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Myths and realities of a multi-actor fund

Is it actually possible to be a successful intermediate fund?

By Lucía Abelenda, Program Director, Fundación Avina – Alianza Pulsante

Collaborating and working together from philanthropy is one of the most sought and also most feared exercises; it involves effort, flexibility and a lot of time. Despite the challenges, Pulsante gives us with the firm conviction that it is not only possible, but also a successful way of working to strengthen democracy.

Pulsante was born from a dream and conviction: “It is possible to work for the civic space expansion and influence to improve power gaps in a Latin America that is crossed by inequality and exclusion”. It was a big challenge to decide the focus, and to find where to contribute, knowing that some issues that would be interesting and essential for the area would always be left out.

Despite having a clear dream and a strong conviction, the form is always a challenge; how to add value from an intermediary funding mechanism, how many countries to work in, what criteria and processes to use to select projects prioritizing inclusion over efficiency, how to assess the intervention impact and timing and its own sustainability, and how to reduce the bureaucratization financing processes. For Pulsante’s team, words such as flexibility, tailored follow-up support and trust resounded.

In addition to these two big things, the how and what, there have been some structural problems that complicated everything, such as the pandemic that caused a lockdown and challenged the way we responded as a society.

After three years of Pulsante and several lessons learned from previous mechanisms, some lessons can be shared about this type of collaborative bet:

Governance vs. Trust

All this experimentation, in a context as complex and uncertain as the last few years have been, was possible because the three Pulsante’s partners and the people who represented them had values aligned with what they wanted to contribute. This common strategy built a vote of trust that allowed the magic. Undoubtedly, these funds’ good governance and clear terms of reference are important; they are an essential tool for organizing work and having clear margins. Despite having a clear governance, this type of mechanism success lies in trust, the same that is built on a daily basis, in collaboration and in the appreciation between partners.

Working with allies, extended trust?

Trust, flexibility and collaboration are essential values, not only for the mechanism, but also for the follow-up work with allies. In other words, the ability to support is built, conquered with work, effort, affection, trust and time. This flexibility allows us to understand that the objective can be the same, but the path cannot always be maintained. Mistakes are part of life and that’s part of learning.

Time is gold but money is not enough

In addition to the fact that it is often true that the resources which come to organizations (in a reduced civic space and with few funding sources) are not enough for everything that needs to be done, it is also true that non-financial work, in the current condition of many mobilization processes for democracy, plays a fundamental role. This support, when personalized and co-created with the aaly, allows the creation of a long-term vision that direct resources alone would not be able to reach.

What is the value of the intermediary?

In many cases and for several years, the intermediary was seen as the group that received a part of the money that could reach the allies. Nowadays, in contexts of high uncertainty and high levels of vulnerability, groups working to build livelier, more vibrant and resilient democracies are often overloaded with small teams. The intermediary fund works as a cushion to support with the challenges and to receive the burden of developing actions that cannot be carried out and that distances them from their strategic action. It is not just a mechanism to grant money, it must also have all the conditions to support the process’ protagonists.

Network building versus time

In general, intermediary funds seek to generate networks among their allies. There is a challenge between the time and the possibility of building it that allows exchange and learning. Despite this, the human factor and investing time and resources for meeting, getting to know and learning from others continues to be something valued and that gives a plus to individual strategies.

Institutional communication vs. communication that mobilizes

Pulsante made two important decisions regarding communication. The first is that Pulsante’s communications were carried out with a focus on the supported organizations and social movements’ work and achievements, always considering the safety and well-being of the people who integrate them, understanding the political Latin America context. And that’s how it was done; communications were always coordinated with their consent on what was publishable and what was not.

The second decision was that the organizations and movements’ communications should prioritize mobilization and not promotion. In other words, Pulsante’s support aimed to co-create communication strategies, narratives and storytelling that could connect with people, with what moves them, above creating institutional communications.

What about the impact?

This process led Pulsante to change its vision of impact, to imagine what would be a new route of impact. The path matters, and it matters a lot. The aim is not only reaching the goal but also getting there together. For social changes to be sustainable, it is necessary to walk collectively. It’s worth it, but it takes time and goes through inconveniences and processes that bother. It means that it is difficult to achieve a structural change with isolated processes, such as a law change within 24 months, but through a series of chained actions, it is possible to build the foundations for the future we want to reach.

None of these things are new, but we think they give hope that collectively we can build more resilient democracies and that philanthropy has room to find more collaborative and liquid ways of working in the region in the long term.