Ade Sawyerr, Management Consultant at Equinox Consulting reflects on lessons from their review of the funding going to BAME community organisations in Southwark.
The Government is finding that Black Asian Minority Ethnic, a term used to ensure that funding reaches beneficiaries in disadvantaged communities is not very much liked now that it has been shortened to its acronym BAME, to denote identity. Whilst no substitute terminology will replace this all-encompassing but ill-defined term, the whole issue of access to funding for community organisations from deprived communities has been brought into sharper focus.
The COVID pandemic exposed health inequalities affecting BAME communities disproportionately, but the emergency funding experienced revealed the struggle by mainstream community organisations to reach these communities. Southwark Council’s response to the George Floyd murder was to initiate the Southwark Standing Together project that called for a review of funding to BAME community organisations.
The review by Equinox Consulting held discussions with councillors, commissioners, and community leaders and received responses from about 50 community organisations, some of whom participated in a focus group as well. The review asked several questions of the respondents about the existence of structural barriers that affect BAME community organisations when they apply for funding and came up with some interesting lessons for funders.
Some of the questions emerging from the review go to the heart of why funding is provided by local authorities in the first place. What are their priorities? Is the funding only meant to deliver services to beneficiaries in deprived areas or is it to engender some level of community development activity? To what extent do funders monitor whether the funding they provide actually reaches the beneficiaries that they are meant to assist? Whilst it is recognised that there are more funding applications than funds available, what is the real basis for risk assessment and due diligence? We know that this often pitches smaller organisations with knowledge of the beneficiaries and effective solutions against larger organisations with a track record of delivery and efficient organisational abilities.
If indeed funders intend to engage in partnership with community organisations to resolve social issues that cannot be solved by the generalist approach of local authorities and the commercial approach by private sector companies, must smaller local-based organisations not be assisted to develop capacity so that they support their communities? Why is there no room to partner these smaller BAME-led organisations to co-create and co-deliver projects or fund specialists to help them in funding applications or development partners to help them run their organisations well?
These questions – some of which were asked by potential applicants – were largely unanswered by funders and perhaps that goes to the core of why there is some negativity towards applying for funding and why some of these groups have the perception of being excluded from networks and groups that enable other larger mainstream organisation to get funding. It’s also difficult to counter this perception when most funders are not able to track whether their funds does in fact reach beneficiaries from Black and Asian Minority Ethnic communities.
What became evident in the analysis of the findings was that whilst the internal and external characteristics of small groups acted as barriers to funding, the attitudes of organisations and funders alike created further challenges.
This matrix of characteristics and attitudes captures some of the structural barriers that BAME community organisations face in accessing funding and summarises the major findings of the review:
We concluded that most people from BAME communities did not want to be identified by the acronym BAME. The council recognises that many people from BAME communities reside in areas of deprivation within the borough and accepts that BAME community organisations may have a better reach within these communities and have also decided that the full Black, Asian Minority Ethnic should be used, rather than the acronym. The council also agrees that the stringent approach to assessing applications and rigorous due diligence may best be replaced by collecting and analysing information on the successes of BAME applications to enable it to comply with its public sector equality duty. The lack of core funding has greatly aggravated the issue of sustainability of some of these groups, whose communities they represent lack specialist capacity-building.
We recommended that Southwark Council simplify the application process, adding more clarity and providing funding for specialist organisations to assist those applying for funding. We also recommended the collation of a register of community organisations with the protected characteristics and the adoption of a more nuanced approach to the assessment of funding applications with more focus on the effectiveness of the projects in reducing deprivation and ringfencing some funding for community organisations from the BAME community. We also recommend that members of the BAME communities must be visible in the assessment process in line with the public sector equality duty.
The learning from this review suggests that changes in attitudes by both funders and organisations could result in better success at funding for BAME community organisations.
Southwark Council, along with Southwark BME community leaders, Equinox Consulting and Rocket Science will examine these issues further in their upcoming session during the Festival of Learning. More details here.
[Full Southwark Stands Together grants review]
Ade Sawyerr, Equinox Consulting, www.equinoxconsulting.net