The Pay Off Of Grassroots Grantmaking

Ten years into Firelight’s grantmaking, I feel privileged to support and witness the work of community based organizations working to improve the lives of vulnerable children and families. I have a deep respect for the courage and determination shown by their leaders, staff and volunteers. Driven by a firm belief that children can have a brighter future, they create and innovate, push and support, inspire and sacrifice. Although their everyday reality includes minimal resources and ample challenges, they use their resourcefulness to make real the dream of realizing children’s rights.

three boys smiling

Building from what exists locally, they mobilize community action to bring love, food, access to medicine, and an opportunity to get an education to thousands of children in communities across Africa.

In many of the communities where they work, the simple act of showing up, offering encouragement, and a little support has the profound effect of                                                  restoring hope.

Firelight’s role is to provide support to those working on the front lines, using approaches that further strengthen our grantee partners’ efforts to fulfill their goal of restoring dignity in the present and creating hope for a brighter future.

In 2010, we took the first steps in implementing our next five-year strategy, built on taking a long-term view to partnership. Rather than leave partners guessing when they would receive their last grant, we committed to seven-year partnerships. Knowing that they can rely on this funding stability, partners are taking a long-term view to solving the problems facing children and their families.

five girls smiling and laughing

We also put a lot of time and effort into developing a more systematic practice for documenting, action-learning, analyzing and articulating what we have learned about the community-based response to HIV/AIDS and poverty. We hope that by sharing what we learn we can help other funders to improve their strategies for supporting grassroots organizations, even as we use that learning to improve our own efforts.

So what’s on deck for 2011?

We learned early on in our history that partnership is not just about money. In 2011, we will focus on strengthening the networking of grassroots organizations so that they can learn from each other. We will increase our focus on facilitating mentoring, training and information sharing that can inform each partner’s efforts to build their organizational and program effectiveness.

Our approach begins with recognition of each organization’s strengths, understanding their own goals, then crafting a strategy that supports the trajectory they have developed for themselves. When guided by our Africa-based team members and informed by principles of adult learning, this approach is more successful in unlocking the potential of grassroots organizations.

We are also excited that in 2011 we will be sharing some of what we have learned about grassroots organizations and how they work with communities to strengthen families so that they can help children thrive.

The first steps taken to make the actual changes toward seven-year partnerships consolidated Firelight’s collective wisdom accumulated over ten years of grantmaking.  Our next steps take us further in our commitment to building resilience and capacity of our partners to achieve their goals.

The pay off: vibrant communities, strong families and thriving children!