By Ashley Hernandez, Program Associate with International Funders for Indigenous Peoples
In recent years, the funding sector has been more prominently embracing equity, justice and a human rights lens. Simultaneously, there is increased awareness of the role of Indigenous Peoples in finding solutions to local and global challenges. IFIP’s Learning Institute aims to leverage this momentum to transform the way funders partner with Indigenous communities by promoting value-based partnerships rooted in the Four R’s of Indigenous philanthropy -respect, reciprocity, responsibility and relationships.
In April, IFIP launched its global Learning Institute, a program designed by Indigenous faculty for funders. The Institute’s design and opening retreat created an intimate learning space that allowed participants to engage in an authentic dialogue with the Indigenous faculty and participants.
IFIP’s Learning Institute explores the “how(s)” and the “why(s)” of practicing the four R’s of Indigenous philanthropy and value-based partnerships. Concurrently, the cohort and faculty engaged with an array of issues relevant to the funding community and Indigenous Peoples. Below is a brief sample of the high-level learnings highlighted by Learning Institute participants.
Taking Accountability for Funding Decisions and Practice
“As a grantmaker, it is a reminder to me of how I am understanding and connecting what we are doing while being cautious of how funding affects the communities we serve,” said Melanie Grewal-Lopez of the Vista Hermosa Foundation.
Participants recognized the potential blind spots of well-intentioned funders who seek to support Indigenous Peoples, but who may inflict unintentional harm. This included examples of funding that resulted in dividing communities or intensifying internal power relations.
The cohort also dialogued on power dynamics, how to be an effective ally and be accountable to their partners, while recognizing that managing funds wields power. This included how donors can cultivate a culture that supports Indigenous leadership and self-determination, rather than patronizing or other detrimental practices.
Embodying the Four R’s of Indigenous Philanthropy: In our Worldview, Language and Practice
“Foundations have a lot of lingo, isms, and acronyms. [But] reciprocity needs to be embodied, not just worn as a “hat” by a grantmaker,” said Allison Davis of the Global Greengrants Fund.
The group teased apart the ways in which the culture and language of philanthropy may not align with Indigenous worldviews, while acknowledging the importance of accepting alternative ways of knowing that may benefit both partners. An Indigenous faculty member cited an example that Indigenous Peoples may not always see time and space on a clock, measured by when something “should happen”. Rather some Indigenous Peoples see the sun as giving time, which is predicated on an understanding that is rooted in a recognition of an invisible world. Therefore, philanthropy may need to reengage with its understanding of fundamental elements like time, which informs grant reporting and other funding tools, such as log-frames or benchmarks.
An Indigenous participant reiterated the risk to funders who fail to recognize Indigenous ways of knowing. She emphasized that donors cannot see changes in people or shifts in behavior. She told a story of an Indigenous community that received funds to build their traditional totem poles. Although this initially seemed trivial to some funders, it became a catalyst for a larger political movement in the community. The group reflected on how projects like this may not fit neatly into grant applications or reporting but facilitate meaningful transformation.
Leveraging Tools and Mechanisms
“I learned a lot about UNDRIP, the UN mechanisms available. That’s part of our personal accountability as grantmakers to learn more about the histories associated with the processes of putting it together,” said Noorain Khan of the Ford Foundation.