Giving Compass’ Take:
• Fergal Finnegan and Niamh McCrea explain how funders can support participatory democracy to make an impact.
• How can you shape your work around these values? Who are the marginalized stakeholders in your community?
• Learn more about democratizing philanthropy.
Funding is…a matter of collective experimentation – and even of historical creation or invention.
This quote – from Brazilian academic and activist Marcelo Lopez de Souza – sums up one of the key lessons we’ve learnt from working with a diverse range of community development practitioners and academics from across the globe who are grappling with the pitfalls and possibilities of using different funding models: there are no easy answers to the dilemmas associated with resourcing egalitarian social and economic change. Instead we have to name and deal with the complex ways in which power operates through different funding arrangements, and experiment with new ways of generating resources while holding firm to the principles of participatory democracy.
Throughout history, community-based organizations and social movements have served as a seedbed for popular democracy, egalitarian change, and social transformation. From the workers co-operative movements of the 19th century to the Zapatistas of today, community-based struggles have been crucial to building democratic institutions and creating new forms of democratic life. A healthy participatory democracy relies on forms of community development that support effective mobilization at the local level and encourage advanced capacities for democratic decision making and critical thinking.
Of course, community organizations have also been used to advance projects of imperialism, colonialism and social control. To make an obvious but important point, there is nothing inherently progressive about community development: it is an arena of democratic struggle, so the specific ideas, values, practices, and institutions developed in communities matter a great deal for their transformative potential.
But if participatory democracy relies, at least in part, on democratic community development, then this necessarily brings us to questions of funding whenever local struggles need access to more resources than they can generate on their own. However, the political and economic changes brought about by neo-liberalism over the last 40 years have weakened decentralized democracy and profoundly influenced how community development is funded. These changes have made it much more complex and difficult to source and sustain funding for transformative purposes. We want to highlight three developments which we think are particularly significant.
First, the redistribution of wealth upwards has dramatically tipped the balance of power towards the rich.
Second, and this is a key feature of neoliberalism, the growing power of financial institutions and the associated rise of social finance have had a marked effect on community development.
Third, governments are partnering with an increasingly varied range of actors to find marketized ‘solutions’ to community needs, from NGOs and foundations to corporations and social entrepreneurs.
Read the full article about participatory democracy by Fergal Finnegan and Niamh McCrea at Resilience.
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