Staying the course: Sustainable but not sexy?

This post originally appeared on Thousand Currents.

By Solomé Lemma, Thousand Currents Deputy Director, AiD co-founder

"Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle." ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Lasting change takes time.

It may not be sexy. It may not fulfill our desire for instant gratification. It is certainly not easy.

But it’s how we hedge our bets at Thousand Currents.

Most funders give money in one- to three-year project cycles. Most large-scale global development and philanthropic efforts are still, however, initiated and led by people external to the community, with results that are often limited or short-lived.

Thousand Currents invests in our grassroots partners for as long as it takes. Why? Social and systemic injustice has deep roots. Social transformation doesn’t happen overnight. Why? Lasting change is nonlinear, often unpredictable, and requires efforts at multiple levels.

Even with a 30+-year track record, we are relative novices in the long work of social transformation.

We are driven by a commitment to international solidarity – this incredible idea that standing alongside change-makers and revolutionaries is more powerful than acting upon them with an external agenda. 

To act in solidarity requires relinquishing control, sharing power, and collaborating with humility towards a common goal – no matter how many steps forward and back there are.

In order to accompany our partners responsibly through many cycles of change, we provide long-term, flexible support that follows mutually established goals and outcomes – as opposed to an artificial timeframe. We define the time frame of our partnerships not by months or years, but by outcomes. And those outcomes are co-created with our partners. This long-term approach has enabled us to build trusting and respectful relationships that extend beyond the time-bound transaction of resources and results.

Currently, our senior partnerships have extended beyond 15 years. Because partnership entails a significant commitment, we choose partners carefully, with confidence that the partner organization operates in an accountable, democratic, and transparent way as they organize communities.

By relying on the wisdom and strength of visionary leaders, supporting local initiatives, organizations, and movements with a long-term perspective ensures a readiness for change and ownership of the change process; it reflects cultural, social, political, geographic, and economic realities, and a nuance of understanding that outsiders cannot possess.

Funders can see greater impact if they accept that self-determination and full community inclusion is a process that takes time. The sooner we realize the limitations of our specific, short-term outcomes and metrics-driven mindset, the sooner we allow ourselves and our grantees to realize the vision of social transformation that will create a fairer and more just world.