Aid donors are being urged to revolutionise the way money is spent to move away from colonial ideas and create meaningful change.
Ahead of a two-day conference this week, activists from Africa, Asia and Latin America have called on public and private global health donors – including governments, the United Nations, private philanthropists and international organisations – to prioritise funding for programmes driven by the needs of the community involved, rather than dictated by preconceived objectives.
In a call to action, Aspen Institute’s New Voices Fellowship want donors to offer flexible, long-term funding for sexual and reproductive health and rights and ensure leaders, those allocating grantsand programme teams reflect the communities and groups they seek to support. They also want the “tiresome barriers and bureaucratic loops and hoops” involved in applying for funds to be removed.
“The time for a revolution in understanding the dated and colonial concept of ‘aid’ is long overdue,” said Tian Johnson, an African queer activist and founder of the African Alliance, a global non-profit working on health rights issues.
Johnson said donors offered “short-term project funding that seeks long-term impact without paying civil society organisations’ staff a living wage”.
“At the core of what we would like to see is an exercise in humility. And that requires giving up spaces, sharing power, looking around the boardroom table, looking at the faces and asking, ‘do you see the faces of those you purport to be supporting?’” Johnson said.
Mariana Assis, a Brazilian human rights lawyer, said funders must trust those receiving grants to know what their communities need and listen to how they think problems could be best solved.
Organisations should be allowed to experiment with ideas, innovate and even fail, she added. “Funders are often afraid of taking risks, but by avoiding them, they lose the opportunity to support innovations at the community level that constitute new and better models of sexual and reproductive care,” said Assis, pointing to self-managed medical abortions, which have been described as a gamechanger.
“In Brazil and in other countries, grassroots activists have come up with the revolutionary idea of self-managed abortion as a way of addressing criminalisation, stigma and socioeconomic barriers. And yet, ideas like this, in their first stage of development, are rarely funded precisely because of their innovative and groundbreaking character. That has to change.”
On Thursday, the Aspen fellows will host a two-day virtual festival to address the failings in reproductive health and rights funding. Speakers include Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng, the UN special rapporteur on the right to health.