Nurturing relationships outside funding partnerships

By Dumiso Gatsha

Trust in some form is a determinant to holding space, exploring and co-creation between grassroots activists, donors and other enablers. It can be assumed over time, immediate as a virtue of shared values or more importantly, enabled because of intention and kindness. Unfortunately, trust is quite limited within the current interactions between these actors.

The Grassroots Solidarity Revolution campaign was born as a grassroots-led effort calling for a collective transformation of these broken relationships and even provided opportunities for a collective learning journey based on trust between grassroots activists, donors and other enablers. I joined this campaign as a critical friend. In my observations through the reflections and insight from the dialogues with donors – curating a safe space has not been easy. Trust is not easy. For enablers. Among activists, it sets the tone of how folks engage and inspire each other whilst holding each other accountable. With funders, there are many uncertainties that emerge because of the power dynamics at individual and institutional level. These are the same uncertainties that determine how relationships are nurtured. For example, one of the activists shared how a funder disengaged after finding out that they do not work on the same thematic issue. Meaning that the lack of vested interest on a specific thematic issue denied both parties from meaningfully learning from each other.

Another example is in sustaining participation within a learning journey. Where the privilege to op-out of the journey rests with enablers. Although activists had a choice in what to participate in; they remained committed to the dialogues because of how important such spaces are for their movements. This reflects how linear our association with learning can be: in a silo, pre-determined/prescriptive, and intellectualised. It resembles the broader development landscape that space cannot exist outside of a pre-determined framework or funding. An ecosystem that permits working in silos and integrating performative measures that can be intellectualised. As I reflect on my own activism – it denies grassroots activities the power of intersectionality, unless when it is permitted and salient to do so.

I am reminded of how difficult it was to be queer and advocate for climate justice pre-Paris Agreement in early 2014. LGBTIQ+ issues were only enabled within public health and strategic litigation efforts. Similarly, in 2017 when it was unimaginable to link Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights with climate justice. These narratives are similar to the experiences of Naro, Dalia and Christine, three of the five activists who co-created the Grassroots Solidarity Revolution. They remind us of how gendered and ableist enablement can look despite good intentions. Nawa and Sam, also co-creators of the campaign, further shared how African positioning of issues can often be denied ubuntu. A system built on saviorism that only recognises variant forms of struggle and challenge void of dignity or humanity. The over intellectualisation of causes and movements forces one to prioritise one issue over another. The development industrial complex would cease to exist if it actually addressed the world’s challenges at practical and structural levels. Funders, advisors and intermediaries would not need to exist if we addressed the many facets of those most left behind by their governments and communities.

The Grassroots Solidary Revolution campaign recognises how unique and unsafe it is to organise and challenge 21st century systems. They are built on colonial, racist, ableist and gendered systems of recognition, value and democracy. They thrive on dividing and conquering because there would be no reason to exist if issues are systemically addressed. Generational injustices cannot be resolved within a three-year strategy or funding cycle. Especially when one has to worry about social protection, navigating rest and fulfilling their dreams whilst in activism. If we have to continue challenging, critiquing and questioning strategic questions within the silos of funder only, grantee partnership and advisory committee spaces – then shifting power is a dream deferred. One solution to this challenge of normative learning and curating of space is literally the opposite. It lies in finding unrelated actors that face the same challenges in power and funding and embarking on a learning journey of how to improve. It requires care, intention, and kindness to hold space as we’ve done under the Grassroots Solidary Revolution campaign.


Dumiso Gatsha is a CIVICUS member, inaugural Diversity and Inclusion Group for Networking and Action advisory group member, former Goalkeeper Youth Action Accelerator participant and Pan-African queer feminist activist working in the nexus of human rights and sustainable development. Dumiso is also collaborating with CIVICUS as a “critical friend”.