The importance of great facilitation for inclusivity and progress

The Edge Fund is a new grant-making body run by its members; who include donors, people directly experiencing and challenging injustice and those working in solidarity with them. From the beginning it was important to us that the power usually held by donors was devolved to those who do not usually have that power, but also who are the experts since they live and breathe the very issues we seek to resolve.

As our starting point was a desire to break down hierarchies of wealth and power it was important to live the values of social justice throughout the entire process of setting up and running the project. This had to be a project guided by many people, as diverse as possible, which meant meetings have mostly consisted of people who have not met
before, covering all levels of wealth, backgrounds and passions. We started in April with a fairly blank sheet so it could be built more or less from scratch and we’ve met five times since then with meetings attended by around fifty different people in total.

What are the chances of a group of strangers, brought together to talk about money, giving each other space and communicating with each other without falling out? Better than you might think! Whilst I’ve been part of many meetings which have broken down into shouting matches and achieving very little, for some reason I never thought for a minute that this would happen with the Edge Fund, even considering the often contentious subject matter. We have been extremely lucky to have meetings attended by people who are committed, smart, respectful and compassionate. If any one of them has an ego striving to take the lead, it’s been left at home.

Shared values and mutual respect have been crucial to being able to develop the project in a relatively short space of time. Having a committed facilitating group to do all the work behind the scenes so options can be presented clearly to the rest of the group, has also been vital. But without fantastic facilitation from Rhizome’s Perry Walker I very much doubt we’d be where we are now. I don’t have facilitation skills and neither do I usually feel very comfortable in large groups, so the idea of having the responsibility of facilitating the meeting was terrifying. That’s where Perry came in. Perry was able to help break the ice, allow people to get to know each other, keep an eye on who wants to speak, move the meeting along and clarify decisions made. We appreciated his laid back approach and willingness to play it by ear.  I especially appreciated the time he gave before the meeting to be clear on the aims, but mostly for being able to share the pressure!

At the last meeting 25 July, we decided on the structure of Edge Fund; we will have a large donor base (hopefully) and a smaller membership body who will make decisions collectively on funding and will make a financial contribution to the fund, no matter how small. Several other major decisions were made fairly smoothly and at the end of the meeting comments included “thrilled at energy levels, very exciting, great progress, definite hope for the future, awed by clarity and respect in the room, sense of achievement, sense of momentum…” and I put much of this down to the excellent facilitation.

Of course, nothing in this world is perfect. There have been people at the meetings who have spoken much more frequently than others and some who have hardly spoken a word all day. I would like to work out how to give those who find meetings difficult an alternative way to feed in, perhaps it means more personal follow-up afterwards. But our biggest challenge yet is engaging those outside of the usual activist networks; reaching out to those who are directly experiencing injustice for whom terms like ‘systemic change’, ‘activist’ or ‘consensus decision-making’ are alienating and the costs of travel, communication and time needed to participate are extremely limiting. Our efforts to reach out so far have, on the whole, failed, but we’re committed to making it happen and once everyone who needs to be in the room is in the room, we will need Perry more than ever!

Sophie, Edge Fund Co-ordinator