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BD Giving Notes #34 – ‘’Democratising Finance‘’

With new players moving in and supporting local communities, it will be important not to repeat past errors. People must have a say over what happens where they live. That’s why we strongly believe that those most affected by funding decisions should be the ones in charge of making them.

For this first BD Giving Note of 2023, Géraud de Ville de Goyet reflects on the changing funding landscape, and why community participation in funding decisions could have profound implications for local democracy.

BD Giving’s founding in 2020 was inspired by the dedication and response of the social sector to the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. We saw our community’s capacity to self-organise, shape and lead and we are passionate about enabling it to do more. 

We have thrown our efforts behind fostering a collaborative, inclusive, and sustainable borough where all residents feel they have a say in shaping their neighbourhood. 

Our goal is to democratise finance in order to give more people a say in how financial resources are used and to make the financial system more inclusive and accountable. This means empowering ordinary people to have more control over how money is generated, distributed, and used.

How do we pay for this vision of our borough?

The funding landscape is changing in Barking and Dagenham, perhaps more than in other places. 

Years of austerity imposed by the Central Government in the 2010s have dried out much of the funding coming from the local authority into the social sector. More recently, the compounding effects of the pandemic, Brexit and the war in Ukraine mean that money is unlikely to come back in the short to medium term. This cost of living crisis translates into immense pressure on individuals, families and communities. 

Players, such as charitable trusts, corporate partnerships, and high-net-worth individuals are increasingly stepping in to plug this shortfall so that local voluntary and community groups can continue to deliver essential support and services to vulnerable people. 

This is needed but it also brings new challenges, notably in transparency and accountability. As imperfect as we may think they are, local government actions are scrutinised, and councillors face the regular sanction of the popular vote. This is the basis of our representative democratic system but that doesn’t apply to private players. They can choose whether or not they want to be accountable to the public for their decisions.

Why democratise funding?

With new players moving in and supporting local communities, it will be important not to repeat past errors. People must have a say over what happens where they live. That’s why we strongly believe that those most affected by funding decisions should be the ones in charge of making them.

BD Giving is not a service provider. Instead, our focus is on working with the community to drive positive change. We focus on pushing the boundaries of traditional decision-making processes to rebuild agency, opportunities, and trust within our community. Some of our close partners in the BD Collective focus on building networks, and capacity, and providing access to space. Together, we believe that these are the pillars of social infrastructure through which communities can shape their own futures and create lasting positive change.

This works, and we are starting to see evidence of it. By involving people with deep knowledge of the place in decision-making processes, we are able to tap into local wisdom and deliver better outcomes. 

But the impact goes beyond solely practical considerations. By empowering and amplifying local voices, we are able to co-create hopeful and democratic visions of the future. This approach not only leads to more effective decisions but also builds agency and fosters a sense of ownership and pride in the community. 

As we prepare to launch our new Grow Fund in January we’re excited about what lies ahead for Barking and Dagenham. The Grow Fund has been designed by our Community Steering Group to support people and organisations to take their work to the next level through grants, wraparound support, and ultimately investment. 

This is what we mean by democratising finance.

BD Giving Notes is a weekly blog aimed at sharing some thoughts on running a social infrastructure charity. Each post focuses on a couple of things we have learnt or done in the previous week; what’s gone well and what didn’t.

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