“Generosity with strings is not generosity; it is a deal.” ~Marya Mannes
**This blog post is taken from my sharing at UMC Point Richmond last Sunday. You can watch the service here and I start around minute 34.
The aim of Spirit in Action is true generosity – with transformational, rather than transactional, relationships. From what I’ve heard from my friends in Africa, many grants can feel more like a deal than an act of generosity. Some large granting organizations are still expecting people to have the same grant outcomes they promised in December of last year, rather than accepting the reality that the world has changed.
But moving away from checklists and strict rules and deals, requires trust. Like the trust that Sister Magrina built up by living in the community where she was serving. (Pictured above, Kenya 2017.) I’m learning to lean into the mantra, “trust people and they become trustworthy.” We engage our partners from a place of trust – trusting that they know what works best in their community and that there is room for flexibility in the process of community building. This trust then empowers both parties in the relationship to be trustworthy. To me, this is part of the process of seeing our work as rooted in justice, rather than charity.
Sharing the Power
Last year, as part of moving towards justice, and uncovering unconscious bias in our organization, we formed the Spirit in Action African Advisory Board. Creating the African Advisory Board was about letting our African colleagues take the driver’s seat. It was about aligning more fully with our vision which affirms that “our partners know best what they need and can create the change they envision.” (The moment of dreaming pictured above, Kenya 2019.)
Rather than have me or the North American Board decide who should receive grants, we turned the decision-making power over to six people who are on the ground. All six of them are extremely knowledgeable – not only just about their own communities and countries – but also about community development, activism, and making change. And they know Spirit in Action well too. Canaan in Malawi has been with Spirit in Action longer than I have (and it’s 13 years for me now!).
Also serving on the African Advisory Board is Naomi in Uganda, who is a child protection specialist. She helps the Ugandan Ministry of Gender plan their programs to support orphans and vulnerable children. Samuel Teimuge in Kenya has been a mentor and innovator in sustainable agriculture for 38 years. Wambui Nguyo has a degree in Banking and Finance. She was a trainer in trauma healing and peacebuilding in post-conflict areas of Kenya for many years. She recently founded e-CATS (which stands for Empowering Communities as Actors for Transforming Societies) as a way to give back, as a form of community service.
These are the people we have on SIA’s team, and this year, for the first time ever, they are the ones making decisions about where we send our money.
And, now that everything happens on Zoom – including our North American board meeting, we could easily have African Advisory Board join the meeting. (Pictured right.) Rather than have me present their report and grant recommendations earlier this month, Naomi in Uganda made the presentation. Each of the African Advisory Board members shared about their process and the way they applied the rubric to their evaluation of the applications.
New Grant Partners
So what did they choose to fund? Out of 90 applications from grassroots organizations in East Africa, the African Advisory Board made the tough decisions and selected nine top organizations.
The Global Batwa Outreach will help 100 indigenous Ugandans start vegetable gardens at home. The Kiserem Epileptic Foundation will train 100 women (including women with epilepsy, their caregivers, and other community members) to raise poultry – while also combating stigma against epilepsy. Midwife-led Organization for Community Transformation (pictured above) will host a support group for adolescent girls who have been victims of violence, helping them to heal and see a hopeful future. For Reach Girls in Malawi this will be their first ever international grant. They will lead a vocational training course for girls in rural Malawi, as a way to encourage them to continue their education and be more independent.
Those are just four of the nine new organizations that I’m excited to work over the next year. Each of them serving individuals, families, and communities to tap into their resilience and build a hopeful future.
This work truly does call on us to daily “seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.” It calls us to humbly serve by listening, by being there for the long-term, and by giving love and compassion freely, without strings or deals attached. Sometimes that means giving food aid, and sometimes it means changing our organizational structure to include more diverse voices and decision-makers.
In these days of Advent, of preparing and dreaming, of listening and waiting, my invitation to you is to join me in humble service and joyful generosity, so that more people on earth can live according to their highest potential.