Poor weather for funders?

Poor weather for funders?
April 20, 2015 Kenneth Hill

Ton Groeneweg is a Dutch member of Ariadne. Here is his analysis of the 2015 Ariadne Forecast. Ton participated in the Barcelona (2014) and Budapest (2015) Ariadne Policy Briefings. He works with the Dutch Catholic funding agency, Mensen met een Missie, where he is a policy advisor for Religion and Development. He is also the moderator of the ‘Religion and Human Rights’ community on the Ariadne portal. In this blog he comments on the 2015 Ariadne Forecast.

Poor weather for funders?

Releasing a forecast on trends for European funders is tricky business. It is destined to meet with the same fate as the weather forecast in our North-Western hemisphere: you’re likely to be proved wrong, and even if you’re right, you’re probably not going to make people happy anyway. So first of all, we should congratulate Ariadne for taking up such a brave task! Even more so, because you have done an excellent job. This document is everything we could wish for: it is acute, impeccably formatted, both dense and accessible, stimulating as well as disturbing, it has something valuable for all, and it comes at the right moment. Yet its fate is as sketched above: the trends we face are definitely not unambiguously positive. They don’t exactly make us happy. Let me just point to the two main trends identified in the forecast.

There is the shift to alternative finance, both induced by the financial crisis affecting traditional funding, and the related trend of state withdrawal from development support. In turn, there are certainly promising trends as well, like emerging online platforms, crowd-funding, peer-to-peer lending. In a way, this is a ‘democratization’ of the funding scene. But in another way it is not. The dispersing of funding initiatives, less institution-based, also withdraws it from whatever is left of public and democratic supervision and accountability. If the ‘market’ is going to supervise this process, we’d better be aware. In particular, because even in its’ new forms, funding will remain elite business. As privatized, individualized efforts, it will make no attempt to create larger dynamics of solidarity, beyond the appeal to personal sentiments and morality. Not that traditional funding and development work has done a particular good job in this respect, but it will certainly not make things easier, e.g. to keep human rights promotion on the political agenda.

Secondly, there is the trend of the disabling environment. This is something we all encounter, in one way or the other, even if some of it is self-induced as a result of our increased security politics. But there is another question attached to it. Ariadne is a platform of European funders, so its perspective is necessarily euro-centric to some extent. This raises the question: how much of the perceived ‘disabling environment’ might not also be symptomatic of a larger trend of shifting power relations in the world? Besides being alarmed (which we definitely should be) about this disabling environment, we should perhaps use the occasion to also consider why and how our way of promoting human rights provokes this strong ‘disabling’ response from other factions. Is all of this mere opportunism and conservative politics? Or could it also be that we can no longer conveniently presume to be the guardians of the future of humanity per se? Question mark.

Briefly then, on the superb inclusion of ‘wildcards’ in the forecast. I would strongly endorse the one signaling increased Islamophobia in Europe, and hence, I presume, the appeal to look for ways to counter this. Probably the biggest contribution Europe could offer at this moment to temper the escalating global scene of conflicts involving and affecting Muslim communities, groups and ideologies, would be to create a more hospitable environment for its own Muslim citizens. Looking for ways to facilitate the emergence of a confident, prosperous and outspoken Muslim citizenry in Europe is something worth pursuing. I’m happy to know that there are already initiatives in this direction being considered within the Ariadne fold.

My own wildcard, to end with, would relate to the one mentioned as ‘another financial crisis’. We still face the aftermath of the 2008 near financial meltdown, and all indications are that the threat is far from over. If you have any doubts, please read Joris Luyendijk’s new book ‘Dat kan niet waar zijn’ (This Cannot Be True – hopefully soon available in English, for now you’ll have to do with his ‘banking blog’ on The Guardian website). If advocacating for more responsible and democratic financial institutions might not be the first thing that comes to mind for Ariadne members, the threat the current system poses could quickly overshadow all other human rights concerns if it comes to it.

So ‘poor weather’? Yes. Let’s get to work! We’re glad to know that we can have Ariadne’s Thread for some mutual guidance along the way, with another great tool available in the form of this forecast.


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