A Funder’s Perspective
I’ll start by being honest: we didn’t originally intend to fund this research project. Like many organisations, in the Summer of 2020, we were considering our role in tackling racial injustice in response to the murder of George Floyd; the increased profile of the Black Lives Matter Movement in the UK; and the disproportionate impact the COVID-19 pandemic was having on Black communities. We had created a small grants fund aiming to listen to and elevate the voices of Black young people and Black youth workers across the city but didn’t receive the applications we were expecting.
We know, and engage with, the active and hugely valuable community of (often under-resourced and unrecognised) African Diaspora-led organisations across Manchester who are making our communities more resilient, and keeping our children and young people fed, in school and out of harm. But, these groups weren’t applying to our new fund, and we weren’t sure why.
Whilst it would have been incredibly tempting to sit in a room with the Young Manchester team and fill out colourful post-it notes with our ideas and solutions, we paused and acknowledged that, as a majority white organisation, this is not our area of expertise.
We sought to utilise the expertise of those in, and closest to the communities we were inviting to fund, and to do this by resourcing those conversations and that knowledge.
I know this isn’t a new or particularly radical approach, but I am proud of the work it has produced. We sought to give up our power and put it in the hands of the communities we want to support. We removed the competitive element of the grants process, shifting the power dynamics to enable collective ownership of the work. Our excellent former colleague, now Making Education a Priority team member, Henry Ngawoofah, worked with a group of African Diaspora-led groups, including MEaP, to spend the money in a way that worked for them and to lead the project in a direction that would support the sustainability of their work going forward.
The work and conversations were considered, respectful, thoughtful and led by members from the African Diaspora community; and the result is the Tackling Racial Injustice Report. Authored by Dr Ornette D Clennon of MEaP, in collaboration with the Caribbean and African Health Network and Elevate Young Minds, and drawing on the experience of so many organisations, the report is much more than just a document. It’s months of community engagement and in-depth interviews conducted in safe environments with neutral power dynamics; and it’s the next step in a much-needed plan of action on how we, as funders and infrastructure organisations, can effectively and meaningfully fund the too often unacknowledged work of African Diaspora-led groups.
The findings are incredibly useful – of course communities are questioning where the funding was for them pre-pandemic; we’ve heard that we need to do more person centred funding and that our language wasn’t explicit about this. Alongside other partners we need to strengthen the system for all groups and to ensure capacity building support can benefit everyone. But, these are only a handful of the long list of questions and considerations for us that have been raised by the report.
We have so much to learn at Young Manchester, and as we move forward we will be challenging our processes, products and outcomes; and we won’t underestimate the value of funding co-produced community knowledge as we seek to tackle racial injustice in our own organisations, places and institutions. I sincerely hope that others see the value in this approach too, and find this research as thought-provoking and challenging as we do.
Join our panel discussion and Q&A to explore the findings of the Tackling Racial Injustice Report, co-hosted with the Funders Collaborative Hub.
The Tackling Racial Injustice Report is a co-produced community research project exploring the challenges funders face in reaching and supporting grassroots African diaspora-led groups, as described by the communities themselves.
The report explores practical solutions that funders, places, and the not-for-profit sector can implement to tackle racial injustice in our systems and processes.
Whilst originally commissioned to support the youth and play sector in Manchester, and the research co-produced with Manchester-based community groups; the recommendations and findings transcend both youth and play settings, and the Manchester geography to provide a potential roadmap to meaningfully funding grassroots African diaspora-led community groups across the UK.