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At a gathering of participatory grantmakers in Mexico City, we were discussing how we could prove our effectiveness to advocates of ‘traditional’ philanthropy. ‘But, why should we?’, retorted Wanja Muguongo of UHAI-EASHRI, ‘They don’t feel the need to prove anything to us.’

Participatory grantmaking, as defined in the new GrantCraft guide, cedes decision-making power about funding—including the strategy and criteria behind those decisions—to the very communities that funders aim to serve. Participatory grantmaking challenges the assumptions of who is a legitimate decision-maker in philanthropic processes, and in doing so it values the voice of community leaders and activists as much as—if not more than—donors.

There are few who would disagree that some form of participation by intended recipients in philanthropic interventions is a good thing, and participatory grantmaking goes beyond the occasional consultation with ‘beneficiaries’. But before even contemplating the ceding of any decision-making power, many traditional funders ask for solid evidence of the positive impact of participatory grantmaking. My thoughts on this are two-fold:

  • Firstly, generating this evidence requires investment in learning.
  • And secondly, what is meant by ‘impact’, and who is defining it?

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