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Ecosystem Mapping: Conversation 5, with Romy Kraemer (Guerrilla Foundation)

As part of Life Itself’s efforts to map the social change ecosystem we exist in, I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Romy Kraemer from the Guerrilla Foundation. It was both fascinating and inspiring to hear about the organisation’s amazing work supporting grassroots movements for systemic change, and the radical approach it takes to philanthropy. Our conversation was varied and expansive, spilling well beyond the boundaries of the questions I’d initially prepared. This blog is my attempt to capture some of the key insights from our time together.

1 – Participatory grantmaking

As well as funding other projects, Guerrilla Foundation sees exploring new approaches to philanthropy as a large part of its work. They participated in a joint experiment in participatory grantmaking for European activists, called FundAction. This was a great experience, as very early on it brought the idea of participatory grantmaking and strategy-making into their own organisation. The project also really helped Romy and Guerrilla connect to many different activists from all over Europe. 

From working with FundAction, Romy learned a lot about the grantmaking process. There, they had decided to use the open-source Decidim decision-making tool, which opened up the process to make it easier for activists to get involved. While a great first step, this didn’t really change the ‘box’ of grantmaking, it just changed who is acting in it. The strategy didn’t necessarily resolve other issues that traditional grantmaking has, and some interesting activists were not receiving grants when they could have, as selection committees don’t always have the requisite knowledge to understand what the applicant’s proposals were about. Guerrilla Foundation’s commitment to explore how even more radical change can be made within philanthropy continues! 

2 – Small is beautiful

Guerrilla Foundation is a private foundation set up in 2016, so they are relatively young as an organization. They focus on funding small scale experiments and grassroots initiatives for social change, based in Europe. Focusing on a specific geography as well as grassroots organisations, makes it possible to have a broad systems change orientation and not focus on specific siloed issues with the funding.

This focus on the small means they can support an incredibly diverse range of actors and organisations – the specific angle a given project takes is far less important than the fact it is working to overthrow oppressive structures and systems. The approach also leaves room to be more daring than funders engaging with larger projects, embarking on some higher risk, higher reward strategies.  

The good thing about Guerrilla being a small private foundation is that they are able to be involved in many different experimental things. It gives them the freedom to build a model that can inspire people of wealth and other foundations that are bigger to rethink, and do things differently, to be more bold, to focus on proposals where they don’t know exactly what the outcome is going to be but where the team and ideas are promising. 

3 – Resource distribution

Guerrilla wants people of wealth to be having uncomfortable conversations about their wealth and wealth-creation. We might ask to what extent a wealthy individual’s money really is their money. Once you go beyond the value of the labour they themselves have put into their wealth creation, concepts of ownership and entitlement get muddy, something which holds doubly true for purely inherited wealth. 

The Guerrilla Foundation supported transferring the model of US organisation Resource Generation to Europe. RG is a self-organised young-people-of-wealth group that run ‘praxis groups’, that  offer spaces where peoplecan talk about their wealth and privilege, challenge each other, and to develop a plan for their philanthropy. The UK version is called Resource Justice and a German-speaking arm is currently being set up under the name Resource Transformation. 

Bringing these kinds of organisations to Europe is fundamental to assure that more (and also more local) resources flow to grassroots systems change initiative.The US and Canada are different in that sense because there are much bigger funding structures for this kind of grassroots social justice work. 

4 – Radical Municipalism

One specific area of grantee funding that Guerrilla thinks is really promising right now, other than pan-European climate organising, is radical municipalism.

In 2017, Romy attended a conference in Barcelona called Fearless Cities. This was the first international meeting of municipalist platforms, where social movements had got together and tried to win political power in their municipalities, or had tried at least to present a strong enough counterweight to institutionalised politics that created pressure to really drive change within their municipalities. Radical municipalities are capable of altering the political agenda and public attention towards very different and more progressive notions than might otherwise be possible. 

5 – Difficulties

Speaking of the space of grassroots systems change organisations, Romy notes that it is sometimes challenging to bring together traditional ideas of social mobilisation with thoughts about inner work, spirituality, or Metamodernism (e.g. the works of Hanzi Freinacht). While important, the challenge is how to assure that inner work does not stay at the level of personal improvement and ends up being just another way for capitalist self improvement and exploitation but rather becomes a tool for social change. 

The blockchain and cryptocurrency hype are other challenges for Guerrilla . Vast amounts of wealth are currently being made from cryptocurrencies and related technologies with very little philanthropic work coming out of that space and also lack of clarity about the effects these technologies might have on philanthropy and systems change efforts. 

Another challenge is effectively facilitating connections between activists and grantees. Guerrilla has funded over 200 European organisations now, and it is difficult to know how best to bring these grantees together. New connections between grantees hold great potential for learning and collaboration, and Romy feels like they should be talking to each other more. Guerrilla are currently holders of the space, so are investigating how they can decentralise the network so that it is more visible to itself.

Check out our Ecosystem Mapping page for more info on this project, and please get in touch if you would like to speak with us about it, or if you know of any people it might be useful for us to get in touch with.

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