Why grantee-partners chose their own consultants

By Vanina Serra, Senior Programme Officer 

From the very beginning, Mama Cash decided not to be involved in grantee-partners’ choices of consultants to work with in the R&R initiative. This was an intentional choice because we wanted grantee-partners to be able to work with someone they trusted. We knew it was crucial for grantee-partners to be able to rely on and talk to someone that they knew and trusted given the serious and personal nature of holistic security and well-being.

Importantly, we also wanted to move away from the tendency of “parachuting” experts into a context that they don’t know. 

Choosing consultants is definitely one thing many funders want to do, or at least be involved in, to make sure that the quality of the work is up to a certain standard – that is to say, a Western capitalistic standard. But the imposition of a consultant, often from outside the local context, does not respect the knowledge and expertise existing locally and within movements, and it doesn’t guarantee the best results for the groups.

We wanted the R&R initiative to unfold organically and flexibly from the beginning. This meant, of course, that we accepted a degree of not knowing what would happen or how things would turn out. We provided project guidance in our initial conversations with partners, but it was minimal in order to allow space for experimentation. Neither Mama Cash nor the partners, nor even the consultants themselves, really knew what course this journey towards holistic security and well-being would take. 

And looking back, I’m so glad that that’s how we decided to work. It was the right decision to follow the direction of grantee-partners about how they wanted to conduct their work. As with many other things, the concept of security is so often defined by the experiences of people occupying positions of privilege. But what security is and how it is perceived by a white cis man sitting in an office in Europe will be very different from how it is lived, for instance, by an Indigenous woman in Bolivia or Myanmar. For us, it was important that those we worked with on this initiative had the chance to define security for themselves. We recognise them as the experts in their own lives. 

As funders, we’re accustomed to thinking that we know best, or that outsiders always have the solution. It can be hard to let go of control, but when funders can take a step back and cede decision-making…that’s where I’ve seen the magic start to happen