Resist: Build solidarity and support systemic change
25 Sep 2020
In November 2016, we, the European Cultural Foundation, together with other 3 foundations (OSIFE, Charles Leopold Mayer Foundation and Guerrilla Foundation) developed a participatory grant-making pilot: the FundAction activists’ platform.
FundAction is a participatory grantmaking fund for social transformation, it started with 30 activists from key European movements and it now counts over 250 members based in Europe.
Their focus has always been to build solidarity, shift power and support systemic change. It is a unique membership organisation that forges cultural links and creates cross-issue solidarity. They act in a democratic participatory way to support social movements and initiatives working towards a just equitable world.
Activists have a direct say in who receives financial support and how knowledge is distributed across the movements that are addressing the multiple alarming threats that Europe is facing. The foundations involved are renewing their operations as part of the adventure.
This is manifested in the charter of values that were created by the foundations and the activists together, based on the Jemez Principles for Democratic Organising. “As foundations, we acknowledge that the philanthropic universe has to be held accountable for its decisions and their impact and has to adopt the same standards of participation that it is asking of institutions, communities and its own grantees. We are committed to expanding access to the resources of philanthropy, be it grants, networks or outreach. At the same time, we should acknowledge that our grants, networks and outreach are enhanced by a diverse, skilled and engaged community of activists.”
Currently, FundAction has 250 members committed to strengthen collaboration among European activists and to support the capacity development of activists and the social movements they work with. They believe in people and their power to organize and build movements in order to resist all forms of domination, exploitation and oppression, in order to renew our societies. They shift power to make decisions about funding from foundations to those at the frontlines.
We followed some of their works to understand more about how they operate and which kind of projects they support. An interesting discussion was about their partners Gergő Birtalan, from Gólya Szövetkezet in Budapest, and Filippos Polatsidis from Pervolarides, in Thessaloniki. Their projects focus on helping the communities, creating solidarity among people and helping them build upon this.
FundAction applied to our COS grant with their last project: Resist Grant. We interviewed Brindusa Birhala, activist in Romania in the field of agroecology and small-scale farmers’ rights and who is responsible for this specific project.
They have been aiming to pilot a rapid-response grant called Resist that could even stretch beyond their existing community of activists. This is unprecedented for FundAction and the external applicants should still be referred from a member that vouches for them.
This round of grants was originally developed for grassroots activists in their extended networks to access small amounts of money rapidly to meet a sudden change- whether that was reacting to an emerging political situation or other unforeseen development.
When the Corona crisis hit, them as activist-fund, felt the need to accelerate this process and start the Resist grant in the spring of 2020, instead of autumn. Now they need to expand the pool of money to be able to give more grants in 2021 to emergency response projects.
The necessity they felt was the urgency to provide prompt assistance to grassroots groups. Most of the 1,000 Euro grants went to offline emergency support, for example, The Roof housing justice initiative actions in Serbia, the neighbourhood bike courier coop, building trailers to bring necessities products to vulnerable people, in Budapest, but also to a few online actions like Fighting Disinformation that Endangers Life in Romania. The grantees are community members that know what their community needs and how to make a direct impact. You can hear some of the stories of these projects in the FundAction Talks podcast.
25 organisations or informal groups linked to the membership will become beneficiaries of the Resist Grant, under the umbrella of Culture of Solidarity. Simultaneously, they will be the partners of FundAction in this project. In identifying the panel of members that will review the applications, FundAction will use a peer-to-peer panel selected by sortition (among the members not applying) to evaluate if the proposals meet the eligibility criteria. The grant requests must respond to a time-sensitive, unanticipated event, urgent challenge or need in communities. The applicant initiatives have to meet FundAction’s values and criteria, and their yearly budget has to be below a certain threshold.
How will the project contribute to a Europe post-corona?
The pandemic exposed structural vulnerabilities in our societies, thus this project gives to grassroots support to carry on. FundAction recognises that some of its members are subjected to inequities. The power and resources to tackle them and demand policy change in all the critical areas such as agriculture, housing, healthcare, human rights, education, etc, are now crucial. Moreover, the project aims to show how a small rapid response is fundamental for the wellbeing of the local communities and the survival of citizens’ initiatives. This wants to be a message to large donor organisations, that financing small projects can have a big impact.
“We need to be alongside our community members to support them in shaping the post-Covid narrative- to assist members serving vulnerable groups with the resilience they need to resist the unimaginable challenges they are facing and will continue to face.”, tells us Brindusa.
FundAction is pan-European, the project has this approach from the beginning, although the grants are distributed to local actors. They believe in the power that these examples can have to cross-pollinate within the network of activists and ultimately bring a change in society.
The Resist grant projects made possible thank to the European Cultural Foundation Culture for Solidarity grant are including Europe’s most vulnerable communities, migrants, ethnic and sexual minorities, urban poor, rural workers, etc. On this matter, Brindusa says: “We believe it is of vital importance to avoid the marginalisation of these community groups from the decision-making process, the access to resources and the civic participation. Therefore, we aim to continue making steps towards the empowerment of these communities, especially during critical times – like the pandemic – and economic and climate crises.”