Reassuringly Restless 5: money matters
Money, money, money. A lot of advocates are conditioned to see ‘money’ as an ugly word and feel guilty for thinking about it. This often leaves the most marginalised short changed. The same way it matters in the rest of the world, is the same way money matters in advocacy spaces.
SETTING THE CONTEXT
This post is particularly for people who are advocating for something that they personally have previous/current experience of (e.g. you are HIV+ and are advocating for things linked to HIV prevention/treatment access). Too many of us are being taken advantage of.
This post is also a side-eye to the exploitative people and institutions that approach advocates (in a paid capacity), to do work for free. We see you and we’re calling you out. Feel free to use this as a resource to reflect on your own practice.
In this blog post, I am focusing on:
Advocacy organised by established institutions
International advocacy spaces (trust me: if they are able to host an international event, they have money)1
WHERE MONEY MATTERS
Expenses: bare minimum. Giving talks, travelling to different countries, advocating for people can seem (and is) really exciting and rewarding, but it’s no fun being overseas and hungry.
Side note for individuals: please do not assume that an organisation having charity/NGO status, means that it does not have funds.
Side note for organisations: think about your processes. Consider paying for the expenses directly (rather than asking people to claim a reimbursement). You do not know the financial circumstances of someone, they may not be able to afford even that.
Research and studies: a study cannot exist without research participants. At the very least any incurred costs should be reimbursed (ideally, depending on what the research requires, participants should be recompensed). I don’t think a high number of participants is something to celebrate if the engagement was not ethical.
Using your skills: every so often a large institution (with millions of dollars/pounds sterling revenue) will approach me to say something along the lines of:
“you offer a unique set of skills and experience...”
(that is a direct quote from one of them)
What often happens (after they have told me how wonderful I am) they then proceed to tell me that they want me to do some highly skilled and highly time-consuming work for... free. Huh?
In her blog post A heart that’s willing to lead, Mercy Ngulube (HIV activist and my friend) critically notes:
‘If we are being truthful, young activists lack economic empowerment. Asking young people to add value, use their time and skills in return for "exposure" is no longer good enough. Allowing young people to take on roles of leadership positions that have no meaning, other than to fill a box, is a failure to understand the importance of investing in the future. If we are serious about young people being (as they already are) future leaders of the movement, we should start treating them as such.’
Well said Mercy. Also, for me, I have to say that the dynamic of being approached to do unpaid labour as a Black woman living with HIV by (most of the time) a non-Black person who is on the pay roll and not living with HIV is an exploitative dynamic that is not lost on me. It’s a dynamic that I will not tolerate. The message is slowly (but surely) getting out.
One other thing...
Funding: money is a resource that gets things done (helps you to travel, by equipment, pay people a living wage to meet the deliverables etc.) to achieve the change you want to see. Be mindful of where you source your funding though, think of the following:
Aims of the funder
How much involvement they want in the project planning and deliver
What projects they’ve funded before (to see what they are like as a funder, you could contact who they’ve previously funded)
Timescales (often funders have unrealistic timescales for the target communities/work goals)
If the funding covers staff costs and participant/service user/target group expenses
Money being your focus? That could compromise the legitimacy of your social change work. The point is: none of your work is sustainable without money. Being guilt tripped to focus solely on ‘the cause’ could leave you exploited.
If we do not think about how people are financially excluded, then not offering financial rewards/expenses will result in only those who can afford to take part, taking part. And then the cycle repeats itself: the most marginalised and financially excluded people are less likely to be represented and have access to spaces and then we’re called ‘hard to reach’ (but that’s a blog post for another day).
I thought this was what we were trying to change? Money matters.
Can activism really change the world? I think it’s the only thing that ever has, but we need to be strategic with it.
This is the five of a monthly blog series. If there is anything that you would like me to discuss in future blog posts, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Bakita Kasadha (aka BAKITA:KK) is an HIV activist, associate trainer and writer. She serves as a board member on the Global Network of Young People Living with HIV. She is interested in self-care, ethical engagement and power dynamics within social movements.
Through this blog series, she aims to share some insight to navigating activism and advocacy spaces, for those thinking about it and for those figuring it out. All opinions are strictly hers.