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The Nonprofit Strategist

FMS Interviews: Arise Foundation on Building Resilient Communities to End Modern Slavery

One of my favorite things about the work that we do is the opportunity to go behind the scenes with so many different and worthwhile organizations. We learn a lot every time we work with a new client -- about the challenges and opportunities that exist in our sector, how theories and ideas play out in different contexts in the real world, and about how some of the brightest and most committed leaders out there are rising and adapting to meet changing needs within society, and within the nonprofit sector.

To contribute to some of the interesting conversations we see happening in the space, and give you an opportunity to learn from the experiences and philosophies of others organizations, we’re starting a series featuring some of the great leaders we get to work with. 

Today’s interview is with Luke de Pulford, the co-founder and director of Arise Foundation, a charity based in London and New York working to end slavery and human trafficking through frontline networks around the world. Arise and Forward Motion Strategies recently partnered to deliver a set of tailored workshops to some of those frontline partners around the world, in order to build the capacity of these very grassroots organizations to identify potential funders and successfully apply for foundation grants.
 

 

Kate Horner, Forward Motion Strategies: Can you tell us a little bit about Arise’s giving philosophy?

Luke de Pulford, Arise Foundation: Arise is first and foremost a charity that is oriented toward helping frontline groups, and those might be groups that are not so successful at winning funding on their own because they lack some of the NGO infrastructure or the ability to demonstrate their impact that has become a feature of successful fundraising and we believe needn’t be. So we’re trying to find a way of effectively getting money to these very grassroots, frontline, civil society projects, and at the same time amplify their voices so their work is better appreciated.

You’ve talked with us before about this idea of accompaniment as well. How does that play into your giving?

We have found that the key thing that makes preventive anti-trafficking measures work is what I would call “accompaniment”: a very self-sacrificial, long-term, “being-with” people who are suffering exploitation or who are vulnerable to exploitation. It’s the kind of thing that can only be done locally because it requires a long-term commitment. It also requires a building of trust, which not only takes a long time but requires somebody to be embedded in civil society.

Faith-based organizations often play a very special and distinct role in this work because they occupy a special place in the community. They’re often trusted figureheads, and their projects will comprise a lot of volunteers. These will typically be people who are of those communities and who have no plan to leave those communities.

Accompaniment is a kind of civil society work that is hard to support because it plays out over a long period of time, and because very often it’s volunteer-led, rather than something that fits into the professional mold of an NGO. However, we see it as having extraordinary preventive potential if it's harnessed and better invested, and that is the space Arise is trying to occupy.

 

"There is a traditional model which has seen Western funding arms dictating the state of play of development work... There is another way. Listen to the kind of work [civil society organizations] think is needed, provide the kind of funding that doesn't require massive NGO bureaucracies in order to deliver, and listen to the kind of thing they say constitutes impact."

 

You touched on some notable differences between these groups and more traditional NGOs. Can you expand a bit more on that?

I think there is a traditional model which has seen Western funding arms dictating the state of play of development work within the countries it seeks to affect, and there are problems with that. Not least that they are not always formed by the desires of those communities. They end up having to be shoehorned into a Western understanding of impact. So on a very practical level, you will often end up with a NGO that is headquartered in the West and has an outpost in the developing country, and the problem with that is that you’re not really listening in the way you might, if you started at the local level and then moved upwards.

In some ways, Arise, being a Western-based organization, is not dissimilar. But what we’re doing is trying to mediate the relationship between those NGOs and funding organizations and the people who are actually doing the work by saying, there is another way. Listen to the kind of work they think is needed, provide the kind of funding that doesn’t require massive NGO bureaucracies in order to deliver, and listen to the kind of thing that they say constitutes impact, which isn’t always numbers of people, but can be the far less quantifiable stuff around civil society resilience that can be very difficult to fit on an impact sheet.

There are other practical differences too. Generally speaking the work of civil society being local, it’s often more rural. One great strength of working with sisters has been just their reach; they’re in places that no other NGO could afford to be.

how have these differences, and your funding approach, shaped your relationships with grantees?

It only really works if you have very strong, trusting relationships with networks. If you’re not connected to a network of civil society organizations, it’s very difficult to do this kind of grant giving because what you end up doing is falling back on the traditional model where someone sends you a proposal and you judge the proposal and the paper trail, plus whatever due diligence you do. For us, that was never going to work because the smaller civil society organizations often don’t produce Grade A proposals, but still do brilliant work.

So the question for us has become: how do we support that work, but reliably? We determined fairly early on that this kind of slightly riskier grant giving strategy was only going to be successful if that organization was strongly networked and had a strong relationship locally. So we use other local NGOs to do our due diligence for us and with us. We ensure that the people working there can nominate people from other NGOs with whom they’re working that they think are great.

 

"The fact that [these organizations] don't have the infrastructure at the moment in order to be able to bid successfully for money, doesn't mean that ought to be the case in the future... That's why working with Forward Motion has been such an important step in the journey for us."

 

HAS, OR HOW Has, that influenced your decision to invest in the kind of capacity building that you’ve been doing?

That is a very important part. The fact that they don’t have the infrastructure at the moment in order to be able to bid successfully for money, doesn’t mean that ought to be the case in the future. The language of human rights and international development and grant giving can all be learned, and there is no reason it ought not to be.

That’s why working with Forward Motion has been such an important step in the journey for us. There are people we know within these groups, who with a bit of capacity building, could happily step into the role that we currently occupy, which is to raise money for them and amplify their voices. Ultimately that is our goal, so we need to get to a place where the funding community appreciates this kind of work, and the people doing the work have the ability to articulate why it’s so important.

What’s been the most challenging, and the most rewarding, thing about this approach?

Every grant giving organization has to deal with rejecting requests for funding. It’s one thing when you’re rejecting organizations that can churn out proposals all the time. It’s quite another thing when you’re dealing with organizations that, if they aren’t funded by you, probably won’t be funded by anybody. That’s difficult.

As well, operating at a low level or with a low number of beneficiaries for a particular project can make it feel as if you’re battling an overwhelming tide of organized crime. We learned very early on to look at this as “one life at a time”: if we’re preventing one person from being trafficked, that that is justification enough for doing this work. But we also know we’ve helped many more people than that.

I find it very rewarding when I get, as I frequently do, messages from people on the ground from various countries telling me of successes, but not success as our NGO community would normally frame it. It might be an update of a young woman achieving something relatively small in the scheme of things -- gaining a qualification, for example -- but it represents a lot of work. I think those stories help ground us in what’s important in this work, and not to be too separate from it.

 

"I would like the whole community to think differently about impact. We need to think much more in terms of what builds resilience at the frontline, and much less about the numbers of people that we can get into shelters."

 

FMS: What lessons do you think other funders might take from your experiences?

I would like our whole community to think differently about impact. We need to think much more in terms of what builds resilience at the frontline, and much less about the numbers of people that we can get into shelters. While it is an important aspect of this work, that tells only a tiny proportion of the anti-slavery story. I’m not alone in thinking that, but as a community we don’t yet have the mechanisms to make this nascent idea a reality because all of our funding mechanisms are predicated on a different way of thinking about impact.

If there is another message I would give to the broader funding community or governments trying to fund civil society work, it’s that we need to find a way of appreciating faith-based work. People are naturally frightened of proselytism, but my experience has been that it is extremely rare. In reality, this work is done for anybody who is suffering, regardless of creed and without any sense of propagating whatever faith tradition they might come from. The fact is a vast amount of development work is done by faith-based organizations or faith-based civil society figures and if we don’t use them and we don’t try to support them, we are missing a huge swath of the global population that can really act as a force for good.