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Innovation, Perseverance, and Learning… through a pandemic!

A reflection on our first Call for (crazy) Ideas

By Tomas Chang Pico, Global Programme Officer, Voice

In November 2019, Voice launched a one-of-a-kind funding window called From Open to Inclusive Governance. This Call for Ideas was part of our efforts to support self-led organisations to harness the power of social accountability and creativity to promote inclusion. The Call was co-created with the Transparency and Accountability InitiativeHivos, and Oxfam Novib inspired by the recognition that there is still a gap in reaching underserved groups in the transparency and accountability field. 

For us, to leave no one behind means that we need to focus on reaching community-based organisations and initiatives that do not have extensive experience and means to develop funding proposals. So we designed a very simple one-page application form and called it a Call for Ideas to incentivise groups to submit just that: the crazier the better!

Experimenting !

By mid-February 2020, we had received 366 online applications. We shortlisted only 11, no easy task. Rather than requesting a full proposal, we decided to organise a pitching session. The selected candidates were invited to share a short virtual presentation of their ideas and have a live conversation with the Selection Panel. This was an exciting, yet efficient way to get to know the applicants and their ideas. They shared their fears, visions and passion. It also gave them a chance to share any question and suggestions.  

And suddenly… “BOOM! Pandemic!”

Elsa Majimbo’s expression couldn’t have been more accurate! The COVID-19 pandemic threw a big spanner in our work and slowed down the regular way, ‘ping-pong process’, in which selected projects are refined. 

While our other Calls for Proposals were subject to a commitment stop, this Call was not due to the fact that the Hewlett Foundation co-funds this Call. To keep a positive momentum, we organised two calls with the Selection Panel. We consolidated their feedback and shared it with the applicants to further refine their ideas. Finally, we offered more time that was gladly accepted, agreeing to start September 1, 2020, for the 6-month design phase. It was a long process, and certainly not free from frustration. Listen here to Olive Namutebi, the Director of Albinism Umbrella in Uganda, one of the successful applicants.

 Wairimu Munyinyi-Wahome, the Executive Director of the Kenyan Coalition On Violence Against Women (COVAW), also shared the below.

“For COVAW, it was an intense yet very personalised process, where barriers between the Voice reviewing team and the applicant organisation were greatly reduced. The Voice standards are very high and provided a learning opportunity for us in terms of the assessment requirements. We could tell that the commitment to influence change was going to be a shared one. Currently, our one concern is in relation to what the budget allows for or doesn’t. In COVAW’s case, we still feel that some consideration for Senior Management costs would have helped. The nature and size of the organisation mean that the Senior Management Team is deeply involved in the day to day programming of the organisation. I am sure this is a discussion that Voice would be open to having even as we progress because organisations like COVAW rely on restricted funding to meet their costs.”

Taking off!

In September 2020, six projects involving 17 organisations took off! Read here the full details of the projects page.

The selected grantees are testing ways to harness the power of transparency and reinforce accountability to overcome the social, political and/or legal barriers that keep their constituencies marginalised. 

The projects are taking place in five countries (Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda) by diverse local community-based and/or self-led organisations. In most cases, with technical support of other national and/or international partners.

Livening the Linking & Learning

For Voice, Linking & Learning is our heart and soul. We had ambitious learning plans to convene all selected grantees to co-create and sharpen their projects at the end of the 6-month design phase. However, the pandemic complicated matters and we were forced to cancel and delay any physical events. But alas, a silver lining! We were looking for virtual alternatives when we stumbled upon an unexpected yet exciting new partnership with the Coady Institute

Coady Institute offers online certified courses on Citizen-led Accountability: Strategies and Tools. Over the course of several conversations, a brilliant collaboration unfolded. The Coady Institute agreed to facilitate a virtual learning platform by adapting their regular online course to the specific needs of the grantees. Julien Landry and Carmen from Coady tell it all in their own words here  

Learning by doing

What are some of the early lessons learned from doing a selection process this way?

Firstly, we learned that by trying new things with our application processes, we can make Voice even more accessible. 

Secondly, we realised how important it is for the grantees to be coupled with technical expertise (particularly when it comes to the deployment of tech-based solutions and responsible use of data) as close as possible to the location where they are and with knowledge of the local contexts. 

Thirdly and finally we learned that grant-making can be a fun process if you open it up to more than just reading and writing of applications; i.e our pitching idea

Let’s see how it all pans out in practice over the coming months, but we are proud to have been able to create a win-win-win scenario for ALL!


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