Written by Mackenzie Martin The SVRI Forum was as an important gathering of researchers and…
Written by Laura Somoggi and Shivani Gupta This was first published by Alliance Magazine. Permission to publish on the SVRI Blog was given by the authors. Over the years, most of us have been taught the ‘golden rule’: do to others what you want them to do to you. But this needs to be challenged. Last year, during an incredibly inspiring conversation as part of the Thousand Currents Academy, I heard something that stayed with me and has influenced us at The Womanity Foundation. This is the ‘platinum rule’: do to others what they want to be done to them. To be able to go deeper in this process, it’s important to reflect about the real motivations behind philanthropy and how we do it. We believe that sustained development and transformative change can only result from deep listening, unlearning, and by being aware of our own biases. By questioning ourselves constantly. When we were invited to write this article, we started to reflect on our lived experiences coming from colonised countries: Laura from Brazil and Shivani from India. How had the past of our countries shaped who we are and how we see the world? While coming from a position of privilege when compared to many others, our backgrounds influence the way we work, the way we see philanthropy and the growing conversations about decolonising philanthropy.
‘To be able to share, to have something worth sharing, gives dignity to the giver. To accept a gift and to reciprocate gives dignity to the receiver. To create something new through that process of sharing is to recreate the old, to reconnect relationships and to recreate our humanness.’ Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, 2012I (Laura) moved from Brazil to the UK 17 years ago. Despite being a white cis-woman fluent in English, well-educated and with a successful career, I suffered micro-aggressions for being an immigrant and having an accent. I felt that many of my colleagues that came from colonising countries (both at academia and at work) had a lot of self-confidence – which sometimes overruled my self-confidence. And it took me years to understand that. I (Shivani) hail from a typical Indian middle-class background. Good education, freedom of choices and a focus on career enable me to be where I am. However, society still prefers ‘fair skin’ and bows down to hierarchy, a strong leftover of the colonial past. My brown skin never really bothered me until I started travelling internationally for work, where very often brown skin belonged to ‘doers’, while the thinking and leadership roles were for the fairer skin. Given the environments where we grew up, we often talk about what it means for us to be co-leading a Swiss foundation. How do we feel about being part of a foundation that supports organisations based primarily in colonised countries? And more importantly, how can we adapt our approach to address the baggage of colonisation, which is still rampant in grant-making practices?
Removing the barriersWe believe that when talking about decolonising philanthropy, we need to acknowledge a few underlying factors, such as…
- … the fact that we live in a world where few individuals and organisations have access to so much money (and therefore can make grants, have endowments, influence the international development agenda etc.), is part of the reasons why we see massive inequality in society.
- … we all participate in political, social, cultural and economic systems that give permission for – and sometimes perpetuate – unequal power dynamics.
- … power imbalance is an intrinsic element of relationships, especially as money and power are some of the most valued resources in the capitalist society we live in.
- … narrative building and language used in the development sector are also largely influenced by colonising, militarist, and capitalist language. Even the use of the word ‘decolonising’ is not always the choice of many grassroots organisations that are challenging power imbalances.