By Susan Davis, Executive Director
On March 21 in Washington DC, we had an excellent discussion on innovations in grantee-grantor relationships, which we have briefly summarized below. Contact us if you are interested in participating in, presenting at, or hosting our next gathering (location and date to be determined, see more below).
Key takeaways from the presentations
To set the stage for the need for new kinds of funder-implementer relationships, Susan Davis from Improve International shared recent research on how WASH donors can influence sustainability (read more below). Emily Endres from Results for Development highlighted findings from research on how local WASH organizations implement new ideas (read more below). Our highlighted partnership was Osprey Foundation and IRC. Louis Boorstin (Osprey Foundation) and Elynn Walter (IRC) shared insights from their work.
Take a systems approach to funding. IRC and the Osprey Foundation are partners in the Agenda for Change. They are working, along with other organizations, to figure out how to get to universal, sustained water and sanitation service delivery. This means not focusing on first time access and infrastructure alone, but also on ensuring the systems behind water and sanitation service provision work over time, as depicted in the figure below.
Partnerships should be flexible and based on trust. Osprey gives IRC flexible core funding and flexible funding for Agenda for Change. Funding an organization’s strategy (core funding) vs. funding time-limited programs can come from getting to know and trust an organization over time.
Private funders can fund things that are difficult for government agencies to fund. Smaller foundations can have greater leverage on long-term change by funding innovation, learning, and systems change. Options are shown in the figure below.
Key Takeaways from the Discussion
- When funders fund for attribution vs. contribution, this often means they are not considering their role in the system.
- Because of power dynamics, it is difficult for the grant-seeker to tell the funder what’s a bad idea. “It’s a surreal world that funders live in.”
- Core funding allows the grant seeking organization to shift from selling what you think will get funded to what you think is the right thing to do.
- Programs at least five years, and ideally even longer, are needed for learning and adaptation. What would happen if a funder said “I want to fund 10 years of sustainable services for a whole district” instead of “I want to fund access for X people”?
- Funders could fundamentally change the game by funding in a way that allows for learning. This requires funders to listen and be flexible.
- Often industry (private sector) is not well represented as a stakeholder in these systems conversations.
Do WASH donors influence sustainability? Results from a 2016 NGO survey
Improve International surveyed more than 100 WASH development organizations on their perceptions of the role of funding mechanisms in contributing to sustainable water and sanitation services.
- Most respondents believe the ways donors fund influence sustainability of water, sanitation and hygiene interventions.
- Most respondents think donors are pretty good or okay at funding sustainable WASH services. But how do they know? because…
- Monitoring and/or evaluation after programs was reported by 59% of respondents as underfunded.
- Ideally, we could track the results of different types of grants over time. But often, unrestricted and restricted funds are blended to cover the full cost of a program.
Taking learning beyond the hotel conference room: how local WASH organizations implement new ideas. Considerations for funders & investors
In conversations with WASH program implementers, Results for Development asked, “What enables your organization to be flexible?” In other words, what allows them to implement new ideas, and to adapt their programs or processes? In addition, we asked, “What kinds of resources and relationships are helpful in the learning and adapting process?” Here are some of the key insights from our conversations that highlight how funders and investors can support innovators to learn and adapt:
- Allow for flexibility in workplans and program activities
- Communicate generously and listen to feedback
- Fund new or experimental approaches
- Provide non-project funding to invest in systems and staff
- Engage in collaborative relationships
What’s next for the Funder Collective?
Participants agreed that continued conversations about how funding relationships and mechanisms can influence sustainable water and sanitation services and systems are important. We agreed that it would be useful to have implementing organizations (grantees) participate as well, with hopes they will be candid about challenges. Options for format include quarterly webinars with topics like specific restrictions, post-implementation monitoring, how to be better at what you do; and having breakfast meetings during big WASH conferences like Stockholm World Water Week. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in participating, presenting your funder-grantee relationship, or hosting (providing space and/or financial resources for) an upcoming gathering.