Last week our first movement building conference, Losing Control, put on together with Practical Governance, was in full pelt.
Day 1 was devoted to the sharing of skills and experiences of funders and people from the front line.
Our first panel welcomed funders from the Power to Change Trust, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Lankelly Chase Foundation. We asked our funders what challenges they faced in fundning social movements, and how they overcome them.
We welcomed Vidhya Alakeson from the Power to Change Trust, who described the ideal relationship between funders and movements as one of ‘trust-based collaborative partnerships’. We heard from Alex Sutton from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, who emphasised that funders should ‘act in solidarity’ with movements and ‘be comfortable with failure’. Finally, we spoke to Jess Cordingly from Lankelly Chase, who candidly spoke about the challenges facing funders who fund social movements, rooting this in the organisational model of many social movements in which there isn’t just one person who has decision-making power.
The tension for funders lies in trying to encourage partnership while finding the right balance between micromanaging and playing the expert. When there is no single person as decision-maker, how do funders know what to expect? This is where trust, being comfortable with failure, and acting in solidarity come into play. Movements will evolve, there will be no solid project plan, but rather than seeing this as too much of a risk, funders can (and already do!) see this as a powerful partnership that has the potential to change society for the better.
Our next session welcomed the voices from the front line. Many spoke about their different methods of governance which have contributed to their success. We listened to the likes of the inspiring Dina Ariss from CHAYN, who described how the non-hierarchical structure of CHAYN has led to its global success. We heard about Carver Governance from Andy Goldring, about the wholly flat structure of Suma Wholefoods from Bob Cannell, and about co-operatives and sociocratic decision making from Kayleigh Walsh’s experience of working at Outlandish. We also heard about funding tensions and love for the outcome over the attribution from Immy Kaur, and about the controlling tendencies of large organisations from Paul Steedman.
Each story ignited passion and welcomed interrogation from other participants. Questions of diversity, leadership, challenges of suffocating under the weight of the problem darted across the room. A common theme weaving through all of these diverse talks was that each one is veering slightly from the traditional organisational model, to the success of their organisation. A key nugget to take away from these talks was that no matter how large the challenge may seem, immediate steps can always be taken. It’s important to face these challenges head-on, to recognise the issues and immediately make improvements.
Our final session of the day was a chance to build on those questions, to provide the skills and tools to overcome the questions and challenges people were facing. We had roundtables dedicated to sharing and learning skills and tools for movement building. This day aimed to prepare the movement building organisations and others to face their own challenges on day 2, well equipped with stories of people who have been in their positions before, and have the tools that they emerged with.
Day 1 finished with participants a little tired, but eager to get stuck into applying the skills and tools they learnt to their own movements. Participants, keen to carry on the conversation, came together for pizza and more chat in the cafe of the Old Fire Station that evening. Scars were shared and stories swapped as new collaborations and friendships grew across diverse causes.
Day 2 saw the beginning of The Hack. Each of our 8 movement building groups refined their objectives, and they began to implement their learnings from the past day to the challenges they were currently facing. This was the beginning of turning the tools and skills learned into something concrete. By the end of the day, all groups had a solid plan that they were ready to implement, be that to introduce a new type of technology to the organisation, to implementing a new, long-term comms strategy, to re-thinking the whole theory of change of the movement or organisation.
What’s key to take away from this event - whether or not you participated - is that funders are keen to find new methods of supporting social movements that works with movements’ varying organisational models. There are many different models of leadership, each have their own challenges, but the traditional organising model is not the only one out there. And, finally, collaboration is powerful. Collaborate with your peers, with your competitors, with people across your network and across other networks. You never know what you’ll learn, but it’ll almost certainly be powerful.
And, that’s a wrap!