As academics, practitioners and students interested in global development, solidarity, equity and trust are all values that are close to our heart. But what has led us to take the big step of launching a radical new social enterprise? The answer is that we have all experienced from different perspectives – whether researching, studying or working for NGOs and grant-making organisations – the absolute failures that characterise the current system.
Despite the vast amounts of money reaching charities that tackle global development, the charity sector is very unequal. This means that most of this money does not reach the smallest organisations, those closest to the communities that are experiencing these problems first-hand. And when it does, it is not given on terms that give these organisations power over how to spend it. You can learn more about that in our earlier blog here.
You might not want to take our word for it that the current system is not fit for purpose. So we thought we’d share some key readings on the subject that have shaped or affirmed our thinking here at One World Together.
1. Humentum’s “Breaking the Starvation Cycle”
This 2022 research by Humentum revealed game-changing findings around the extent to which systems of international funding are operating in ways that contradict their intended purpose of promoting long-term development outcomes.
The study surveyed the perceptions and finances of 81 NGOs around the world, in the process revealing a catastrophic Starvation Cycle through which international funding practices undermine the strength and sustainability of the very organisations they are purporting to support. This is because by funding along strict project-based modalities these funding practices significantly under-resource certain overheads and organisational functionings that thriving organisations depend upon.
While organisations can fundraise for very specific project inputs and deliverables, other core costs are much harder to cover through funding partnerships. It doesn’t take an expert to see how core these are to strong and resilient organisations, because they include staffing, premises, safeguarding, their own internal fundraising capacity, and upgrading technology and management information systems.
Inadequate cost coverage and limited access to unrestricted income, the report finds, is making it extremely challenging for most NGOs to achieve stable financial health. They outline three areas that international funders need to work towards:
What are we doing at One World Together to deliver on these goals?
Quite simply, everything! We have designed our entire model around the question of ‘How can we get a greater volume of long-term and unrestricted funding to brilliant local organisations around the world’. This has shaped our vision and values, how we operate, and the support we give our partners.
Most importantly here is the fact that we fund organisations, not projects. That’s because we trust that our partners are those best placed to identify solutions to the challenges they face. We see our role as one of supporting them by providing finance that builds their organisational strength and resilience, while of course, bringing their work to a new audience and spotlighting the brilliant work that they do.
2. IVAR’s ‘The Holy Grail of Funding’
We love this report. So often we focus on analysing the problems and this one does the opposite, celebrating and detailing one solution that might not be the common practice (yet) – but certainly needs to be! This report celebrates a small but powerful group of 12 donors who have shared their experiences of why and how they have moved towards unrestricted funding in their UK grant-making
The document is a call to action for foundations to expand the impact of what they’re doing through a switch towards unrestricted funding, outlining seven ways in which unrestricted funding adds value, answering questions about how and why foundations give unrestricted funding and provides advice from their group of funders.
Can a report start with a more powerful quote from a respondent than this: “Unrestricted funding is the single most powerful thing that funders can do to support charities. It enables us to be agile and decisive in dealing with the ever-changing demands of the current uncertainty, while planning as best we can for whatever the future holds”? The report highlights that unrestricted funding provides that critical link of adaptability that enables them to listen to the communities they work with and implement solutions based on what they need and prioritise; its power is transformational in this respect.
The Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) works to strengthen communities across the UK through action research, education and training. While they also receive specific funding to deliver research, evaluation and learning, IVAR too highlight the role that their own receipt of unrestricted funding makes in their unique vantage point, accrediting it for enabling them to maintain their own independence and neutrality, giving them “the freedom to act as a sounding board and a thought leader, at the interface between frontline charities and their funders [and] allows them to initiate work in complex or neglected areas”.
Long-term and unrestricted funding is in our DNA and the power and potential of this was illustrated by the first unrestricted grant that we gave to our partners. Amidst the cost of living crisis that is hitting families and communities across the UK so hard, it enabled Community Savers to provide emergency payments or in-kind support to families in crisis in their communities. In Kenya, our partner Raising Futures Kenya used part of it to continue emergency feeding programmes in their two schools in areas hit so heavily by drought and part of it to support young graduates of their training programmes to certify their skills development (increasing the returns to their skills in the labour market). And our other Kenyan partner, Muungano wa Wanavijiji’s youth federation used the money to support peace brigades across Nairobi’s informal settlements in the run up to last election, uniting young people against electoral violence and educating them around the importance of their vote.
As many of us know from our own experience, having a flexible income flow is critical when it comes to responding to changing or unexpected circumstances and to crises; as these pass, it can then be invested back into long-term goals and strategies. Supporting these processes is exactly what we want to do at One World Together.
3. Derek Bardowell’s Giving Back: How to Do Good, Better
This is a must read!
Very much aligned with One World Together’s roots and philosophy, in this brilliant book Derek Bardowell offers a narrative that is critical of existing charitable systems but also solutions-oriented, offering an uplifting and inspiring range of ideas and ways in which readers can do things better when it comes to supporting charities and, more importantly, to supporting stronger civil society and grassroots organisations.
It’s richness, depth and call to action is particularly strong since it draws upon Derek’s rich experience in the charity sector and in this he highlights the need for much more radical systems of giving (that reorient funding and power to the grassroots) for problems in the sector to be overcome.
Derek carefully outlines and illustrates the ways in which the UK’s charitable sector has emerged to operates on the basis that wealth and power knows what is best for communities facing disadvantage. Such a professionalised charitable sector lacking in diversity has led to structural racism that has ‘dimmed the lights’ of marginalised individuals and communities that know best how to solve the problems they face.
If you are just getting familiar with how One World Together operates, you’ll be happy to know that we have designed our values and model in order to solve these exact problems that Derek so articulately outlines. We have emerged as an explicitly radical offering that sees no future for the heavily professionalised (and expensive) intermediary organisations that dominate the UK’s charity sector. We pool the funds that our Global Citizens donate and give these directly on a long-term and unrestricted basis to our brilliant partner organisations. That means that they can spend the money exactly as they like – this might be to plan and invest strategically or to respond to difficult circumstances as they emerge. In this new modality of funding we invest (with your support) in strong local organisations rather than projects – and you just need to take a brief look at the Humentum report above to understand why this is quite so important.
4. Jon Alexander’s Citizens: Why the Key to Fixing Everything is All of Us
We came along this book well into our One World Together journey and it does the most magnificent job at articulating why we’re doing what we’re doing.
We can be left feeling helpless in the world that we’re in, increasingly aware of the deeply unequal systems ruled by powerful players and by massive global challenges that include but are not limited to poverty, inequality and climate change.
Jon Alexander’s book is so powerful for empowering us to move beyond this feeling of helplessness to realise our own power and potential for making a difference. Our power, he outlines, is pushing back against a capitalist system that has positioned us as ‘Consumers’ in a self-interested and competitive society. We must instead work to reclaim our status as ‘Citizens’ and find ways to demand our involvement in decisions that affect our lives and societies.
We believe wholeheartedly in Jon’s belief that ‘we humans are collaborative, creative and caring Citizens by nature’. And like Jon, we believe that we can’t just wait for other people to fix things – we believe that it’s us, ourselves, that together offer the greatest power for not only demanding, but for doing things differently. We can’t wait for the organisations and systems that thrive through inequality to change – but we can play our part in building new systems based on the right principles, like One World Together.
You may have noticed that one of our core values is ‘solidarity’. Our vision of One World Together has never been as simplistic as raising money for brilliant local organisations. We believe that a truly impactful and moral charitable sector must be more than the sum of its transactions.
We believe that genuine engagement is the building block of the solidarity we envision and aim to achieve this through our Community Space (launching towards the end of 2023) that will link up our partners and Global Citizens directly. This will be an interactive space that generates discussion, debate and learning, where our partners can demonstrate their successes and challenges and highlight the importance of this new mode of funding. And it will be a space where our Global Citizens can ask questions, engage directly with our partners and potentially find new ways of supporting them.
With our intention of nurturing a new generation of supporters of global development we are also launching our first Student’s Union society at the University of Manchester in 2023 and will be delighted to support students at other universities to do similar. Through these society members can learn about problems in the broader sector, build relationships with brilliant local organisations, and do local fundraising and advocacy work that catalyses the One World Together movement!
5. Nicola Banks and Dan Brockington’s project mapping the UK’s development NGO sector
You may know that our Co-Founders are academics in their ‘day jobs’. So it would feel wrong not to include some of the academic research that has influenced and inspired One World Together!
One of these projects was Niki’s work with Dan Brockington that ‘mapped’ the UK’s development NGO sector. It was a massive project, first building a list of a UK charities that could constitute ‘development’ NGOs into a database and then inputting their annual incomes, expenditures and sources of income across a five-year period. There are so many fascinating insights here, including the size and continued growth of the sector and its massive unevenness – nearly 90% of the sector’s entire income of £7 billion in 2015 went to the largest charities.
This work was really influential to Niki – not only in working towards finding an alternative to these very unequal and expensive sectoral mechanics when it comes to resource allocation in the sector. Perhaps even more so was their findings about the scale of the British public’s generosity when it comes to supporting global development. They donated an average of £2 billion a year to the sector across the five years of study; they were the biggest sole provider of finances to development NGOs and donated more than the next two biggest contributors combined (the UK government and funding from other charity intermediaries).
With a public so committed to global development causes, we felt confident that they would get behind a radical new system for supporting global development. One World Together was born to do exactly this – redirect the generosity of the British public directly to local and community-based organisations who may be best-placed to identify and solve their own challenges, but who in reality receive a fraction of their much-needed resources (and when they do, it usually comes with heavy restrictions on how it is spent). This isn’t just the right thing to do in terms of strengthening local actors and building awareness and trust in this critical alternative. It is also much more cost-effective given the massive fundraising and administration costs associated with the largest NGOs.
The last few years have been very tough on the charity sector as a whole. The pandemic and subsequent cost-of-living crisis has meant funding in the sector has decreased substantially. Our model was designed around affordability even before these crises. We centred ourselves around movement principles that prioritise a broad-base of support above the highest value donations. We are stronger together, and in a model prioritising understanding and engagement alongside donations, we see affordability as the key to our inclusivity and to building as big a narrative and impact around doing things differently that may lead to wider change in the sector.
But these financial crises that have led to lower volumes of funding in the sector also makes it even more imperative for every penny to get where it counts. One World Together’s Solidarity Fund is designed explicitly to make sure you know that’s what will happen when you donate your £1.25 to us. If you don’t think £1 can be powerful, then our partner Lwanga Bwalya from Play it Forward Zambia said it best at our launch:
“What does a pound mean to you? I can tell you what it means to me. £1 can give a young person meals for a week… But what you are actually giving them is time. Because for some children their dream is just not to go to bed hungry. And it means if you can feed them for a week they can look up, have time to play, time to actually think through their future…Time is hope, and if you give that enough to a community they themselves can then step up and surprise us with their success.”
So please, do build our strength by becoming a One World Together Global Citizen and signing up for your affordable monthly contribution to our Solidarity Fund.
A more equitable system is in all of our hands.