Shift the power: Exploring the business model of a non-profit social enterprise that is Doing Development Differently
To complete my Master in Development Administration and Planning at UCL, I had the opportunity to do my dissertation with InsightShare, whom I initially met in 2012 when I was volunteering as an anthropologist for the Open Opportunities programme in Guatemala. Since then, I have been interested in the organisation because it seemed to me that they were “doing development differently”, but what does it mean?
“Doing development differently” starts from the idea that current development needs to be improved, which would require doing literally that: doing development differently. Not to resent change by doing things as they have always been done, but to acknowledge the limitations of what we know and what shapes actors’ decision-making. This if we really want to do development appropriately (Madera, 2020).
This topic lends itself to analysis from different angles. However, my interest in understanding the dynamics that arise when money comes into play, I focused my research on how the decolonising funding model that InsightShare incorporates allows them to do development differently. Focusing solely on the delivery of the Living Cultures Indigenous Fellowship (LCIF) programme, which focuses on connecting and elevating the voices of young African leaders and their communities through the creation of Participatory Videos for self-determination, self-representation, and positive local action. This is what I found:
The scope for financial independence: building trust relationship with funders:
The fact that InsightShare is registered under the business model of a non-profit Social Enterprise allows it a high degree of financial independence, distributing part of its profit from its commercial services to pay office expenses and to invest the money in setting up the LCIF programme. Not having to rely on the timing of grant disbursements should be seen as a benefit, as when money is involved, approval processes can sometimes be tedious and lengthy, creating barriers to programme management and implementation. For example, participants may lose interest or have to prioritise other activities that compromise their time in the programme. And independence gives freedom.
I also noticed that InsightShare operates under a circle of trust between its partners that is nurtured by promoting financial independence. However, having a rigid stance of collaborating only with partners who share its vision of a decolonising approach is crucial. InsightShare has managed to position itself in a situation where the funders of the LCIF programme do not impose conditionalities on them. In other words, a rigid scheme of what to do and how to do things. At the same time, InsightShare also does not impose strict conditionalities to its local partner, Pan African Living Cultures Alliance (PALCA), regarding the distribution of money for the running of the programme.
All these conditions demonstrate that InsightShare has found strategies to direct money toward meeting LCIF’s programme objectives. A strategy that undoubtedly attracts the attention and confidence of both funders and local partners.
Potentials of a bottom-up strategy for empowering people:
InsightShare’s bottom-up financial model is based on the Indigenous network’s responsibility to distribute money for the LCIF programme at their discretion. To this end, InsightShare assumes a posture of active listening, stepping down from a techno-centric intervention to shifting the power to the Indigenous network.
Adopting this strategy also has a direct influence on the programmatic trajectory of the programme. By being locally-led programme, it allows the Indigenous network to choose the topics of their interest to be addressed in the Participatory Videos, but also to generate new solutions to their local needs. The fact that the objectives and expected results of the LCIF programme emerge from the Indigenous network guarantees a real impact and evidences a democratisation of decision-making.
Promoting the sustainability of the Indigenous network:
The sustainability and scaling-up plan for the LCIF program are that in the future InsightShare will step back from managing the programme to hand it over entirely to PALCA, promoting the autonomy of the network in the African continent. For this, InsightShare has created a support system of funders willing to fund grassroots organisations and flexible to the idea of decolonising development finance. It also supports the network in writing funding proposals. However, the barriers are still high, as they face a colonial and racist system that limits their access to vulnerable populations. Therefore, InsightShare is still subject to the reproduction of the traditional model, laden with symbols and codes that complicate the application for funding. In order to change the way funding is obtained, its decolonising approach offers an opportunity to propose a model that integrates the use of Participatory Video instead of written proposals for funding, which is essential for the autonomy of Indigenous networks, using video proposals instead.
Coming from a Latin American country, where international support has become indispensable for the implementation of social programmes, I have seen how funding plays a crucial role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Understanding the dynamics around money in the development field was one of the main reasons for wanting to expand my academic knowledge at UCL. However, in a system dominated by the “white gaze” of the Global North, I found that it is very rare to find cases of organisations that challenge the structural and colonising racism that has been strongly positioned within the development. So, when they are found, they are worth exploring.
Funders wishing to embrace a change of paradigm can partner with organisations such as InsightShare that are adopting decolonising funding models, offering an interesting avenue to shift the power and generate changes that are necessary to do development differently.
About the author
Anaisabel Galindo is an anthropologist graduated from the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, where she also obtained a postgraduate degree in Monitoring and Evaluation of Social Projects.
She has worked in qualitative research on Food and Nutrition Security for WFP and the Secretariat of Food and Nutrition Security (SESAN) in Guatemala. In addition, she was co-coordinator of education programmes at UNICEF, supporting the monitoring of actions to generate data of interest to local partners and donors.
In 2021, Anaisabel was awarded the Chevening 2021/2022 scholarship by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to study her Masters in Development Administration and Planning at University College London.
Currently, her interests are in incorporating decolonising models that support organisations to improve their relationship with donors and to scaling-up their efforts to secure funding.
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