From firefighting to social justice: How One World Together strengthens social movements

Chief Steward Nicola Banks reflects on an event One World Together and One World Together’s Students’ Union Society hosted with two of our partners, the brilliant Community Savers in Manchester and the North-West and Muungano wa Wanavijiji in Kenya. 

Six Members of Community Savers and Mungano wa Wanavijiji sharing their experiences of the funding system, watched by three members of the One World Together Students' Union Society.

Multiple crises are exacerbating pressures on low-income communities and the needs and vulnerability of their community members are increasing. 

Yet funding is harder to get than ever.

That was the clear message from community organisers at a recent event we held exploring the funding landscape for social movements. ‘We’ are One World Together, a new social enterprise that Chibwe Masabo Henry and I co-founded this year, and our newly initiated One World Together Students’ Union Society. We were lucky to have our Kenyan partner, Muungano wa Wanavijiji, in Manchester and took the opportunity to bring them together with our UK partner, Community Savers

We heard their experiences of working tirelessly with and for their communities and the frustrations, inefficiencies and injustices of the existing funding landscape when it comes to supporting community-led development. We discussed how One World Together has the potential to transform this and provide a much-needed lifeline to social movements like them – but only with your support.

One thing that Community Savers and Muungano wa Wanavijiji both emphasised is that supporting their communities and struggling against exclusionary systems is a constant fight. Fighting against urban development processes and developments that push long-standing community residents out. Fighting for the basic services and support that should reach them but do not. Fighting to get their voices heard and to overcome deep-rooted prejudgements and stereotypes about them among decision makers. Fighting to complete funding application after funding application. And fighting tirelessly to give their best support to vulnerable members of their communities. 

“There’s no money left” 

We know that times are tough globally; countries and citizens around the world are facing multiple crises that show no signs of abating. But these fights are exacerbated by an increasingly difficult funding landscape. Both Muungano wa Wanavijiji and Community Savers have experienced a reduced flow of funding in recent years.

This situation has exacerbated an ongoing treadmill of constant funding applications and added to the long list of hugely demanding activities members are involved in. “We could be doing something so much better with our time than constantly doing funding applications,” Community Savers members argued. “We’d much rather be supporting people in crisis.”

One World Together, CLASS and SDI Kenya discussing their perspective on supporting social movements.

CLASS, Community Savers’ support NGO, highlighted that donors in the UK have responded to intersecting social and economic crises by funding causes that help those at the sharpest end of hardship. However, this approach directs investment away from the systems and processes that could solve the structural problems leading to poverty and exclusion. 

Increasing difficulties accessing funding also risk eroding the trust that bonds communities to their organisations and comes at a huge personal cost. Following Muungano wa Wanavijiji’s first call to support youth groups, an incredible 1,000 groups applied for support to promote various aspects of development in their communities, but they could only support six. “As much as we’re doing savings”, they explained, “it’s just not enough. When people come to us asking for help and we can’t give it to them, it’s difficult. They don’t come back and might lose trust. We need this support to reach more people, in the community and beyond.” 

Muungano and Community Savers both highlighted the dangers of “fitting into the boxes” and constantly “showcasing” the depths of poverty and deprivation required by funders in applications. This has taken a significant personal toll on Community Savers members. “What kind of impact do you think that has on us”, they ask, “to have to say how things bad are in the community all the time? You have to say, ‘my community is depressed, my community is this’…It is so draining. The reality is that we are oppressed, not depressed”.

“We can just about firefight, but how can we get ahead?”

If the end goal for society is long-term structural change and social justice, CLASS raised the important point that the opposite is happening. The existing funding landscape is about ‘sticking plasters’ rather than addressing the root causes of societal problems. It is not providing the support and flexible funding that community organisations need to mobilise, maintain and build upon community strength and infrastructure. 

Both Community Savers and Muungano highlighted how detrimental it is for community organisations not to be able to respond to their communities in crisis. “When people come to us asking for help and we can’t give it, it’s difficult” said Muungano. Likewise Community Savers asked, “If someone comes to us asking for help because they’re in crisis, we can’t say, ‘okay, let’s fill out these forms together and we’ll see if we can help you when we hear back in six weeks’. That’s not okay”.

The bottom line of the funding landscape was clear from both organisations: existing funding may help us firefight some challenges in the community. But it won’t help us move forwards. 

It’s all about the community – but there’s little funding or donor interest 

For both Manchester and Nairobi, one thing was clear: as cities grow and develop, they do so in highly unequal ways. A community’s ability to fight against such inequality requires a strong and mobilised community bonded by trust and the ability to support one another when help is needed – a goal exemplified in both Community Savers’ and Muungano’s savings processes. In looking after each other’s precious resources, members gain control over their lives and help dispel a narrative that has proven to be a myth: that government help is on its way. 

A packed University of Manchester audience watching the event.

In coming together to challenge the status quo, communities feel empowered to learn and shape what processes of development works best for them. Yet, herein lies another paradox. While both organisations identify the mobilisation process as the single most powerful tool in responding to community problems, it is the tool in which funders are least interested. “They don’t want to fund the community organising bit”, Community Savers explained, “despite this being the foundations to our strength and sustainability. Where there is a bonded community like this, that is where the community still flourishes long after any project has finished”.

How does One World Together fit into this funding landscape? 

Why can’t we do better than this? It was clear to the packed room how hard Muungano and Community Savers’ expert organisers are working to fight for more equitable and sustainable processes of urban development. But existing funding systems don’t recognise that. And they definitely don’t support it financially.

I have been lucky to see the power that organisations like Muungano and Community Savers have in their community through their long partnership with GDI and their generous contributions to our teaching and research here at Manchester. But after many years of researching challenges like this in funding systems and, more recently, joining discussions among NGOs and policymakers actively seeking to change these roadblocks, it was clear to me that there is little hope for genuinely transformative change in systems and funding organisations that are so deeply ‘stuck’. 

That’s why this year we launched One World Together to build a new system of funding for local and community-based organisations rooted in values of solidarity, trust and equity. It has one overarching goal: to strengthen brilliant organisations like Community Savers and Muungano through long-term and unrestricted funds they can spend how and when they want. 

How will we do this? We trust that communities like Community Savers and Muungano have the right solutions to existing problems, and simply lack the right terms or volumes of funding to implement them. As such, we’re starting from scratch to deliver an affordable and radically transparent solution that gets more of your generous support to our brilliant partners in the long term, helping them move from fire-fighting to long-term positive change.

Where do you come in? Support community organisations through One World Together 

We can’t build this funding model without you. As a supporter of citizen led change, we ask you to take two actions: 

  1. Join as a One World Together Global Citizen through an affordable annual membership, starting from as little as £5 a year. 

This enables us to do something that is unique in the sector – become a financially-sustainable funding organisation. It will allow us to support our partners rather than invest huge time and resources in endless funding applications and marketing. It will enable us to invest in our learning and growth and potentially offer additional forms of support to our partners once our operational costs have been met.

  • Sign up to an affordable monthly contribution to our Solidarity Fund, starting from as little as £1.25/month. 

Every penny of this contribution (minus the transaction fee) will go to our four partners to spend how they see is best. It’s a game-changer. You might not think that your £1 a month can save the world. But if enough of us come together, it really can. It is more powerful to give small and commit for the long-term, because that brings certainty to our partners who can plan for a better future.. 

But we’re not all about money. We’re excited to be developing a model that gives our supporters deeper engagement and insight into processes of community development. In early 2024 we’ll be launching an online community space (it’s going to be awesome!) that links you directly with our partners (and us). 

We’ll host events and discussions, online chats and a range of different content and materials that enable our partners to give you insights into what they do and how they do it on their own terms. This will put an end to the often demoralising and extractive storytelling that dominates NGO feedback, instead giving you an insight into the real time ups and downs of communities working hard to change their trajectories.

Ready to help amazing community organisations move from firefighting to social justice? Please join our wave of change today!