New Graduates Leads to New Partners

children playing in tall grassSeveral of our grantee-partners have graduated from our seven-year model over the last few years and that has opened up some room for new partnerships at Firelight. We looked at the regions where Firelight needed to be more involved in and selected Lesotho, Tanzania and Malawi. In February, we invited Letters of Inquiry (LOIs) and received 256 responses, keeping our program team very busy reading. LOIs are three pages long to prevent too much of a burden on applying groups. They’re meant to provide a snapshot of a group’s mission and strategies to address the needs in their community. Our guidelines varied per country based on the shape of our portfolio there, as well as our key areas of focus in the country.

Firelight has always operated in long-term partnerships with grassroots organizations. In 2009, we created a seven-year model for our grant partnerships so that we can constantly re-dedicate our resources to small, emerging organizations. The new partners that come out of this application process will be the first group to start with this seven-year model in mind. Program Officer Aili Langseth said, “I'm looking forward to talking with groups about our seven-year model from the start of our relationship with them. I want to talk about sustainability questions in year 1. When you talk about it in year 5 or 6 that’s not enough time. So this is very exciting.”

All the LOIs have been submitted electronically and Langseth said “you see a lot of patterns in the letters by country. Lesotho was a bit of an experiment for us; we limited the programmatic criteria and listed a preference for groups outside Maseru, the capital. In Malawi, we restricted applications to the Northern region because we had graduated many of our partners and so wanted to grow there.”

In Lesotho, Firelight started working with a local community grantmaker, Touch Roots Africa, to serve the very small groups we'd been working with who are not English speaking and not connected to the internet. Since that time, we’ve wanted to see if we could find a few more organizations in the country to partner with directly. We are specifically looking for grassroots groups who are working to decrease the use of orphanages for children. Langseth said, “We targeted our inquiry application process to reach community-based organizations that are working to keep children in communities and families, where it is proven that children thrive."

In Tanzania, the LOI application focused on education improvement. We’re looking for organizations that are working to innovate or improve education for children. For example, an organization might be fostering stronger relationships between parents and schools or adding practical skills training programs to school learning, such as vocational training.

We expect to fund approximately five new partners in each country. They will be brought on in July and we look forward to introducing them to you as we embark on seven years of working together to strengthen the organizations and their ability to affect children’s lives in their communities.