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Relational practice in a global pandemic, a funder’s perspective

14 June 2021 32

Although the pandemic is still alive and kicking, there is hope in sight. There could be an exit strategy to return to ‘normal’ life.

When reflecting on the last 12 months, turbulence comes to mind; constantly being interrupted by small children who share my workspace, uncertainty about plans for the future, and repeatedly changing rules.  For someone that thrives when there is order and control it has been challenging, although in many ways also enlightening.  The chaos has allowed me to break free from old habits and most importantly question and challenge how we work.

As a place-based funder, we pride ourselves on core funding arrangements and proactively building and maintaining relationships with a range of stakeholders (grantees, applicants, local residents, trusts and foundations and with the private, statutory and voluntary sector). This approach gives us, and those we fund, the flexibility to adapt and respond to changing needs. It has undoubtedly helped us weather this storm.

The chaos has allowed me to break free from old habits and most importantly question and challenge how we work.

In ‘normal’ circumstances we spend most of our time in the community we serve.  Listening and learning to inform our understanding of the local environment.

Being in a small box on a Zoom screen for most of 2020 gave me cause to question how those relationships are held.  It somehow made it more apparent who was ‘in the room’, who initiated the zoom chat, who filled the space and more importantly who did not.

The delight in seeing new faces as the months wore on was also a stark reminder of the loss of the impromptu informal connections we get while out in the community; the absence of small grassroot organisations who were simply too under-resourced to do anything but deliver services and the comfort we seek in established relationships with like-minded people. 

In amongst the turbulence, 2020/21 has given me the permission and clarity to take a step back and really think about the quality and equity of the relationships we have, and how working relationally is a constant process of self-reflection requiring time and attention.

As we emerge to hopefully calmer times, my resolve is to:

  1. Take more time to critically reflect on how I engage and equalise relationships
  2. Be more conscious of power and privilege and how that plays out in every conversation  
  3. Speak more to people who don’t share our intent or who challenge our intent
  4. Proactively seek out new conversations with those that don’t initiate contact or apply for funds
  5. Have more conversations after issuing funding so money or the promise of money has less ability to skew the conversation.

Relationships are complex. But now, more than ever, I am challenged to hold my nerve, work with uncertainty and push myself out of my comfort zone.