Research into practice

Change does not come about easily: at times it has to be fought for. This is certainly the experience of disadvantaged and socially excluded communities that find themselves fighting tortuous bureaucratic processes in order to gain funding for vital projects.

Also, many organisations that are trying to ensure that ethnic minorities can enjoy full citizenship rights and have equal opportunity to participate in British society, often struggle to achieve funding for their work.

A recent report1 takes the lid off some of the difficulties being experienced by such groups. It sets out to discover the extent to which local black organisations perceive discrimination in funding and in developing working relations with those who deliver mainstream services.

The survey, conducted in two cities with a rich tapestry of ethnic minorities and a high level of voluntary and community activity, reported that there are more than 3,000 black non-government organisations in London and about 700 in Leicester. Six areas were chosen in Leicester for the research project, and eight boroughs in London. The research involved focus groups and individual interviews, with local people being trained as project workers to undertake most of the fieldwork.

Some of the key findings make stark reading. Many black voluntary organisations reported that the application processes were cumbersome and required a huge amount of time to complete. Two-thirds of the funding tends to come from central or local government or other statutory bodies, and the sheer effort of keeping up with the latest political trends or “flavour of the month” was enormous. But not doing so runs the risk of missing the boat for funding applications. Furthermore, the task of getting to know how to apply effectively for grants was beyond the capacity of many of the smaller organisations.

Neither do the difficulties rest there. Black organisations reported that funders did not recognise the important and far-reaching work undertaken by these organisations for community capacity-building. Also, there was the ever-present issue of racism to tackle. Organisations reported that a lot of time had to be spent in educating predominantly white funders about race and racism issues before any effective partnership working could be contemplated. One example of this was the complaint that some black organisations were being over-scrutinised by funders who believed that they were all administratively inefficient.

Against this background, the issue of social justice and community capacity-building assumes huge importance. The report suggests ways forward to tackle these difficulties. Long-term plans are crucial for sustained investment on capacity-building projects with clear and fair partnership-working arrangements. A system of low-cost training to help new, small or inexperienced organisations apply for funds would be welcomed. Funders should be encouraged to keep adequate, accessible and transparent data on race and ethnicity. And more consistent methods of monitoring funding applications are urgently needed.

If community capacity-building, to which many ethnic minority organisations contribute significantly, is to be successful this report’s lessons need to be learned fast.

1 K Chouhan and C Lusane, Black and Community Sector Funding: Its Impact on Civic Engagement and Capacity Building, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2004. £13.95

Bernard Moss is principal lecturer in social work and applied social studies at Staffordshire University.

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