Are You Listening To The People With The Most Promising Solutions?

It is past time to put communities in the driver’s seat of change.


You open your favorite music app to break out of your afternoon slump—but something’s different. Every song on the platform is the same. Same artist, same tune, same song, again and again.

It’s an analogy for chronic issues in the world of aid and philanthropy.

Billions of dollars are devoted every year to efforts to make the world a better place—crucial work like curbing climate change, advancing gender equality, and building back better after natural disasters. Would it surprise you to learn that less than 2% of that money typically reaches local nonprofits—those that are often closest to these problems?

Look further, and you’ll find more troubling numbers. Nearly half of international aid dollars go to the same 10 large organizations. Year after year. In the United States, Black-led organizations have only 24% of the assets their white-led peers have. Same artist, same tune, same song. And the same problems persist.

The world’s most pressing problems will never be solved if the people with the most promising solutions continue to be shut out.

People with local knowledge, with lived experiences of racial injustice, poverty, and human rights abuses; people from within communities who want to create change.

In-depth research from GlobalGiving and Global Fund for Community Foundations in six countries—India, Mexico, Nepal, Russia, Vietnam, and Zambia—showed that community-led organizations are more agile, connected, and flexible. They’re able to act quickly because they understand the contexts in which they work. They’re able to harness local assets because they have long-held relationships with their neighbors. They’re able to pivot based on changing needs because they see and feel those needs every day.

A community-led approach to change would put more people like Grace B. Mose Okong’o, Carlo André Oliveras Rodríguez, and S.A. Lawrence-Welch in the lead.

Grace endured female genital mutilation as a child. She left the rural Kenyan community where it happened, only to see similar issues plaguing women in New York where she worked as a domestic violence hotline director. Graced returned to Kenya to start a nonprofit, Hope Foundation for African Women, devoted to ending FGM. At its core is her belief that FGM survivors and perpetrators, sometimes one and the same, hold the key to ending the painful and life-threatening practice. “They are waiting to share ideas and experiences that they already have,” Grace says.

Carlo witnessed firsthand the devastation in Puerto Rico after hurricanes Irma and Maria—and the painfully slow government response that left lights out in communities for months. “No one is coming,” he recalls thinking. “No one is coming to save you. No one is coming for your family. You have to save yourself.” Carlo believes Puerto Ricans themselves know best how to create safer futures, but they’re shut out through broken systems. His job is to make space for Puerto Ricans to envision and enact solutions as the Executive Director of the nonprofit La Maraña.

S.A. Lawrence-Welch and their family suffered generations of ethnic persecution and trauma, including residential boarding schools and the Sixties Scoop era in Canada, in which S.A.’s sister was unethically adopted out. S.A., also a survivor of the foster care system, has turned their painful experience into a mission to help other Indigenous people come together in healing ways and healing spaces at the collective Seeding Sovereignty. The legacy of trauma that Indigenous people face can make them feel alone, so S.A. works to help them find support, validation, and joy as they continue their journey through the healing process. “I want to be remembered as someone who led by example,” S.A. says.

Picture the world with more resources in the hands of community leaders like S.A., Carlo, and Grace.

Instead, the same old approaches thwart progress, again and again. Last year’s U.N. climate change conference is a glaring example. Global South and Indigenous leaders called for its postponement due to a lack of representation. These communities are suffering the brunt of climate change consequences but rarely have a seat at the decision-making table. The conference went on as planned.

Change will require each of us to stand up and question the status quo. To direct our dollars to local leaders like Grace, Carlo, and S.A., and to trust them to put the resources to work in the way that makes the most sense. Their voices and expertise are not listened to frequently enough.

This is one reason why GlobalGiving partnered with Matter Unlimited and Breaktide Productions to create three short films starring Grace, Carlo, and S.A. The film series will premiere at GlobalGiving’s 20th Anniversary Virtual Celebration, “Community Forward,” on March 23, 2022.

Join us to celebrate them—and lift up thousands of fellow changemakers who make up the GlobalGiving community. This community crucially includes people like you, who share a conviction: It is past time to put communities in the driver’s seat of change.


Featured Photo: Bringing Iris Back Home by La Maraña

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