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Sadaf Shallwani: Shifting Power & Supporting Communities

In this episode we talk to Sadaf Shallwani, Director of Learning and Evaluation at the Firelight Foundation, about funding systems change, supporting grassroots communities and shifting power dynamics within philanthropy. Including:

  • How did the Firelight Foundation come about, what is its core mission, and what is distinctive/unique about its approach?
  • Why is “traditional aid broken”?
  • Why is the distinction between charity and justice or solidarity so important to Firelight’s work?
  • Does a focus on justice and solidarity require taking a different approach to philanthropy? What does this mean in practice?
  • How can we ensure that power and decision making within philanthropy is shifted towards the people and communities who would have been seen as the traditional ‘beneficiaries’? (E.g. through participatory means?)
  • Is the strongest case for shifting power a moral one (i.e. it is the “right” thing to do), or a pragmatic one (i.e. it produces better outcomes)?
  • Can “funder ego” or a “saviour mindset” present barriers to genuine efforts to share power?
  • What kind of challenges are there for traditional grantmakers when it comes to bringing communities and people with lived experience into decision making processes?
  • How big a risk is there that foundations and other funders co-opt social movements or grassroots CSOs by deliberately introducing grant stipulations etc aimed to direct the focus of the movement away from controversial areas or soften their tactics? How do we avoid this risk?
  • Why is core-cost and multi-year funding so important when supporting movements? Are we seeing more funders recognise this and adapt the way they fund?
  • Can we find forms of philanthropy that are genuinely able to support fundamental reform to the very systems in which wealth has been created? What are some of the hallmarks of this type of philanthropy?
  • How can funders strike the right balance between taking a trust-based approach and not placing unnecessary reporting burdens on grantees, and having sufficient measurement to ensure they still know their funding is working?
  • How can funders design impact measurement approaches with their grantees to ensure they are genuinely empowering and beneficial rather than imposing a new burden?


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