing their own assumptions about that) is a critical first step. Building on that, funding the time and space for the local (and ongoing) development of a strategic vision is critical to empowering local leadership. Finally, good work requires the support of a strong, responsive organizational infrastructure, and building one takes time, energy, and financial resources. Supporting financial capacity building can be especially critical in moving past long term donor dependency.
- Fund for the long term. Supporting the development of empowered local communities who lead their own peacebuilding and development is a long-term process. Long term funding gives local leaders the chance to think and act strategically, cultivate capacity and respond to emerging needs. Without this, sustainability is limited.
- Fund flexibly. Because real life is messy, programs need to evolve and change, and the best program design is emergent. Within donor constraints, flexible funding can support strong, responsive programs. Finding ways to appropriately involve recipients in decision making around funding can help transform unhealthy power dynamics.
- Fund across the firewalls. By breaking down unhealthy barriers between funders and practitioners or funders and recipients, an honest and ongoing dialogue develops that strengthens the work and everyone’s commitment to it. This requires ongoing open and honest conversation.
- Fund learning. Reflecting upon, evaluating and refining locally owned processes and platforms takes time and concerted, regular focus and attention. And it is one of the most critical components of program growth and effectiveness. Funding regular opportunities for learning, at all levels – local, regional, national, international – enhances the work in immeasurable ways.
- Fund in ways that connect you. It is too easy to use money or our status as a donors to distance ourselves from the big messy problems of the world. If we allow ourselves to think that money is the most important part of the work, we put ourselves above the people, processes, and platforms we fund. When we truly give of ourselves, and when we open ourselves in turn to be transformed by the work we’re doing, it supports the transformational impact of the work itself.
At Catalyst for Peace, we have embraced the privilege of being a donor as the privilege of being one of many strong voices in the inside-out process of building peace, committed to the difficult conversations required to live that out. And we continue to embrace sharing what we have learned.
Home page and current page banner image (c) Sara Terry for Catalyst for Peace