The house we build next
When the house is on fire, there is no other priority.
The immediate concern of our philanthropic work, and of so many of our local partners, is very much focused on urgent emergency responses to the pandemic. They are working tirelessly to save lives, prevent further deaths and to paper over the widening cracks in our social safety nets. And we are doing everything we can to offer emergency funds and support.
But there will come a time when the urgency fades, the curve flattens then dips, and we are left in the aftermath of Covid-19.
This is a catastrophe with a long tail. We are not yet able to understand the full extent of the damage the pandemic will inflict on our health, our economy, our politics, our culture and our communities. That time is coming too.
And when it does, we must be ready.
At GMSP, we have watched with sadness as the coronavirus has exposed and exacerbated so many existing inequalities and injustices. It has also revealed to us and to the rest of the funding community the precariousness and pressure felt by so many civil society organisations.
Many entered this crisis underfunded and overstretched. When the lockdowns end and the virus recedes, what will be left? As CharitySoWhite’s Open Letter: Relief Packages for the Charitable Sector says, “We are no longer asking who receives funding to provide relief but who will be allowed to exist in a post-COVID-19 society.”
We signed that open letter, and the London Funders’ We Stand with the Sector statement too, demanding more of ourselves as funders to ensure our partners can recover, build resilience and be there for their communities in the years ahead.
In order to do that, we need to be braver than we ever have before:
Brave in how we must genuinely consider the ways in which our funding preferences and idiosyncrasies have contributed to the fragility of our civil society partners.
Brave in how we must reject old assumptions and fund things like reserves, rent and staff pay. These are things many funders avoid, but it’s become clear during the Covid-19 crisis that these are also the things that local organisations need to survive.
And brave in how we pry open the space for possibility that the pandemic has introduced. Many funders are doing things in response to this crisis that were previously considered ‘impossible’ – collaborating to create a single application process, funding more flexibly and loosening reporting requirements. What so many of us are willing to do today in support of our frontline partners, we should be willing to do tomorrow and in the months and years ahead.
And we also need to be more creative:
Creative in the way we respond to the collective trauma of this experience, considering more human-centered forms of support such as funding staff mental health and wellbeing care.
And creative in the way we use our resources to fund the world we want to see, sponsoring policy advisory positions and investing in the long, difficult work of movement building and systems change.
Our partners on the ground and the world’s essential workers are the ones showing real bravery and creativity in this moment. They are risking their health to care for others every day.
As a family foundation, our role is different. Civil society is relying on us to meet this moment with bravery and creativity, too.
Our house is still burning. But talk has already begun about what the new one – a new world – could look like.
We may be a small piece of the funding ecosystem, but the choices we make today will have long-lasting implications. Returning to the status quo is simply not an option.
Together, we must build the new world in a way that is more connected, equitable and just. A world that centres, celebrates and meaningfully supports civil society. A better world.
We have a long way to go. Here’s to getting better.