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Learnings, flexibility and disruption, is there a successful crossing?

The bet of supporting social movements

By Lucía Abelenda y Gloria Guerrero, Fundación Avina – Pulsante


Three years ago the joint work among Luminate, Fundación Avina and the Open Society Foundations allowed the creation of Pulsante. Our reflections were marked by how the lack of democratic representation, the culture of impunity and inequality had generated a cocktail that, even in the most adverse contexts, caused hundreds of people to come out to protest.

In Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru, there are different challenges, different perspectives, but a great demand on how the democracy and the State have a historical debt with many population’s sectors. Especially with the most excluded and vulnerable. Facing this background, there was no doubt, it was necessary to find a more liquid way to support the movements and groups that make the streets vibrate throughout Latin America.

This bet presented great challenges in how to build more flexible financing architectures with the ability to reach social movements. How do financing dynamics do not negatively affect the planning and action of a movement or a collective? How not to contribute only financially? How to reduce bureaucratic processes not to drown the movement? How to avoid focusing only on the process, but rather on the result to be achieved? How to achieve communications that connect with the population in the middle of social exhaustion? How can the donors’ collective reconceptualize the impact vision and learn from the groups that are supported? How to conceptualize time in an advocacy commitment?

After three years we do not have answers to all these questions, but this path allowed us to deconstruct the way of working and outline some lessons that, without distinctions of shape and background, give us elements to follow this path.

Who to work with?

We understood that there is no magic formula, or that the use of just one of the identification tools with which we work was not enough to build a work opportunity with more liquid processes. The open call articulation, mapping with interviews with key actors and individual talks was what allowed us to design the route to identify where the opportunity was.

National vs regional?

There is an inherent tension between the national and the regional. In such a complex Latin America, it seems that the national context has such specificity and urgency levels that it leaves no room for thinking about the regional. On the other hand, the regional seems to be an incomparable added value to generate progress at the local level. Given the lack of financing and the construction of long-term strategies, it seems that there is an urgency to create mini-clusters and partners’ networks by country or region, as well as to design tailor-made support for them.

Innovative or historical?

The work of many liquid groups is historical, and in our allies’ words, it vindicates the forms of organization that predate the State. In these processes there are great lessons that lead us to think differently about the innovation process, not to create something new, but to maintain and vindicate old struggles that nowadays, more than ever, need a place in our societies.

In this process, the objectives and opportunities are to diagnose challenges. For example, understanding that historical debts are not resolved in a 3-year cycle. It is necessary to be clear about the present opportunities that allow us to continue building the future we want.

“The struggles, from where we come from, are part of a millennial project; we are part of the historic fight that our grandmothers and grandfathers started more than 531 years ago.” Lucía Ixchíu, Festivales Solidarios.

Communication connected to “untouchable” values?

Communication strategies connect more with the population when the narratives are developed with the “untouchable” values of society beyond the specific fights that each movement has, above institutional communication. It is important to understand what mobilizes people from within, to mobilize audiences outside the niche of those already convinced, allowing each person to make them their own through new narratives.

What are the biggest challenges for these liquid forms to receive resources?

Funding for movements certainly creates challenges, risks and possible conflicts, but it also allows things to be done, things that otherwise would not be done. When most of the groups and collectives that are part of a social movement do so through voluntary work, it is necessary to think about the demand for unpaid work.  Is it sustainable? It is important to understand that the support mechanism should not break the people who lead the struggles, nor the struggles with unnecessary bureaucracies.

Funding like the one we received allowed us to do things that would have been unthinkable otherwise. Although it is true that we would have the same enthusiasm with or without resources, our acomplishments and achievements would have been different, much smaller, without this funding, which relied not only on resources, but on close listening and political accompaniment.” Lorena Wolffer, Disidenta.

Vindicate other forms of impact?

Working with liquid forms also made us rethink the various forms of impact, understanding that change is not achieved solely through traditional advocacy processes. For example, seeking to bother from the proposal by occupying public spaces, taking art and communication as a flag, or leaving institutional discussions to take the conversation to the personal and emotional. Protest to transform. Cultural change is also political.

Likewise, accepting that many of these groups do not see the solution in working with the State, unlike the more traditional organizations. This does not mean that they stop thinking of the State as a relevant actor, but rather that the focus and essence of their work is not there.

The diversity of the bet at different levels and types of social movements is key to the construction of a perspective of transformation and democracy strengthening in the long term

“Pulsante opted for feminist social practice, something extraordinary when a good part of the activism continues to view artistic practices with suspicion when they do not openly doubt of our work.” Lorena Wolffer, Disidenta.

“Pulsante believed in Afrochingonas at a crucial moment. Its trust and support encouraged us to grow and achieve the future we envisioned. Now we trust in our potential to create fertile soils in which Afrochingonas can flourish.” Afrochingonas.

How to continue building?

An awaiting challenge is to explore more participatory financing processes. These tools could be useful for defining the lines of work with the presence of the communities that are part of these processes; ensure that the allies’ network marks its place in the financing strategy. This certainly does not shorten the power gap between funded and funders, despite this, it allows us to continue experimenting with ways to discover democratic doing, where each of the interested actors can put the best of their experience. Undoubtedly, there is progress, but there is also the need to continue learning, and experimenting through more flexible processes.