There is little doubt that there will be lessened funding opportunities for international development action over the next few years - the impact of the present financial crisis on government expenditure possibilities and priorities and Foundation capitalisation and revenue make that situation almost dead certain.
This will only compound one of the key issues that concern so many organisations focusing on communication and media strategies for a range of development purposes (from child rights and environmental protection to freedom of expression and from journalists' safety to protection as a core element of growing democratic processes in countries). We often feel there are insufficient funding resources allocated to our important work.
Of course every organisation in our field, as in other development fields, is competing with a variety of other organisations for funding support. The RFP process in DC is an excellent example of this. This is revenue generation in response to programmes and initiatives that are most often designed with little thought to communication and media perspectives, capacities, and added value. And so we end up, in the cliche so often heard and too often true, being asked to join in late only to design the posters or make the radio programmes that other experts want.
But is there not a case to be made for us, as a communication and media development community, coming together in a proactive manner to argue for and hopefully secure a major funding base that is specifically designed to support communication and media processes - a Global Fund for Communication and Media Development? Can we design and secure a process in which the way that the funding tide would rise through the existence of such a major fund would be tailored to suit the requirements for the communication and media boats - collectively as a communication and media fleet and individually as separate boats (organisations). (Sorry - just about killed that metaphor!)
Though many may regard these economically difficult times as a really bad time for this idea, I disagree - with great respect - for these reasons:
1. There is a trend amongst major funders towards fewer, larger grants and other agreements - it focuses their work and reduces their overheads. This trend will be accelerated as they experience reductions in the level of funding they can make each year.
2. Basket platforms are a further trend - funders seem to increasingly like to get into bed with other funders in joint processes that leverage each of their capacities and also give them "cover" within a group of organisations. Of course, basket processes also ensure larger funding levels with the consequent possible larger impact.
3. As the financial constraints begin to tighten at funding agencies, it would be only natural that they begin to assess where they can get the best value for their money. This context encourages a more critical review of existing priorities and a search for better ways to work. Should the communication and media community not take an initiative that ensures that we are part of that conversation?
This idea could take many shapes - those interested would need to get together to work it out - perhaps a small, agreed group spending a couple of days sequestered somewhere nice for inspiration. There are loads of issues to address. In essence we are looking to model on and learn from [so we can do better] processes such as
GAVI - The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation
GFATM - Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria
PMI - President's Malaria Initiative
My initial title is not very snappy - a much better one would be needed - but something like...
The Global Fund for Communication and Media Development Action
The details we would all need to develop.
If we are going to pursue an idea such as this then there are some clear prerequisites that I would suggest are essential for success. Again, this is a framework that we would all need to develop, but as an opening set of suggestions I would propose these:
I am all too aware of the different fields, sub-fields and communities within the overall communication and media development field - in spite of the comparatively small size of this field of work. Think social change communication, social marketing, social and behavioural communication, community radio, media development, media for/and development, social movement communication, and so on. If we are to develop a Global Fund, then without losing the dynamism of different strategies, we will all need to stress our commonalities as well as recognising our differences. When it comes to funding the 'opposition' are economists and epidemiologists for example. We need a community size tat is near their level to even be in the conversation.
That size should not, of course, come at the expense of natural coherence. But the more we look at both core principles and operational realities the more coherence there seems to be. Freedom of expression is as important to people addressing HIV/AIDS issues (think the impact of stigma, for example) as it is for journalists. And journalists benefit from having freedom of expression rights enhanced and protected (better stories in a less fearful environment). Similarly, community level communication processes - debates, drama, dialogues, music, etc. - on democracy and governance themes (from increasing participation in elections to anti-corruption work) have a common purpose and symbiotic relationship with a pluralistic legal frame work for media in any given country. Operationally it is even more integrated.Keeping the same example many media develoment focused agencies can be doing general journalism skills training one week and HIV/AIDS Journalism training the next. You get the same interrelationships across all strands of our vibrant field.
c. Delegated decision making
40, 400 or even 4,000 organisations can not run and make decisions about the strategy for seeking to achieve such a Fund. As a community, we will need to organise and delegate a group of people and/or agencies to undertake this work. There will, of course, be many opportunities - especially through the new technologies - for involvement, dialogue, and debate, but a specific group will need to be mandated to decide and act.
d. Southern leadership
Southern (I am never sure of the correct term) leadership will be crucial. In my view this is one strategic error made by the other Funds highlighted - there is too little Southern leadership. This is also an important, core principle for communication and media development - one we need to respect and work to.
e. Small to large
The process will need to be all-encompassing - there will need to be a way in which the smallest theatre group, community radio, or provincial journalists association can benefit as much as the largest UN agencies and NGOs.
f. Learning process
Structured into the process need to be ways in which we can all learn from each other - networks and communities or practice that share and critique in order to improve performance.
Thanks - I very much look forward to your reactions, comments, critique and ideas.
The Communication Initiative
March 4, 2009