By Shradha Shreejaya, Programme Associate for Asia and Oceania

Relationship-building with grantee-partners is something we centre in our work, and have centred in the R&R initiative. There’s a lot of care that happens in the process of ensuring that you are approachable and securing the trust and confidence of partners; we don’t want them to view us only as someone they have to report to and for whom they have to put on their best front. In fact, I want grantee-partners to be able to come to me and express their reality precisely when things are not going well, or when they have internal issues, or when there’s a third party who reports some sort of non-compliance or makes an accusation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given me the opportunity to see how the grantee-partners are working in a difficult situation and how they are bringing a lot of understanding, warmth, and tenderness to that process. I have definitely realised that grantmaking is not just a transactional relationship.

During the pandemic, we have seen many people from groups experiencing discrimination who have had to move back with their families. In traditional family setups, you may not hold any access to decision-making or resources or have a say in how you want to spend your time. Some people could not even access the internet in a private setting in their homes. So that was a very tough reality for most of the grantee-partners.

They often cannot talk about their work without families hearing or eavesdropping. This complete lack of privacy was coupled with the strain of still having to get on with their work, still supporting the community they work with. If you have to move funds or if you’re running a counselling service, then you still have to be available for online calls and setting up virtual meeting rooms. One of the grantee-partners reported that they were unable to hold their board meeting because some of their board members did not have privacy in their households.

The fact that partners have not been able to meet or work with their support systems has been very challenging, because most of these grantee-partners’ teams are very close-knit. They all have a very strong personal connection with each other. To be completely separated and having to work on their own has taken a toll on their mental health.

There were also instances when the grantee-partner’s work with the community had to drastically change. They have had to prioritise survival, so many of them have to postpone a lot of their advocacy and programme work.

Across our team, we took time to reflect on these realities and ensure that, through our communication with partners, we conveyed that we were understanding and approachable – a crucial step to support grantee-partners in difficult and challenging situations. Our work doesn’t end with transferring money. It’s also about how we build the relationships.