In his reflections as a leader of a community based foundation – FOCOLD -, Jones Mwalwanda finds that funders (mostly) find it particularly difficult to consult directly with youth-led local organizations in program design and to integrate these data into programming.
Traditional sources of information still play a dominant part in program design; where many funders still rely on channels like donor conferences, newspaper articles and academic research to inform their opinions, while the voice of youth is often not considered. Funders, program designers and policy makers are generally keen to include such children and youth consultations in program design, but often fail to do so in practice. This is either because they do not have the appropriate resources or because they do not know how to target relevant children and youth groups.
Power dynamics & representation
As a starting point, funder agencies in the Global North and South should always consider that when working with youth-led groups, it is vital to consider and acknowledge the decision-making (or power) dynamics of any given situation, because young people are often in situations where decisions are being made for them, and exerted over them by older adults and institutions.
Traditional application procedures are often extensive and require technical knowledge and expertise to produce a competitive proposal. Many youth-led local organizations and other grassroots groups struggle to understand what is exactly being asked of them, and may find it difficult to get their point across. If funders use a model that allows grantees to answer some of their more difficult application questions, this would allow grantees to better express their ideas.
Certain funders have in place a complicated application process that have made youth-led organizations unable to prepare their applications. This has resulted in low funding among the youth-led organizations.
The due diligence requirement which has high level tools that funders use to measure the capacity before awarding the grant for youth-led and international organizations are the same, causing further disparity in funding. You cannot compare a youth organization with an international organization. They are totally different and they cannot score the same, this process of funders using standard tools on due diligence exercise has made more youth-led institutions lose the opportunity for funding even if their application was strong.
Prioritizing advised funding
Allocation of funding to youth-led local organizations is quite minimal compared to other organizations; this has affected youth-led organizations when it comes to access to funding. Funders have the tendency of funding the youth-led organizations in the short term, and this has resulted in very minimal impact of the projects and sometimes you can hardly appreciate the impact.
Jones posits that “you can’t make decisions about youth in their absence”. With children and youth involvement, the work is much more meaningful, much more relevant, and to be perfectly honest, a lot more fun. Their perspectives are very fresh and new. They challenge a lot of old assumptions, and you get a much stronger decision-making process if you are working with the young people who are to benefit from your program.
Funders should envisage taking risks as an integral part of addressing the youth-led groups challenge. Given that funders have a unique independent mandate and are ultimately accountable only to their boards, they can and should push boundaries. Risk-taking must thus be encouraged, both when making funding decisions and also in terms of geographical allocations.
Funders should mitigate risks through partnerships and financing structures. Funders in Global North and South can mitigate some of the risks of moving into nascent or challenging areas through strategic partnerships with other development actors that can offer expertise or more extensive operational capabilities.
The use of financing structures that reward success rather than effort is becoming an increasingly common way of aligning incentives among organizations and of alleviating concerns among funders boards about taking on financial obligations to relatively untested organizations or strategies.
Read more on the initiatives Jones and his community foundation offers in this FOCOLD feature.