Budget day was no great surprise for many grassroots campaigners in the UK. As expected, for poor families, young people, women, disabled people and others already on the frontlines of inequality, the outlook is not set to improve. The announcement from Barclays of £38 million in bonuses adds insult to injury. It’s clear that our current political and economic systems are concerned only with ensuring growth in private wealth. But as banks close in Cyprus and more people take to the streets globally to say we will not pay for this financial crisis, there is hope that people are ready for something new.
Edge Fund is a new independent funding body set up to support projects creating radical and systemic change. We support groups facing oppression and discrimination who are organising themselves to challenge this, whilst also supporting groups working in solidarity with them. Many of the groups are new or informal in structure, engaged in campaigning and have a radical approach which rules them out for most funders. Yet these independent grassroots groups are our best hope at creating the change we desperately need.
The rise in inequality and injustice and the alarming levels of destruction of our planet proves that we need a fundamental change in the way we live as a society. The elite few have control over our world and attempt to divide us and set us against each other whilst hoping we don’t notice them orchestrating everything to benefit themselves. To create an equal society we need to bring an end to this massive imbalance of power. Those most affected need to challenge their oppressors and others must stand by them to help dismantle the systems that hold the power structures in place.
There’s little funding available for this work. After all, people with money to give away are generally those who have benefited very well out of society exactly as it is. An equal world not only means poor people have more, but wealthy people also have less. So why would wealthy people want to totally restructure society to one where we all have an equal say about how resources are used, and consequently all have a more equal share of them? For most wealthy philanthropists the aim is to take the edge off the worst consequences of inequality by helping a few people get by, but not to change society too much. This is one reason we felt it was important that we were funded by many people giving what they can rather than aiming for large donations from the few.
We also present an alternative to the often undemocratic processes of conventional funders; we’re a membership organisation who make decisions collectively about the running of the fund, including how funding is allocated. Applicants also take part in funding decisions and with a membership fee of just £1 we’re more inclusive than some collective giving schemes that often have hefty minimum donation requirements.
Edge Fund aims to break down power dynamics within the funding process. This plays out in a variety of ways. Firstly, by minimising barriers to funding – for instance by allowing applications in a variety of formats, supporting groups to apply and involving applicants in the process of decision making. We also aspire to create a community of members that includes those most affected by inequality and injustice so we can be accountable to those we aim to help whilst giving them a power they do not usually have – the power that comes with money. This has been more challenging, especially with the high level of mistrust of funders from frontline communities. This is not surprising considering there has been a long history of foundations and charities imposing their own solutions on to communities, some of which not only perpetuate existing power imbalances but in some cases have made situations worse.
Our very first round came to a close on the 16th March. We distributed £40,000 amongst 28 groups, having narrowed it down from 334 applications. The process consisted of members taking part in online rating and discussions and a final all-day meeting involving applicants themselves in deciding how the funds were distributed. In the end, the funds were split fairly evenly amongst the groups. The most powerful part of the whole process was the opportunity to learn about other projects, forge new connections and share some critical thought on social change. It’s not been a perfect process and we’ve certainly made mistakes along the way; you might say its par for the course when breaking new ground.
Some of the groups supported include: Disabled People Against the Cuts who take direct action against the government’s austerity measures and the impact on disabled people; 8 April Movement, a group of Roma and Travellers mobilising people to challenge the racism and violence they face; and UK Via Campesina, a new group which aims to give a greater voice to small-scale food producers in the UK. Other groups work on issues such as racism, immigration, police monitoring and opencast mining. We also funded SQUASH, who have an article today in openDemocracy on section 144, the government’s new “squatting law” which is in urgent need of repeal.
Edge Fund is an ambitious project and is still very much in it’s infancy. Our membership needs better representation of people from all backgrounds, on class, race, sexuality, ability, gender and other grounds and this is a major focus over the coming months. Following our launch event in London we have another in Glasgow on the 7th April and plan to have regional hubs in future. Building a broad base of donors is also essential for the sustainability of the project and a fundraising plan is in development.
We’re now inviting people who share our vision to join us in building the fund to create a powerful resource for the social justice movement. Get in touch to join as a member, apply for funding, make a donation or get involved in other ways.