In December 2018, while trying to persuade the “mother” of an organization for senior LGBTQIA people in Pasay City to apply for funding for their project/s, I was asked: “Where do they send the money if we don’t even have a bank account?”
In January 2019, while trying to encourage a Deaf trans community leader of an LGBTQIA group in Davao City to get grants to finance their efforts, I was asked: “Will they give us money if we’re not even registered with SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission)?”
And in February 2019, while reprimanding a Deaf friend, who also heads a pioneering Deaf LGBTQIA organization (based in Mandaluyong City) in the Philippines for getting used by Hearing organizations that avail of her services (without payment), thereby using her affiliation, I was bluntly told: “This is arguably the only way for us to ‘participate’ in ongoing efforts; we tried applying for funds before, but were told we’re too small, we don’t have the skills, we can’t even do accounting, and so on…”
These are – of course – only some of the more recent somewhat-similar assertions I continue to come across when chatting with grassroots LGBTQIA leaders in the Philippines. This inability to get funds NOT because they can’t do the job (or are not doing the work already), but because they’re not paper-pushers, they don’t know the “right people” (and so don’t know whose asses to kiss), they haven’t been provided training, and so on…
And in all these instances, the analogy that ALWAYS comes to my mind is that issue encountered by fresh graduates when they apply for a job – i.e. companies want people with experience, so they won’t hire fresh graduates, though – if they don’t get hired, how can the fresh graduates then get this so-called experience? The fault isn’t with the applicant but the employer.
An in the case of NGOs and CBOs, the fault – and let’s be blunt here – is on the funder/donor agency because of existing notions and practices that really should be overhauled.
Now how to overhaul these notions? Here are practical tips…
1. Stop funding ONLY big NGOs (and often only those with personal connections to people working for you).
The REAL work is NOT DONE by many of these; instead, they’re merely middlemen that profit from the actual work of grassroots organizations that these bigger organizations “fund” to do the hard work for them.
Fund the actual workers, not just the paper-pushers.
2. Related to #1, fund the smaller organizations.
For instance, note how – in support of LGBTQIA efforts in, say, Africa or Asia – many American-based NGOs get the money, instead of the ACTUAL African and Asian NGOs. They bring “attention” to the LGBTQIA-related issues in these areas, sure; but too much money is wasted on PR, instead of the actual efforts to help those affected by anti-LGBTQIA efforts in these areas.
I have heard numerous excuses about the non-preference for smaller NGOs, e.g.:
But the smaller organizations aren’t familiar with accounting system/s, you say. I said: Then train them. Or just provide the funding so they can get the training themselves.
But the smaller organizations aren’t legal entities yet, you add. Then fund them so they can afford to legally register.
In a gist: Not funding smaller organizations end up promoting an erroneous “for profit” approach of so many bigger NGOs that, as mentioned, reap the benefits from the work of those at the grassroots.
3. Go beyond the reports.
Yes, yes, yes – reports are great and all. But if this is the ONLY (or even MAJOR) indicator of success, then there really is a need to reconsider why we’re in advocacy at all.
In New York in 2014, I once spoke with a worker in a funding agency who boasted to me that “we fund a faith-based effort in the Philippines”. When the name of the church that was given money was mentioned (along with its now-former-leader), I told this person that the same was kicked out of the church because of allegations that involved – among others – financial matters. This is, I added, common knowledge; it’s all over the Internet.
“No, you ARE mistaken,” she said to me, succinctly. “We must not be referring to the same person.”
“No, I’m not mistaken.”
“But the reports we received are… good.”
“Have you ever visited the Philippines? Or spoke to other Filipinos aside from this one person, particularly the beneficiaries?”
She looked at me like I was crazy: “We do NOT do that,” she said. “We rely on the reports given to us; we trust these.”
“Your loss,” I said, “though a bigger loss for the community that’s supposed to benefit from the already-extremely-limited funds.”
I never heard from her EVER again.
4. Reach across (more) aisles.
Dealing with people we’re comfy with is great; but if funds are given to the same people over and over and over again, this creates a “hierarchy” in service provision. This is why there’s the so-called “Bangkok Mafia” in Thailand (a group of people said to know the ‘who’s who’ as far as donors are concerned, and so have somewhat-exclusive access to them). Now, whether this is true or not is up for debate; but that this perception exists at all ought to be a source of worry. Because more than anything, it gives that impression of an “in” crowd, the “chosen ones”, the “gatekeepers”, with the rest basically dependent on their mercy…
5. Revisit indicators (of success or failure).
Yes, popularizing a hashtag created for an event is good and well, but this form of (support to) “keyboard activism” should be limited.
Interviewing a Maranao transwoman (who originally came from Marawi) in Iligan City, I was once told: “We don’t even have electricity; yet you expect us to be active online.”
In the end, pleasing the funders is all good (this comes with the territory); but shouldn’t efforts be made to benefit the people more?