Partnership: Building a movement from the ground up
Tell us a little bit about The Groundswell Fund.
The Groundswell Fund supports a stronger, more effective U.S. movement for reproductive justice by mobilizing new funding and capacity building resources to grassroots organizing and policy change efforts led by low income women, women of color and transgender people.
How do you do your funding? Please explain how it is different from conventional philanthropy.
The Community Midwifery Fund (CMF), housed at The Groundswell Fund, is a partnership among a team of very skilled people where power is shared in decision-making: The ultimate decisions of what gets funded comes from the Groundswell/CMF staff who are women of color directly connected to the communities we are funding. This is different from conventional philanthropy where the decisions are usually made from a top-down model.
Because history has shown us that communities are more empowered when making their own decisions to shift policies that directly affect their health and wellbeing, I have a long-term commitment to participate in models of shared power and decisions on the effective uses of resources. I am involved in the decision making process of who and what gets funded, as a midwife who is rooted in the actual practice of the work. CMF also keeps its reporting and proposal process really simple to make it accessible to communities dealing with the affects of trauma and poverty.
There was a moment when your story began. How did you come to practice philanthropy in this way? What made you realize this funding style would be important for what you were trying to achieve?
Community Midwifery Fund is a donor-initiated fund. It comes out of my personal experiences of being a midwife as well as a funder. As I began to participate as a midwife in the national midwifery movement, I became aware of the shocking maternal and infant health disparities in the U.S. I learned about birth justice work from midwives of color who are effectively addressing these health disparities within their communities and their needs for support. I initiated CMF as a response to their request for funding, technical assistance, as well as capacity building. In order to support these needs within the birth justice work I knew I needed support from a broader women’s health movement. I wanted to leverage financial resources to accomplish this. I was introduced to Groundswell Fund and approached them to take on CMF. They could immediately see how CMF fit into their larger work within the reproductive justice movement. Groundswell also has a proven record of leveraging new investments for the reproductive justice organizations they support, and we formed a partnership to do that for community midwifery and birth justice with my seed funding.
Partnerships are crucial for movement building where value system changes need to happen at higher levels of power to reflect and truly serve the community needs. Groundswell is an intermediary organization with this framework of community empowerment. They are able to house and hold a large view of the reproductive justice movement where they can network grassroots groups and truly be of service to those groups, which is very beneficial to an individual donor who may be limited in view, scope and community connection to what is needed.
Have you ever been met with resistance or criticism with this Partnership? What specifically were the concerns, and how did you respond?
In my role as a funder I often faced a general lack of understanding amongst my colleagues of both the specificity of the struggles of women of color and how that lack of understanding directly impacts all of us in our ability to mobilize for our rights as well as to sustain them. In the more traditional reproductive rights movement there is a fight for the protection of women’s choice. However, women of color have long realized that choice includes more than abortion and birth control, it also includes birth options and the right to raise our children, should we choose to have them, in healthy and safe conditions. This is where issues of environment, social justice and health need to become connected in order to develop intersectionality at the most fundamental level.
You likely encountered challenges as you started implementing your strategy. What happened? Describe the challenge you feel has the most lessons for other funders, and what those lessons were.
I have not had difficulties in implementing this partnership strategy, it has organically evolved through trusting relationships. Probably the most challenging role for me personally is fundraising. To be on the other end, where I fundraise from other funders, has been eye-opening. I’m learning how to communicate passion for an issue without attachment. I do think all funders should fundraise at some point in their work to understand some of the power dynamics within philanthropy.
What can you achieve through this type of funding that might not be possible using conventional philanthropic funding models? How does your funding practice affect the overall impact you are able to achieve?
A partnership model where there is a shared power of decision making with a given community is a strong model for growing movements from the ground up to make policy level change. I believe that this type of funding, when there is shared passion and commitment, can be empowering to all involved. Supporting community groups to build capacity, develop their organizations and think about long-term strategies are ways to build bridges for systemic change on a broad level. I have witnessed the success of this form of partnership funding and it requires a long-term commitment from everyone involved.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to a funder curious about doing something similar?
I have heard from grantees that funders are perceived as something really mysterious – a voice that is not heard from often. Therefore I would advise that being transparent as a funder is critical to the integrity of building movement around an issue. And transparency only works when it is predicated on trust and is demonstrated from all sides. Also this work requires a deep understanding of race, class and power dynamics and how you are specifically situated within them. I’d also advise to give funds for both general support and capacity building. If as a funder, you feel removed from the struggles of a community you wish to work with, find an intermediary organization or a partner like Groundswell that has already built relationships and is intimately familiar with the struggles of the communities they serve.
Why does Indie Philanthropy matter to you?
Indie Philanthropy offers a learning environment on how to give in ways that deconstruct existing power structures and the isolation generated within them. It has brought me many gifts that have developed me both personally and as a member of my community.