EPISODE 32: Ending the Colonial Mindset in International Philanthropy

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This nonprofit shows foundations that their support isn’t about exporting some scarce resource; it’s about unleashing a community’s own plentiful potential. 

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Transcript


Straw media. This is Lucas Cranley
from next city, to show about change

makers and their stories. Truth is, there are solutions to the problems of

pressing people in cities. If you're
listening, I hope it's because you want

to spread good ideas from one today
to the next city. Today we're talking

about a way to decolonize philanthropy.
What does that mean? Edgar Villen Aueva

wrote the book on decolonizing wealth.
That's literally the title of the book.

Here he is in a speech shortly
after it was published. But what does

it really mean, you may ask. Well, first, are we clear

what colonization is? Colonization things totally
normal to us, because history books are

full of it right and because to
this day, many colonizing powers talk about

colonization not with shame but with pride
in their accomplishments. Because it's actually really

strange. Conquering is one thing.
You travel to another place, take resources,

kill people who get in your way, then you go home with your

spoils, but in colonization you stick
around, you occupy the land and you

force the existing indigenous people to become
you. It's like a Zombie invasion.

Colonizers insist on taking over their bodies, the minds and the souls of the

colonize. Is there a Zombie invasion
happening right now in American philanthropy? Maybe

they want to send a great new
technology overseas and ultimately make people there more

like them. That's just one example. On the show today we'll meet the

founders of into roots. They are
pushing for an alternative philanthropic structure, one

where the community is to find the
problem and they're defining the solutions. Here

is next city correspondent sentnamon answer.
Yeah, I mean it makes perfect sense

Um kind of from the outside.
But then there's really well intentioned projects that

are designed to solve a problem.
But then when you really sort of analyze

the problem and it's like, well, who's defining that problem right, and

it's more these people that want to
make this solution and save things and maybe

even do something good. But then
there's but if there's if it's not connected

to like a real community issue and
like something that like the people in the

ground really care about and want to
have solved, it just kind of quickly

comes across it's useless and comes across
as like out of touch there's all these

other problems. It's like we don't
need this like green plastic laptop. We

need, I don't know, all
these other things that is obvious to us

living here, I mean piling up. They wants to have real impact like

you're talking about. Do you think
they're aware of this disconnect, this sort

of inclination toward a colonial mindset?
Some of them have to be, I

guess. If I think if the
people working in these foundations have any sort

of idea about the like modern challenges
like to their work, but I don't

think. I think it can be
hard. There's this whole ecosystem of funding,

right, and why something is selected
or not selected, and goals and

Um. So I think it can
be, even if they might know it.

I think it can be hard to
funnel money and projects towards things that

aren't neo colonial when it's like,
even with maybe the best of intentions,

like a U N report might come
out or something, and you know,

we would of course want to end
up with these like sustainable development goals and

and things like that, but that
doesn't necessarily mean that like every worthwhile project

on the ground is going to like
meet those needs either. And so Um,

yeah, I guess it's hard to
say if they're aware or not.

I feel like there's just a lot
going on. Actually, I've worked in

development a little bit before I started
doing journalism, and so obviously we worked

a lot of funders and like just
this one pro this one project, stuck

with me, where like a lot
of the project and its research and stuff

was geared towards the program managers,
like Phd Work Um or like supporting that,

and that's always sort of stuck with
me. All of that to say

I think there can be like self
interest on a lot of levels. So

what exactly does interrouts do and how
does it prevent this colonist philanthropy? Yeah,

by just taking this really true and
deep community approach. The people at

the highest level making these decisions are
connected to actual community needs and everything kind

of comes through that. And interrow
it's really like sort of sees itself as

like more empowering like community needs than
taking this sort of like well, we

see a problem, here's our solution
for it and we're going to give it

to you, and it's a lot
more about sort of connecting communities or groups

with maybe the funding or grant opportunities, just basically taking this approach of like

what you don't have is like the
resources you need to do these things for

yourself, so we can help you
get these things to do it for yourself,

because obviously you're capable and obviously you're
in the best position to understand and

therefore like solve your own problems.
So it's Inter it's kind of like an

intermediary then to their helping connect funders
to what people say they need. Yeah,

yeah, and I think another sort
of interesting thing that they offer is

is sort of the ability for foundations
or like funding sources to be connected to

like real issues with real community driven
solutions, and I think that that can

be sort of a disconnect for funders, Um and foundations and sometimes too,

to like find the ways where their
dollars can be really well utilized, and

so I think inter routs like provides
that kind of on both sides. In

a way, interroots provides the critical
liaison between local communities and philanthropic support.

After the break we will hear from
the CO founders of inter roots, Ronald

Kibbridge and Uganda and Scott Frank here
in the United States. Welcome back to

next city. On the show today
ending the colonist mindset that can exist in

international philanthropy. A group called interroots
is making the case that solutions must be

envisioned and owned by the community itself. That's the principle you've also heard from

Edgar Villaueva, the author of declonizing
wealth. Here he is in that same

speech at the Chicago History Museum.
So this is what I argue in the

book. We are resilient. We
the resilient, all of us who have

been excluded and exploited by today's broken
economy. We possess exactly the perspective and

the w some that is needed to
fix it. Joining us now are Ronald

Cabbridge and Scott Frank, the CO
founders of interrowts, a group that puts

local communities in charge. I want
to start really big with this idea of

what is a colonial mindset in international
philanthropy. What is that for people?

How do they notice it? That's
quite a big question and I and I

think this is the response to this
will come in different fold from Uganan perspective,

for example, where I'm coming from, or from my own point of

view as well as this is concerned, is having a colonial mindset is always

looking to the colonial masters or the
previous colonial masters for all the support.

I think this idea also is both
sides. Is formed from communities that were

previously colonized and to the communities that
colonizes. So that's how I see it.

But from that, this is what
we like to from the Inter side

to a art. Having been an
in it, in the system of support

Um, I can I was supported
by charity called General Uganda a good part

of my life and I have observed
the way the system works for Um support

and all that. There's there's this
kind of Um, there's a development of

dependency on another person all the time
and you know acknowledging the fact that yes,

you need help, but yes,
there's some things you can do for

yourself. It's this mentality that something
needs to be brought to a place and

that the answer always exists within the
colonizer's framework. Right, you're always looking

to the people who created the problem
in a lot of cases to be the

answer, in in and in modern
parlance. A lot of times people say

it's like white savior complex things like
this um where basically you think, oh,

I must be the one to solve
this issue somewhere else, when really

it's about what's already there in a
place, what's what's already a history,

knowledge, acknowledge as existed for centuries. People want to do right, but

when we're cultivated within a colonial framework, it's hard to operate outside of that

framework, even though you think you're
doing the right thing. A lot of

time it's perpetuating a power dynamic and
you don't even know it. And we

recognize that. But at the same
time we also believe that it's possible to

change that and people are more than
capable of understanding what's going on. was

there a moment, like just before
you formed into roots, where you thought,

oh, that okay, that's it. I've had enough and now we

have to form into roots. Was
something that made you decide to do this?

Through our discussions with Scott for a
long time? Yeah, we phoned

that there are some things that really
need to be changed in the process and

of this power structure. We had
a lot of moments from all the night

where we just kind of I think
this is how we connected. We just

kind of look at each other and
be like wait a minute, this is

this, this, there's something going
on it that this, this isn't how

how it has to be, you
know, whether it be, I think

in the Uganian context, observing another
organization and, you know, like trips

where people would come over and interact
and that dynamics of interaction, how inequitable

they were. Um, you know, we just see that and so we

started talking about it literally on Ronald's
roof, you know, and we're like,

how do we do something different?
And that's kind of how we delved

into this idea and it took a
long time, as a long conversation,

because centuries of of of colonial rule
does not just go away with a conversation,

nor an idea, and that's kind
of one of the problematics of current

you know, Um, nonprofit ideas. It's about people always want to know

what is the one idea that's going
to change it all? What's the innovation

that's gonna do it? But that
idea of innovation, it's also kind of

a colonial paradigm, if you will. When you're operating in a framework that

is fundamentally unjust, you perpetuate in
this unless you actively try not to.

You know, that's that's our field. Interrouts is calling out a cycle of

dependency. Edgar Villa, in the
way of the author of declonizing wealth,

might have called it the colonist virus. He said the virus spreads because people

and cultures adapt to your new technology
and pass on the adaptation. So how

do we break from the cycle?
So I think you perfectly set up,

you know, the question that all
these bags, which is, what does

interrowt to do exactly, then,
to prevent this colonist mindset from creeping in?

First of all, we engage with
the community and within the projects that

we interrupt with, we deal directly
with the communities and we bring the members

of the community, and they committed
itself to to the table and actually they

present their own needs and their their
own ways of solving the challenges they're facing

on their own terms. This also
feeds in what we've been saying about dependency,

that we have a particular time schedule, that after this the projects that

we are doing must be sustainable and
they should be running themselves and the community's

investment is visible and are able to
run the projects themselves. So right from

the from the onset of the projects
that we are engaging with, the commute

is on the table. They bring
their challenges and then they find they find

solutions of how they want to solve
them, and then we support we come

in as partners to solve these problems. That equal partners. The other thing

that we do is that we only
come in when we are asked to.

If they need something that they cannot
access in the process and we can't do

it, we come in as UM
equal partners to solve the problem that comes

up from the community in the process. Basically, we work for the community

and they contract us to help trouble
shoot, you know, and accomplish the

vision that they have Um, as
well as bring any sources to bear that

are helpful to break into this nonprofit
sphere, the resources that are here Um

that are so widely inaccessible to communities
who are just trying to make a change.

After the break, we will talk
about the processes that interroots has developed,

which they say are key to an
equitable relationship. Welcome back to next

city on the show today, inter
roots and how it envisions freeing communities from

across the globe from toxic relationships with
philanthropic organizations. In Uganda, interroots is

helping a community construct the TATSAT Community
Academy, a secondary school, Performing Arts

Institute and Credit Union all in one
and all designed to help preserve cultural traditions.

Along the way, they've developed real
changes to the grant making process which

others could emulate. Here again is
Scott Frank, CO founder of interroots.

Another thing that we do is we
we implement a lot of things called system

mitigators or mitigating systems, right,
for example, Um. One thing that

interests does is that we never actually
interact with the community directly. Um.

This is very important in because we
understand that, no matter who we are

and how conscious you are of saying, okay, there's a lot of these

colonial systems exist. You know,
I'm trying to do this right. It

is implicit and no matter what you
do, if you're sitting at a table,

there are dynamics that will always be
there. So how do you mitigate

those? Um. One thing that
we do is we have a liaison to

every project. Um. The liaison, for example, sits in between the

community and an inter subcommittee. Um
that that basically translates norms, needs and

everything else effectively, meaning that they
are able to Um. You know,

the community has complete autonomy to discuss
things as they will with this person who's

a trusted Lee is on from the
community, Um, and they can also

say exactly what they need to say
or want to say to the interroot side.

But it's not that those Um.
That dynamic is there. While they're

having the conversation. The liaison also
works Um to translate two introots and from

the introots to the community. Right. It can be a selective process and

they have a lot on their shoulders, but it allows for autonomy on each

side and also more fruitful conversation about
what really is needed from the other person.

Um and formally, more importantly,
Um, our board on introots is

actually made up of community members.
One of the requirements of a project is

to have um communities sit on the
board of introots itself. Now, as

we grow as an organization, we
have three projects going on. Right now

there's three community members, but the
view is is that ultimately interroots will be

the communities itself. Um. The
board will be made of communities across the

Globe and represents of those communities what
we provide as an equitable structure. That

said, Um, how do you
do that? And one of the things

that we do is we all were
just interrogative. On the Interruth side,

we will never say what to do
ever to a community, even if they

present a problem that they're dealing with. We will only ask questions, right,

and oftentimes those questions are what do
you mean by that? I think

a great example, Ronald Talks about
this all the time, is Um.

We were because you accountability is important. Right. Just to decolonize something doesn't

mean that people aren't accountable to each
other. Right. Question is, what

do you mean by accountability? And
that's the conversation that's important. And there

was a whole conversation of Um,
conflict of interests, right, and that

was a fascinating one because we said
what what? On the interring side,

what are you doing to control for
conflicts of interest? Is this something you've

just thought about as a question?
And there was a whole conversation that happened

through the community and they said,
Oh, we give what you mean.

Finally, right, you said,
so, how we see it is,

how do we keep from cheating ourselves? And we said Yeah, sure,

so how? And if we hadn't
asked the question, allowed the space for

someone to say what, what do
they mean? My conflict adventures, this

is this makes no sense. You
know, like then that would have never

happened. And they came up.
One of our projects came up with a

structure that is incredibly accountable and we
call community compliance. So what interests does

afterwards, after these structures are creative, is we just sit back and we

say, okay, how are you
holding yourself accountable? At the end of

the day, our job is to
just say, okay, have you held

yourself to your own terms? Are
You community compliant? So can we talk

about the money side of it?
You work for the community, but then

how are you connecting with all this
money that wants to come to different places?

It's a great question and that's something
we are still trying to figure out

the best way to do, because
one of the key relationship that exists in

the current nonprofit model is this idea
of the donor relationship right, and oftentimes

they wield unnecessary amount of power over
what happens on the side, as far

as programming, as far as influence
in the community, etcetera. So our

goal as into routs was to create
a structure where we would be able to

for example, we created our nonprofit
structure sore a c three, but we

also give grants out to organizations when
appropriate. We can be a fiscal sponsor

when appropriate. We adapt to whatever
the community needs as far as a funding

structure, so that all can be
kosher and all can be legal. That

said, it's been difficult for us
because donors want to plug in right to

the community directly. Ronald and I
and interests think that this is highly problematic.

Yet someone still needs to feel meaningful
and connected to what they're doing.

So that's the problem that we're trying
to figure out. For example, we

don't do trips. What we're trying
to do is sell the idea of a

different model Um so that people will
support us. Also, we help bring

to bear tools that are in the
community and also tools that they identify that

they want to do fundraising on their
own um so that once we separate from

that project in a short term,
they're able to fundraise on their own.

And also, most importantly, we
want to support projects that actually don't depend

on the cycle of charitable giving.
At the end of the day, there

are many ways that money plays in
the current world, non government organization world,

and one of the things is how
to to fundraise it and how to

fundraise while actually representing the community directly
and not portraying it as as something else.

As you know them, for example, they are pictures of children that

are in need and they is all
we have all is been have having a

question. How can we represent the
community the way they want to be represented,

not their way they perhaps they don't, as we best, get attracted

to it. So uh, and
this is has been ongoing, and it

is uh on ongoing question. What
we do is that we have this planged

into the community themselves. They present
what they want to present. We cannot

present any any material, pictorial or
video or anything that is not sanctioned by

the by the community itself, by
the people on the ground, and actually

what we say is mostly coming from
the community, so that it is very

well represented. Let's conclude now by
listening to a short clip from one of

the videos updating supporters on the tasker
project in Uganda. Here's the rejects community

based consultant. The great aspect of
this project is that we're deep in a

rural area. You see the mountains
behind us. If you have a chance

to tour the place, you'll see
the forests around, and the young people

here don't always have an opportunity to
get the facilities that we're building for them.

Plus, the curriculum involves training them
in financial responsibility, so they have

a role to play in the savings
and credit cooperative. They're also going to

be trained how to read and to
write business planes, so that when they

graduate there will be equipped not only
with an academic background but a practical one

that they will be able to apply
in their lives. We hope you enjoyed

this episode of next city, a
show about change makers and their stories.

Together we can spread good ideas from
one city to the next city. Thank

you to reporter Cinnamon Jancer and our
guests Ronald Kibbridge and Scott Frank from interroots.

Our audio producer is Sylvana Alcohola,
our scriptwriter is Francesco Mamlin, our

executive producers are Tyler Nielsen and Ryan
Tillotson, and I am Lucas Grimly,

next cities executive director. By the
way, next city is a news organization

with a nonprofit model. If you
like what we're doing here, please consider

pitching in to support our work.
visit next city dot org slash membership to

make a donation. We would love
to hear any feedback from our listeners,

please feel free to email us at
Info at next city dot Org and,

if you haven't already, subscribe to
the show on Apple, spotify, good

pods or anywhere you listen to your
podcasts. Eight
Next City
Join Lucas Grindley, executive director at Next City, where we believe journalists have the power to amplify solutions and spread workable ideas. Each week Lucas will... View More

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