How can funders support the growth of transnational solidarity?
On 8 October 2018 we published the BTS Round Table on the Future of Work, in which 12 experts explain recent changes to the nature of work and offer new ideas in labour policy, organising, and activism. This is a followup question to those initial responses.
Round table on the future of work
This project is supported by the Ford Foundation but the viewpoints expressed here are explicitly those of the authors. The foundation's support is not tacit endorsement within.
Transnational solidarity should be supported as a good and as a value in and of itself. Businesses and authoritarian states are doing their own versions of transnational joint work, and they've got bottomless resources to play with. They’ll be doing that no matter what we do, often with negative impacts for the rest of us. We need to show that embedded relationships among people around the world are actually more important than the global connections of global capital, or the global collaborations of the autocratic political elite.
Donors correctly frame their role as that of ‘partner’. They should be partners because they're filled with smart people who have their own important visions. But that partnership needs to reflect the principles I’ve mentioned elsewhere: tolerance for ambiguity, the ability to be a deep listener, patient and invested in the long term. This is really important because remaining distant from movements and passing out money is a very limiting way to help. There are many more ways funders could use their power to support these movements. At the same time, it's also really important that they're not controlling or second guessing social movements with that positional power.
Measuring success needs to be thought about differently when we're talking about developing transnational solidarity. Metrics need to be serious, but they also need to be long-term. The building blocks of solidarity – patience, commitment, deep listening, developing a joint analysis – require time as much as they require money. It takes technology for people to communicate across borders, and frequently air travel as well. It takes interpretation and translation. You can't expect the English speakers of the world alone to develop a powerful transnational social movement. People have got to be able to speak in the medium in which they live and work, and sometimes that means funding many rounds of interpretation so everybody can speak with the most confidence and strength.
If funders want to support transnational solidarity movement building, they need to think about supporting core operating budgets rather than always trying to underwrite specific activities. That’s important because if you're building a movement of workers around the world you're not going to be able to predict all the specific interventions in advance that will be needed over the course of however many months or years a grant is operating.
Further, if a donor wants to support an organisation's goal of developing its relationships across borders and building transnationally, then it needs to invest in its relationship with that organisation as well. Core support is really the best way to do that. Not only does it pay for staff and internal development work, but it signals belief in the organisation and its mission. It says, ‘We've talked about it, we get each other. I believe in your vision and I see your plan - we're partners. I'm your funding partner, here's the core support’. And then you stay in touch. The donor becomes part of the movement and supporting it, but not inadvertently trying to manage it or run it by micromanaging its individual, specific activities. You're not telling it what to do, and you're not holding it to a promise of a specific intervention that was made a year ago when circumstances were completed different.
This project is supported by the Ford Foundation but the viewpoints expressed here are explicitly those of the authors. Our support is not tacit endorsement within. The aim was to highlight new ideas and we hope the result will be a lively and robust dialogue.
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