A dazzle of zebras, a prickle of porcupines, a crash of rhinos: wonderful collective nouns for animals, but what’s the right word for a group of funders, over 90 of whom helped to create the first 2015 Ariadne Forecast?
The aim of the Forecast is to help funders see the big picture and discover new trends, both in issues and grantmaking practice, so that they can plan ahead. It does this by tapping into the collective knowledge and wisdom of a diverse network of over 450 funders working in the field of social change and human rights grantmaking.
Late last year we asked the entire network six simple questions, including: What are the most pressing challenges facing your grantees in 2015? What developments are expected to have the biggest impact on your practice as a grantmaker in 2015? What neglected issue, or field of practice are you predicting to move centre stage? We interviewed 16 funders in more depth in The Netherlands, France, Belgium and the United Kingdom. Early in 2015 we convened funders’ meetings in The Hague, Brussels and London, where we presented draft forecasts based on the material collected up to that point. We asked two senior grantmakers in each location to act as meteorologists for the sector, responding to the draft forecasts and adding their own reflections, which were discussed by all present. We combined all of this material in a final succinct forecast, looking at trends, posing questions for funders to think about in their practice, and highlighting important events they should watch for in 2015.
This research identified two major trends at work in the social change and human rights field, one structural and the other political. The structural trend involves the twin pressures of lower public spending and depleted philanthropic funds on one hand, and the growth of alternative finance on the other. As a result of these pressures, boundaries are dissolving between philanthropy and civil society, and foundations are increasingly deploying additional methods of using their assets and influence. New kinds of grantmaking vehicles are being created, and in civil society, groups are mutating into different entities to access these resources. In London, one foundation has amalgamated its investment office and its grantmakers, giving them all the power to make a range of investments – some profit earning, some not.
The second, political trend is the profoundly depressing and disabling environment for cross–border funding. The global growth in obstacles and restrictions placed on civil society groups receiving cross-border funds, and increasing limits on the funders themselves, is ubiquitous and having a baleful impact on the ability of groups and individuals to hold states to account and to bring about change. We heard many frustrating examples of civil society groups being derailed from their core work because they needed, instead, to cope with greatly increased bureaucracy, and examples where funders were curtailing field visits as these would put either themselves, or the recipient groups in too much danger.
The Forecast tracks these trends in the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, and at European and global levels, with a chart to compare trends, and with summary versions in Dutch and in French.
This is a pilot project for us that we hope to repeat next year, and we would be happy to have feedback via e-mail or Twitter to help us improve the 2016 Ariadne Forecast. Please reach out if you would like to join next year’s forecasters.