Successfully raising and spending money for social change

August 8, 2013

New Mike Edwards paper: Beauty and the Beast- Can Money Foster Social Transformation?

This summer, the Hivos Knowledge Programme published a new paper by Michael  Edwards entitled Beauty and the Beast – Can Money Foster Social Transformation? Here, Edwards finds himself confronted with the current funding system, where “funders feel they cannot achieve the impact they want, while practitioners feel they cannot get the money they need, especially long-term, flexible funding to confront the really difficult issues”. The paper has been widely picked up and praised by the development community, where we now hope to see an increase in constructive debates on our current funding systems.

How money is raised, is just as important as how it is spent, says Edwards, pointing to the range of inequalities, privileges and attachments lying at the heart of money’s ‘ugly’ side. “In market-based societies ‘money talks’, but it rarely speaks the language of democracy and social justice”, he states. His proposal, therefore, is to integrate questions on different ways of raising and spending money into the search for social change in order to challenge pre-existing inequalities between the players in the field. After analysing the current funding system and showing new initiatives and experiments already taking place, Edwards concludes we should start employing a systems approach to social change funding; funders and recipients alike must move from a ‘funding monoculture’ to a ‘well-articulated ecosystem of funding options’, while allowing experiments in funding that may dissolve power imbalances between donors and recipients.

Michael Edwards is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on civil society, philanthropy, and social change. He describes himself as both researcher and activist, and for this reason his relationship with the Hivos Knowledge Programme goes back years. Edwards is a frequent visitor to Hivos, giving speeches at our events and thinking along with us on issues such as academic-practitioner collaboration and the relationship between knowledge and social and economic change. In 2011, he wrote the seminal think piece Thick Problems, Thin Solutions, outlining dilemmas NGOs face in a world where problems seem to be getting more complex, or ‘thick’, but where simultaneously the hunt for ‘magic bullets’ (often ‘thin solutions’) is on. He proposed that Hivos integrate the best of its values and practices with the innovative ideas and projects of today. Looking at our current shift towards becoming a global social innovator, this can hardly be coincidence.

With regards to the relationship between knowledge and change, Edwards addresses particularly the politics of knowledge that determine how thinking is translated into action of various kinds and which ideas are considered legitimate. He has stresses that these political factors will become even more important in the future. Dilemmas surrounding funding – picked up in his current paper – are just one aspect of the current challenging debate on knowledge and change.