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Friday
Apr132018

How the Solidarity Foundation strengthens LGBTQIA+ and sex worker movements in India (and encourages corporates to do the same)

Tackling complex, social justice issues, while also building a local support base and constituency for the work, is no small task. GFCF partners around the world can certainly attest to this. Convincing corporate partners to get behind the same work is a challenge on its own, which the faint of heart may shy away from. This is perhaps what makes the work of the Solidarity Foundation - which mobilizes local resources from a range of partners in support of working-class sexual minorities (LGBTQIA+) and sex workers in India - all the more noteworthy. The GFCF spoke with the foundation’s Director, Shubha Chacko, about the significance of their local resource mobilization, their partnerships with corporates (who provide more than 10% of the organization’s funding), and how the foundation stays relevant and accountable to its primary constituents.

 

GFCF: The Solidarity Foundation’s work is targeted at sex workers and sexual/gender minorities. The increased participation of these marginalized groups is the focus – could you tell us how your work achieves this?  

Shubha Chacko (SC): The thrust of the organization is in strengthening the movements of sexual/gender minorities (LGBTQIA+) and sex workers in India. This specific focus grew out of many conversations, research studies, pilot projects and consultations, which all illustrated that potential leaders in this space, from working class, non-English speaking backgrounds had little opportunity to engage in human rights work. A clear and urgent need to support smaller organizations on the frontlines emerged, particularly in non-metropolitan cities and towns.

We support grassroots level sex workers and sexual/gender minority groups and organizations in such communities, prioritizing those who face multiple levels and types of marginalization. Our support includes: building collectives (i.e. considering ways that organizations can be strengthened by working with others); enhancing capacities (including perspectives and skills); and, building connections (to a range of resources, including people, organizations, finances, etc.). We also have a fellowship programme that allows activists and leaders from these communities to explore their ideas around intensifying, expanding or initiating social change processes that favour marginalized groups. We see our role as a bridge that allows for the sharing of ideas, experiences, expertise and resources (as a two-way process), between different parts of society.

 

GFCF: Your relationship with the GFCF started by chance, when you came across our website. What was it on the site that spoke to you and your work?  

SC: The commitment to local solutions that the GFCF website highlighted was a value that spoke to us. The site also indicated that the GFCF was willing to engage with small foundations that were just starting their journey. As a young foundation that has emerged from a movement, and is not necessarily closely linked with larger, more experienced, and well established foundations, this statement from the GFCF was encouraging.

 

GFCF: Why is local resource mobilization important for the Solidarity Foundation?

SC: Local resources contribute to increasing our rootedness, accountability, as well as local support for the issues we champion. The process of raising these resources also offers us opportunities to engage with local actors on issues around the rights of sexual/gender minorities and sex workers. This is besides the obvious, of course, that local resource mobilization broadens our donor base and contributes to our organizational sustainability. On a more practical level, it also simplifies financial procedures.

 

 

GFCF: The Solidarity Foundation engages quite a bit with corporates on the topic of LGBTQIA+ inclusion. Could you tell us about this? Has it been difficult to get corporate partners involved in such sensitive social justice issues?

SC: Many of us working at the Solidarity Foundation have been engaging with sexual/gender minority communities for many years and understand them well. This is important, because it allows us to provide appropriate support to organizations (including those from the corporate and private sectors) who are looking to start or strengthen their journeys around LGBTQIA+ inclusion.

However, admittedly it has been challenging as our backgrounds are so vastly different - it is almost like we are speaking two different languages. Additionally, most of the companies we have worked with did not know us, as we had not interacted with them previously. So, one of our first tasks was to establish our credibility. We realized that some companies had merely a fleeting interest in the issue, while in some other cases the commitment was more long-term. The tension point is that most companies engaging with this topic are interested because they have LGBTQIA+ employees, but are generally not interested in issues faced by members of the community who are from different socio-economic backgrounds. Therefore, in some sense our constituencies are different. However, with time we have realized that we must start the conversation at the point where the corporates are.

Luckily, we have received support from some companies that are comparatively more committed to social justice issues. We have also become part of some forums and groups around this, which is useful for networking. However, the growing interest in LGBTQIA+ issues unfortunately does not always translate to financial support. The current CSR emphasis is on the more traditional areas of education and livelihood, with an over-emphasis on numbers. A few companies have been bold enough to support some of our pilot efforts around placing trans people in the formal sector. This is offering us and the companies some space to learn from these experiences. However, issues around sex workers and their children is yet to gain any corporate support.

 

GFCF: You attended a GFCF roundtable in Delhi in February 2018 with a number of GFCF partners from across India. From this, what’s the main idea or motivation that you’ll be taking back to your work at the Solidarity Foundation?

SC: The roundtable in Delhi was particularly useful as it offered a space to get an overview of philanthropy in India, the challenges to democratic spaces in general (and to foundations in particular), and the ways in which organizations are overcoming these. Discussions around new ways of positioning ourselves, and presenting our work to diverse audiences in order to strengthen our support bases, was most useful.

Shubha (C) at the February 2018 GFCF roundtable in Delhi 

GFCF: The Solidarity Foundation has some interesting strategies around transparency and accountability - such as conducting a peer audit every six months. Could you tell us a bit more about this? And why it matters?

SC: In keeping with our commitment to transparency, every half year we organize a two day session where members of the communities we work with, along with an accountant from an NGO, review all of our bills, vouchers, forms, etc. Before conducting the peer audit, the members of the community are trained for a day or two on the basics of accounting principles, and the areas that they need to focus on. At the end of the exercise, they prepare a detailed report that is submitted to our auditor. This allows us to capture procedural lapses and instances of financial mismanagement, if any.

More importantly, this exercise also raises questions around amounts spent, and various items of expenditure. Members of the community are aware of the realities on the ground, and hence offer valuable inputs to the process. We feel that these sessions, along with our regular community consultations (where we present our work to the community and seek ideas on its future direction), are extremely valuable aspects of strengthening our accountability to our primary constituencies.

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