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Reflections on a year like no other

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One lesson we must take from the current crisis is the unfortunate likelihood of further crises in the future, so it is therefore vital that we understand what makes for resilient organisations and a resilient sector and take the necessary steps to make it happen.”

This quote comes from the December 2020 CAF Charity Landscape Report.

Every year we marvel at the work of our partners in India and the UK which they deliver every day with courage and commitment. This year in particular, we have watched them act with speed, creativity, and unwavering dedication - pivoting programmes, teams and operations overnight to respond to the impact of COVID19 on the local communities they work with. They moved essential support services online where they could, they delivered urgent food and health supplies where needed, they built COVID19 health awareness in hard-to-reach communities repurposing community radio stations to spread the word, they documented unregistered migrants to ensure they could access essential rations from the government.

They continued their work despite significant drops in grant funding and fundraising, in the absence of staff who were taken ill suddenly, and in the face of increasing demand for services and support. Most of them did this while also balancing personal and family health setbacks, and in many cases bereavement.

Our partners tell us that they have always been working in crisis. And while this is something we have known for a long time, it was brought into very sharp focus when COVID19 took hold. The crisis exposed the fact that most charities had very low or no reserves to weather this period. Often it is because funders say no, or penalise charities with healthy reserve levels, that charities aren’t able to build up a reserve for times of crisis.

Let this year be the only lesson we need to understand that this cannot continue.

As funders, we have an important role in helping to build the resilience of frontline organisations to overcome these shocks in the future. We often talk of the relationship of trust we have with the organisations we support – but the reality is it took a global pandemic to make many of us rethink our grantmaking processes, the flexibility of the funding we provide and the speed with which we make decisions.

This crisis has shown that philanthropy can be agile when it needs to be and wants to be. This cannot be forgotten when this crisis passes – we cannot go back to the standard ways of working that reinforced the power imbalance between donors and grantees. To this end, we have funded our first two participatory funds this year, turning over funding decision-making to the communities we seek to serve. This is one of the ways we are trying to break out of our echo chamber.

This year forced the realisation that we do not do this anywhere near enough. We often operate in the same circles, surrounded by similar people, and are insufficiently challenged to adapt or change the lens through which we view the world. Initiatives like CharitySoWhite, Future Foundations UK, Ubele Initiative, to name just a few, have been instrumental in helping us to confront our shortcomings as funders and evolve as we have seen our partners do so adeptly.

A lot has happened for all of us in this past year. While it is a lot to take in, it has pushed us to ask difficult questions of ourselves both personally and professionally, and this is something that we will continue to do long after this year is over. We are grateful to all those we have learned from, in particular our partners - Aangan, Akshaya Patra, Apne Haq, Arpan, Ashiana, Compassion, CORO, Dasra, Edge Fund UK, Food for All, Global Greengrants Fund, IMECE, Imkaan, iProbono, Jan Sahas, LAWA, Majlis, Mann Deshi, Quest Alliance, Sol’s ARC, Swasth - who serve their communities with bravery and imagination every day.

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