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Radicalising philanthropy at the grassroots

United Kingdom
piles of pound coins
The Edge Fund aims to eliminate barriers to funding Images_of_Money, under a CC License

Activists from marginalized communities and radical groups often face barriers when trying to access funding for their campaigns. This can be because sources of finance are interwoven, to varying degrees, with existing power structures, or else because traditional charity fails to deal with the root causes of injustice.

A new independent grant-making body in Britain is hoping to tackle these issues by taking a different approach to funding grassroots activism. On Saturday 16 March the Edge Fund – an open body consisting of activists, donors and people in communities facing oppression – will give out its first round of grants to groups that challenge systemic inequalities.

The fund was created following a series of meetings involving 50 participants with experience of a range of issues, such as anti-racism, climate change, Palestine, migrant rights, disabled people, LGBTQ, Travellers and Occupy.

They felt that even well-intentioned funding bodies can inadvertently put up obstacles to those most affected by societal inequities, whether it be because applicants are not in the ‘right networks’, au fait with jargon, or due to language and literacy hurdles they may face.

Another troubling aspect of conventional, top-down philanthropy for people who believe in radical equality is the hierarchical dynamic it sets up, where the donor holds all the power and decides who receives what – and why.

In contrast, the Edge Fund’s kitty comes from a range of small and large donors with a membership of 25 individuals. The plan is to broaden the supply of financing in the future through crowd-sourcing in order to democratize how that money is distributed.

Rather than awaiting a decision made behind closed doors, representatives from the final 15 groups, whittled down from the 334 which originally applied, will meet with the fund’s membership on 16 March to be involved in the decision-making process.

Edge Fund launch party
The Edge Fund launch party in December 2012 Edge Fund

The aim is for each round of funding to have a pot of between £40,000 and £50,000 ($59,800 and $74,700) with maximum grants of £5,000 ($7,500), and three rounds to be held each year.

Those on the inaugural shortlist include Disabled People Against the Cuts, Million Women Rise, Foil Vedanta, Fuel Poverty Action and 8 April Movement, among others.

At the heart of the funding criteria are groups which are most affected by an issue and at its forefront.

‘This is because if we want real, long-lasting change it has to come from the bottom up and it has to be people taking back control over their lives,’ explains Joe Ryles, who has been involved in the Edge Fund since it was first conceived more than a year ago.

‘The idea is to be as open and transparent as possible, and to break down the power structures that usually exist between funders and applicants so that people are making decisions on an equal level.

‘We are offering a different model and vision which involves critical decisions being made collectively, by those who donate money and those who receive it.

‘So we are supporting groups which are grassroots-led and which do not suffer from the growing ‘professionalization’ of activism, where salaries from large charities and other organizations have diluted people’s politics and often distanced them from the grassroots.’

For more information, including how to make a donation or join the Edge Fund, go to their website.

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