Funds Dissemination Committee/Benchmarking analysis/International Development Exchange
Benchmarking Interview with the International Development Exchange (IDEX)
Date: May 7, 2012
International Development Exchange (IDEX) is a non-profit organization that promotes sustainable solutions to poverty by providing long-term, flexible grants to grass-roots organizations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Through a unique process of grant making – from grantee identification to capacity building – IDEX has helped over 88% of their grantees develop local, community based solutions to a great extent over the past decade. IDEX’s flexible and general support grants are augmented with capacity building support and brokering of resources.
We had the opportunity to speak to Rajasvini (Vini) Bhansali, the Executive Director of IDEX about their grant-making process. Some key insights for Wikimedia from our conversation were:
- Grant-making and funds allocation requires a certain level of skill and expertise. According to IDEX’s experience, it can be challenging to garner this expertise only with a volunteer group; developing a group constitution is critical to achieving a conscious practice of equalizing power dynamics between grantor and grantee/global north and global south to ensure that a shared vision is achieved. This has implications for how Wikimedia can best attract individuals with the requisite expertise to the FDC.
- It is important to empower individuals in local communities to become part of the grant-making process even while building a global movement. At Wikimedia, we must develop a strong process allowing the FDC to engage with global communities particularly with the strategic priorities of increasing reach to individuals from the global south and growing the participation of women
- IDEX has a very strong set of partnership criteria highly linked to their strategy that guides decision making. These criteria were created with input from key stakeholders. It will be important to develop a set of criteria to guide the FDC’s actions.
What does IDEX do?
We believe that the process of greatest innovation and highest impact happens when a community owns their impact. We partner with grassroots groups and social movements that serve disadvantaged groups (such as landless farmers, refugee women). IDEX’s partnership approach to grantmaking turns the cultural paradigm of how international “aid” efforts have historically been conducted upside down by relying on the wisdom and strength of local people who are fighting for a better quality of life in their communities. IDEX’s human rights grantmaking promotes an understanding of rights and responsibilities of local people to tackle powerlessness and exclusion. The underlying assumption of this type of human rights and social justice grantmaking is about relying on local leaders’ insights, knowledge, and actions that ultimately bring about lasting changes in attitudes and behaviors needed to shift cultures. Working in this way is not easy or simple. It is not about traditional welfare and charity grantmaking but about fundamental social change, where process matters as much as outcomes.
IDEX is unique in that we make a long-term commitment to our partners. One of the biggest problems about funding from the Global North to the Global South is that it’s very whimsical. One of the greatest criticisms of North Based funders is that they treat Global South based organizations like sub-contractors or proxies for their own agenda. Our funding model is very much about inviting grassroots to describe what they want to do not only at the strategy level but the conceptual level. We make a three-year commitment to our partners with general operating grants not program specific grants. You can find out more on IDEX's funding process through their website
How does IDEX raise funds?
We raise our money primarily from individual donors through various online web-based giving campaigns and also receive some funds from family foundations and institutional donors.
How do you identify partners?
That brings me to our partnership selection criteria and the process by which we enter into long term partnerships. We spend anywhere between a year to 18 months to select our partner organizations. We don’t solicit proposals – we want to support those organizations that don’t have capacity to fundraise yet are doing important and credible social transformation work. We know just being able to have a dedicated fundraiser and write a professional proposal is in itself a luxury that few grassroots groups can afford. If you do this purely on a proposal basis you can lose those organizations doing the great work that cannot write proposals. We take on the burden of finding organizations. We seek out our grantee partners based on our active participation in coalitions and networks within the civil societies in which we fund. We have a strong set of partnership criteria that informs our decision making. We very much believe in creating those selection criteria with input from stakeholders. These criteria are our foundation and it helps get groups through the door but we look at all types of things (for example, an organization’s ability to scale work, their ability to work in partnership, local leadership rather than expat leadership). We also like to fund organizations that are actually trying to solve problems in an innovative way while maintaining a high level of commitment to community accountability as well as credibility.
Without proposals, is it difficult to find strong partners to fund?
We never have enough resources to fund everyone that we want and have in the pipeline. It’s not challenging to find partners because our staff spends a lot of their time being plugged into what’s happening. We stay close to the ground through existing partners and coalitions. Usually, finding meaningful work to fund is not a problem for IDEX. It is more difficult to build the resources needed to thoughtfully partner with all the civil society groups that are doing the necessary work.
How do you select partners amongst initially identified organizations?
Once we identify groups, we spend time with them through site visits. I think grant-making is often misunderstood to be an administrative process. Good grant making requires cultural competence. In order to figure who should get the money you should also figure out who should not get the money. Our staff needs to have the cultural, social and emotional intelligence to be able to tell what is credible.
Before we make partnership decisions, we spend time with the groups on the ground in order to understand their process. Then we have a one-year catalyst grant process where we get to know our partners through a small grant. After that one year – we do an evaluation based on our partnership selection criteria before committing to a three year grant period. The evaluation is not just one way. Grantees also get to evaluate our effectiveness as a partner in the process of development.
IDEX receives high marks from its partners (Grantees) for walking its talk, showing genuine respect for partners, and being mindful of the power differential that is often a barrier to building a genuine relationship between grantor and grantee. These principles are benchmarks of an authentic relationship that adds value to an otherwise transactional association between a funder and its grantees.
How do you build the capacity of your partners?
The biggest thing we do is build their confidence to find resources in the US. These resources encompass everything from introductions to other institutional funders to the ability to present at other international conferences. We bring our partners to the US help them seek these resources and awards. We want our partners to longer be reliant on us after our three year period. This has proven highly effective. Our partners are winning awards, connecting to robust resources, and building the capacities of alliances and emerging grassroots groups. The second way we build capacity is more context specific – it’s dependent on each partner and their specific needs. A recently concluded learning and evaluation report revealed that IDEX partners have been the most successful in increasing influence in their communities, building a more effective infrastructure and systems, and expanding geographic scope as a result of IDEX’s funding. 88% of IDEX partners have been able to develop local, community based solutions since receiving a grant from IDEX and 60% of IDEX partners experienced either great or moderate increase in their ability to influence decision makers since receiving a grant from IDEX.
How do you evaluate the impact of your grants?
We truly see our relationship with our grantees as a partnership. We conduct a mutual evaluation process on an annual basis. Our monitoring, learning and evaluation process is formally conducted annually with each partner.
We believe we can build trust and engagement with our partners through this process of grant-making and funds dissemination – even in evaluation. We find that 90% of the time our partners are harder on themselves because their accountability is not only to donors but to their community.
We recently commissioned and concluded our first ever external evaluation where the central question was to examine the effectiveness of IDEX’s model in helping grassroots group achieve impact.
How does this process feel? Would you make any changes?
We think this model works – we hired an external evaluator who conducted surveys and stakeholder interviews. What resonated for us is that this model has had a huge impact and clearly is the way to go in international grantmaking. The question for us now is how we share this model with other funding and grantmaking organizations in a way that helps other grantmakers .
The surprising part about philanthropy is even though there is a lot of rhetoric about local, grassroots giving that grant-makers are not engaging in a transparent and respectful manner with the communities they make grants to. IDEX has successfully positioned ourselves as a knowledge partner to improve grant-making in these other organizations based on our learning and deep engagement with grassroots groups. We love when grantmakers and funders alike approach us, use our learning and evaluation report and use it to influence their own practice.
How does this process tie to your strategic plan?
Our grant making is 100% tied into our strategy outlined in a three year growth plan 2011-2014, available on the IDEX website. One of our strategic priorities was to evaluate and learn from our ten year long partnership model. One of the things that has emerged is that IDEX needs to invest more in philanthropic advocacy. Our revenue base must also increase otherwise we cannot reach our full potential impact.
Any recommendations for Wikimedia Foundation before we close?
The most valuable asset for the Wikimedia work is its global volunteer community of contributors, chapters and readers that contribute ideas, benefit from the support provided by the Foundation, and continually upgrade and evolve Wikimedia's free knowledge projects. Stewarding this base of volunteer contributors and readers through a learning and inquiry process enhanced by appropriate grantmaking can result in increased participation and reach. I know that in early 2012, a volunteer-driven body Funds Dissemination Committee was formed to support a broader and more inclusive decision-making process for funds distribution. If the FDC is appropriately empowered to make recommendations to the Wikimedia Foundation for funding activities and initiatives in support of the mission goals of the Wikimedia movement, that should be great. But in IDEX experience, if all funds raised are disseminated via volunteers, sometimes, the important relationship building and leveraging of grant dollars for sustainability does not materialize. Grantmaking is so much more than funds dissemination. It is also the process of capacity building and technical assistance, particularly for those groups that need to seek funds as a way to build a movement.
To truly address the imbalances between Global South and Global North, it is important to democratize knowledge sharing along with resource flow. So my recommendation for the Wikimedia movement would be to ensure that grantmaking is used as an opportunity for relationship building, learning, capacity building, and sustainability planning between the many current and emerging participants and stakeholders in the Wikimedia movement.