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Gratitude, Attention, Change and Reciprocity

Living through and learning from a pandemic

Written by Ishita Dutta, Global Programme Manager – Voice

25th January, 2022

We are showered every day with the gifts of the Earth, gifts we have neither earned nor paid for: air to breathe, nurturing rain, black soil, berries and honeybees, the tree that became this page, a bag of rice, and the exuberance of a field of goldenrod and asters at full bloom.

This is the lyrical introduction to Dr Robin Wall Kimmerer’s essay Returning the Gift. Drawing on the wisdom of her Potawatomi ancestors, Dr Kimmerer takes us on a journey from the beginning of time to the present- exploring humankind’s evolving relationship with the Earth and the natural world at large. While her words call on each of us as individuals, to do what we can to stem the tide of ecological destruction, I found it deeply moving for the universal lessons it imparts- on gratitude, attention, change and reciprocity. I am drawing on these to share some reflection on what we learnt as the Voice teams in 2021, which we hope to carry forward into 2022.

Gratitude is founded on the deep knowing that our very existence relies on the gifts of other beings.

We began the year on a jubilant note with the Voice@5 celebrations. In Laos, Nigeria, Mali, Niger and Uganda, it was possible to be together in person, while Kenya, Tanzania, Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines connected virtually for their own national celebrations. Most importantly, for two hours on the 7th of April, we were in one space at the Global Celebration- #connected and #prouderandlouder. The Magic of Our Voices, documenting our and your stories, is the most powerful and humbling legacy of this event. Voice would not exist were it not for the people who have come together in a community around its shared purpose. The rightsholders and grantee partners who daily live the principle “Nothing About Us Without Us” as they affect change for their communities. The Voice team members work their hearts out to make grants, amplify voices and facilitate linking & learning. And our allies, supporters and funders who continually trust us and guide us. To all of you, we owe a word of gratitude for making Voice what it is.

Attention becomes intention, which coalesces itself to action

In February 2021, Voice commissioned the Center for Effective Philanthropy to carry out a grantee perception survey with the aim of developing a better understanding of what we are doing well and what we aren’t doing so well. 257 grantee partners responded to the survey and called us in to be more intentional about building trust-based and transformative relationships. In response, the Voice teams identified specific actions across grant management, linking & learning, amplification, monitoring & evaluation and financial management to deliver on this call. Implementing these actions will be a common focus of all the Voice teams in 2022. The Voice Linking, Learning & Amplifier Officers in Kenya and Tanzania – Wendy Achieng and Namcheja Maghembe, recently had a thought-provoking conversation with Mendi Njonjo, Regional Director of Hivos East Africa, on this topic.  We invite you to listen in and stay in conversation with us on these issues as we want to keep paying attention to them.

The Earth asks us to change as everything changes and evolves…

A retrospective of Voice in 2021 would not be complete without acknowledging the leadership transition in Voice and the intention and purpose with which Marinke van Riet moved on from her position as the Programme Manager of Voice. She locates her conviction of ‘moving leadership to the South’ squarely in the context of discussions around decolonising aid and localising development. This provides inspiration not only for Voice’s ways of working now but also as it continues evolving for the future. Marinke’s departure from the team came at the heels of a long process of decentralisation that has resulted in a stronger presence of team members in the countries and regions where Voice works. These transitions, both within the coordination and country teams, in an already tumultuous and precarious context have required extraordinary tenacity, grace and compassion from current and incoming team members.

Above and beyond these changes in their own composition, the Voice teams grappled with an ever-changing context that presented diverse challenges to the work of grantee partners, particularly smaller, rightsholder led organizations and groups. Funding restrictions that apply to Voice and cascade down to grantee partners coupled with the pandemic meant that the Voice teams had to continuously reflect on how best to accommodate the needs of the grantee partners while meeting accountability requirements. This meant listening to recommendations on COVID responses, incorporating wellbeing into programming and budgeting, and being mindful in communications. Through all this, we continue to be buoyed by a common sense of purpose and the realization that these baby steps in inculcating care as a core value in grant making are necessary to #ShiftThePower.

We can remember the covenant of reciprocity, seeking what Onondaga Clan Mother Audrey Shenandoah called “Justice not only for ourselves, but justice for all of Creation

Humanity has been tested by the COVID-19 pandemic. While 2020 closed with the hope that the end of the pandemic would be near, 2021 ended with the Omicron variant causing disruption in the Global North and the Global South alike. Many of us are/ have been sick, many of us are recovering, many of us have had our lives upended in a different way these past 2-years. And yet, we persist.

  • In Tanzania, Hapo Zamani za Kale adapted to the pandemic context and organized the Kutoka Canvas Kwenda Digitali Workshop with young artists and creatives by supporting them to develop digital skills to create, showcase and market their work.
  • From 13 Feb to 13 Mar 2021, the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus and its partners organised “Be/Longings” a virtual festival that reclaimed, reimagined, and insisted on LGBTIQ belonging in the region. It featured 30+ works, performances and events by 40+ queer activists and artists from all over Southeast Asia.
  • In Nigeria, the Street Project Foundation launched the ARTvocacy project, a platform where youths aged 18-35 years old use their creative talents to become active social change influencers and content creators.
  • In Mali, Femmes et TIC and KUNAFONI, the Linking & Learning facilitator organisations hosted the Show Handi-Capable as part of the 2nd edition of the Festi-Handi-capable, a forum for honoring and celebrating people with disabilities.
  • In Indonesia, AJAR and partners presented animated documentary shorts titled “Konta-sai” & “8.45” to document voices of survivors of conflict in Timor Leste and Aceh.

The examples offer a small window into the vibrancy and resilience that are characteristic of the rightsholders, collectives and movements that Voice aims to serve. All of us at Voice hold our grantee partners and rightsholders in deep gratitude for fighting for a better future for all of us.

Photo by Donald Giannatti on Unsplash.

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