The Sociology of Funding

I know a fellow who has inherited a significant amount of money.  He’s one who has never had an abundance of the commodity, so I would expect that the relatively sudden change in finances is a happy occurrence that resolves a number of issues for him and his family for a long time to come.  But I received a message from him that gave me pause for reflection.  At the conclusion of his note he said, “People such as I have no business with that amount of wealth.  One of my Latin writers, Propertius, wrote the following familiar quotation: ‘Sollicitae tu causa, pecunia, vitae’ (You, money, are the cause of an anxious life.) This seems to be true whether one refers to an insufficiency of money or to a nemiety of it. I can’t seem to win.”  Not surprisingly, the availability of money is creating changes in the way that he now thinks about his life, his daily needs and his future. 

This might seem so obvious as to not even warrant comment; we surely all understand the positive impact that sudden access to capital would have upon anyone.  But we might question that certainty when it comes to funders bestowing capital- either in the form of grants or loans- on needful organizations which have had little experience with resources.   Are funders generating results?

The answers are far-ranging, of course, and depend upon the objectives being sought.  There are plenty of large, global organizations which have among their goals the placement of funds; first and foremost they need to distribute a targeted amount of funding during the year.  Next, there are increasing numbers of microlenders operating in Nicaragua and throughout the world who have evaluated these populations as underserved clients to be tapped.  And finally, there exist many small, family-type foundations which seek to perform as much good as is possible from a continent or more away.  They are all players in the global funding game, they all can point proudly to successes, and yet they each keep score differently.

Winds of Peace has experienced its own, ever-growing number of success stories in Nicaragua as we focus particularly on the plight of women, Indigenous people and the rural poor.  Readers here have become familiar with a number of them over the years and we celebrate those successes as affirmations of our methodology and analysis of Nicaraguan realities.  At the same time, our less-successful projects typically do not generate photographs and glowing descriptions of courage and perseverance in these essays.  We simply accept the fact that not every project will meet its objectives, that entrepreneurial risk does not always pay off, or that changed and unexpected circumstances arise which cannot always be foreseen.  But considering those experiences, as well as those generated by the funders mentioned above, suggests a larger, more responsible role to be played, one which goes beyond where most of us function today.

There is a science, a sociology, that is present in the communities we visit and it is a reality which is as much a part of the funding equation as dollars, interest rates and defaults.  Funders may balk immediately upon learning that a proposal is not backed by any collateral.  But are we as quickly halted at the prospect of unknown and unintended consequences?  Do we understand and integrate the sociology of the community and the funding activity as readily as we calculate the loan return?  Sometimes, money is not the first and most important need.  Sometimes, there are more immediate priorities that should supercede the cash.

As Winds of Peace continues its own philanthropic journey in Nicaragua, we continually try to assess whether we are doing all that we can with our partners, or not.  While we have always been an organization which seeks to both fund and accompany our partners, we also know that successful organizations (ours and those of our partners) embrace change and innovation.  As a result, Winds of Peace will be piloting a practice in working with cooperatives new to us.  The Foundation will seek to fund up-front, facilitated, internal assessments, SWOT analyses, as well as the training components resulting from such evaluations.  While the up-front activities will increase our costs of funding, they also can provide for greater success in all performance metrics, including the community-wide, real-life, sociological impacts.  The practice will incorporate our permanent presence in country, the talents of Nicaraguan trainers and educators, Foundation funding and continued focus on some of the most marginalized people in the country.

It’s an important enrichment of our current practices of accompaniment, and an initiative that I’ll comment upon from time to time as to progress.  In the meantime, let the notion feed your own thinking about “truly being with the poor….”

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