There’s A Solution To Implicit Bias In Philanthropy. It’s Called Co-Creation.

Implicit bias can impact every step of the giving process. Sharing power with nonprofit partners is a practical way to address the issue and shift our thinking about philanthropy.

Alison Carlman

Senior Director of Strategic Learning and Innovation

Who She Is:

Alison helps GlobalGiving generate evidence, share learning, and collaborate with peers to explore key research topics in philanthropy and development. She also leads GlobalGiving’s strategic insights and an innovation portfolio, and helps GlobalGiving understand and accelerate its social impact. In her former work as GlobalGiving's Director of Marketing and Communications, she helped develop GlobalGiving's brand voice and ethical storytelling principles. Born and raised in Colorado, Alison studied communication at Pepperdine University and received graduate degrees in community development and monitoring and evaluation from South Africa's Stellenbosch University. While she supports many GlobalGiving projects, she's most passionate about improving maternal health and addressing climate change.

Q: What’s implicit bias, and how does it show up in philanthropic giving?

A: It’s a form of bias that occurs automatically and unintentionally that, nevertheless, affects judgments, decisions, and behaviors.

While many companies do their best to mitigate bias when selecting nonprofit grantees, they might not realize that implicit bias shows up at all stages of the corporate giving process. The folks at Submittable created a great graphic about this, using grantmaking as an example to illustrate the different points at which the giving process can be biased, from who is represented on a board to who has access to funding applications. This bias can have serious implications for prospective grantees and can entrench unequal power dynamics between donors and recipients.

This is why GlobalGiving is committed to sharing power with grantees throughout a partnership, involving and staying accountable to nonprofits and the people they serve. Sharing power makes our organization more community-led and helps mitigate our staff’s potential biases. The GlobalGiving team is building capabilities to share power through co-creation.

Q: What do you mean by “co-creation”? What does co-creation look like in grantmaking?

A: Co-creation is a way of sharing power that brings together current and potential users to make something new or completely reimagine an existing experience. This can be solving a problem or responding to a new opportunity for which we don’t currently have a process.

Stemming from human-centered design, co-creation is more than a participatory approach. In co-creation, the institution (or convener) commits to implementing what the grantees develop before the grantees begin the work. This is the trust-based act that makes co-creation truly different from traditional philanthropy.

In a grantmaking scenario, co-creation invites potential and current grantees to help design solutions to the problem at hand. Other stakeholders in a program participate as consultants or supporters, but it’s the grantees who are invited to do the work. Co-creation provides an opportunity for community leaders to communicate their needs and ideas in a way that can lead to more impactful and informed grantmaking. More importantly, it changes the “players”—the people who are leading the process and making decisions—thereby mitigating the implicit bias of the philanthropic institution.

GlobalGiving serves in a facilitator role between nonprofits and companies, drawing on the expertise of our team in grant and program management, disaster response, and partnership management, and we’re experimenting with using co-creation to implement community-led corporate grant programs.

Q: What are the benefits for companies that share power and co-create solutions in their philanthropy programs?

A: Sharing power and co-creation honor the existing knowledge, assets, expertise, and traditions within the communities with which companies seek to partner. This creates more meaningful partnerships (not paternalistic relationships) among everyone involved. And if a solution is driven by members of the community, it’s more likely to generate community ownership and trust, which are vital for programs to succeed.

Q: Do you use co-creation outside of grantmaking programs? If so, what are you learning?

A: GlobalGiving is currently piloting a new process for onboarding nonprofit partners that utilized co-creation. Our commitment to becoming a more equitable platform meant we needed to completely redesign the onboarding experience in partnership with our nonprofit partners.

We’ve learned how important it is to make the co-creation process accessible in order to really engage with diverse perspectives. For us, this meant including live simultaneous translation, providing internet access, and paying for technology support for participants who weren’t comfortable with our technology—Zoom, Miro, and similar. We’ve also learned we need to find participants who are willing to engage beyond the initial co-creation to support testing as we prototype their ideas. We pay co-creators for their time and are still figuring out what it looks like to compensate partners going forward as they give additional feedback.

Q: What are some of the biggest barriers to co-creation that are important to keep in mind to create a more inclusive philanthropic experience?

A: Co-creation is a trust-based approach that requires equitable involvement of all parties. The most important consideration is whether leadership is ready to share power. Co-creation challenges the more traditional approach to philanthropy which favors (and even creates) inequitable power dynamics. Even if leaders talk about the values of equity and inclusion, there may be hesitancy to disrupt the old way of working.

Another barrier to consider is whether there are rigid, externally imposed grantmaking requirements. Too many external constraints may inhibit grantees from designing programs that really work for them and may exclude small or grassroots organizations.

Co-creation projects include only a small group of stakeholders, so selecting the right people to represent the diversity of your grantee group is an important part of the process.

Finally, a lack of attention to accessibility, including language, technology support, and time zones, can also limit authentic participation from the folks whose voices are most important in the process. It’s important to have open dialogue from the moment of invitation about what it would look like for people to participate fully.

Willingness to share power and commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the process is key to meaningful and successful co-creation.

Want to learn more about sharing power in your grantmaking?


Featured Photo: Empower 300 children and women to overcome poverty by Village Earth

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