Money Can Break Down Walls in Philanthropy

Money Can Break Down Walls in Philanthropy
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As a philanthropist, my primary interest has never been the money I am giving, but the authenticity of the relationships I am forging and what becomes possible when we become less “transactional” and more “transformational” in how we give money. At the Pollination Project, our team has used a decentralized “flow funding” model, all over the world, to reach activists and projects that are otherwise cut off from traditional funding sources. Below, our International Program Coordinator, Selene Gonzalez Carrillo, shares her own journey from grant recipient to funder to foundation staff person, and what she has learned along the way.

By Selene Gonzales Carrillo

“I am an environmentalist and Mexican-American with dual citizenship, and in 2012 I relocated back to my native Mexico. There is a lot of talk these days about walls between my two countries- the US and Mexico. But the wall I’ve been most focused on lately is the philanthropic wall that keeps funders separate from hardworking local activists. This wall is built upon language barriers, limited access to technology, bureaucratic aversion, and the effects of centuries of colonization. And now my passion is tearing it down!

My path to becoming a funder started in 2012 when I began a friendship with a local environmental activist in Guadalajara. We formed Ecotapatio – a collective- which received $1000 of seed funding from the Pollination Project. This collective has one goal in mind- to build community focused sustainability through a holistic approach- not exactly a lucrative endeavor! This made the funding we received from The Pollination Project all the more significant.

Since then, I´ve continuously sought ways to be a better ally and asset to a slew of exciting small-scale projects in Guadalajara. These projects challenge the status quo in the country, and hold the promising potential to dismantle the over-institutionalization of social justice work.

In 2015, The Pollination Project approached me with the idea of being part of their International grant-making program, focused on funding small grassroots projects in Mexico. This effort was designed to make it easy for inspiring local activists in Mexico to get access to funding by putting human interaction at the heart of grantmaking, and eliminating many of the barriers that currently exist with traditional funding sources. I became a ‘flow funder,’ responsible for facilitating direct connections and grants in my community through face-to-face interactions and ongoing relationships.

For those not familiar with the procedure of getting Mexican Government funds to support a social project, it´s akin to trying to get one of the 10 free computers on black Friday, and then having an IQ test administered at the checkout lane: i.e. blatantly discriminatory. So you can imagine how different it was for grassroots organizations and individual activists in Guadalajara, Mexico to suddenly hear of a funder who did all the work to find them; leaving the decision to collaborate and take the funding in the grant recipients hands. So now the roles were reversed, and the potential recipients vetted The Pollination Project’s intentions before agreeing to receive any funding. This might sound odd, especially to those who would describe these communities as poor or lacking in professionalism. But then such opinions are blind to the dignity, autonomy, justice and solidarity that guides these community’s social justice work.

Along with other amazing flow funders (based in Haiti, Indonesia, Kenya and North Carolina), I had the privilege of serving as a conduit for funds and a guide to the communities who would receive them. In a way, it was like setting up two great people on a blind date, both with healthy levels of self-worth, both capable of making the world better without the other, but both with the humility and foresight to know that together they could bring down ANY wall.

For the Pollination Project, the process of “flow funding” represents hope in an era of mistrust and fear. Through “compassion consciousness,” we acknowledge the interconnectedness of everything and everyone. It represents a serious response to the impact our choices have in a world that is fraught with the disproportionate concentration of power and resources. It means that as activists like me walk towards a different future, one with a system of development that resonates with dignity, autonomy, justice, solidarity and peace, we can turn to our side and find a funding partner there, always ready to collaborate.

This year I have the honor of serving as The Pollination Project’s International Flow Fund Coordinator. I work alongside an inspirational team of social change makers who are using small grants to uplift and empower people in their own communities. Our two focal points in 2017 are youth leadership efforts in the USA, and projects that improve the lives of people in East Africa. These grant making efforts build on a model of flow funding where local communities, previously cut off from traditional sources of funding, will gain access to Pollination Project funds and other types of support.

Together we are motivated to go beyond the conventional ways of funding large, name brand groups and institutions; because we know that in solidarity, and through shared values of justice, community well-being, grassroots solutions, and dignity, we can break down the walls between funders and communities, build relationships and make enormous impact along the way.

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