“Patience is a form of wisdom. It demonstrates that we understand and accept the fact that sometimes things must unfold in their own time.” ~ Jon Kabbat-Zinn
Everyone wants social impact and change. Communities we work for want better lives. Nonprofits like us want our work to create long term change and funders want their money to make a difference. The question we must ask though is: “Do we have the patience for it?”
Funders investing in social development have had different philosophies and approaches towards impact. Scandinavian donors have preferred a more long-term approach, sometimes funding programmes for up to 20 years. The Farm Women in Development Projects is one such example, which the Danish International Development Agency (Danida) supported in 1982, for close to two decades. The aim was to enhance the performance of farm women in their role as agricultural producers, towards increasing productivity, income and food security.
Many European and American donors in India and Asia invested in institutions because they felt that long-term change would be possible only when investments were made in local institutions, particularly civil society.
Today such investments are rare and institutional grants even more so. Increasingly, donors want impact that is differentiated and attributable, and preferably within the least cost and fastest time possible. Some donors want ‘visible impact’ in just 12 months!
What is this tendency towards immediate impact driven by?
- Impatience for results—pressure from boards of foundation for quicker impact
- Reductionism—using simplistic theories of change
- A lack of understanding or appreciation of deep social interconnects. For instance, the relationship between poverty and health is one where both area cause and an effect at the same time
- The need for attribution: Wanting all impact to be attributable to donors; being able to tell their board that it’s because of their funding and intervention that there is discernible impact
The power equation between the funder and recipient also plays a role. The former is less and less willing to listen, and the latter becomes more desperate for a shrinking pie of funding. One hears the word ‘patient capital’ but most recipients of these funds will tell you that it is certainly not patient.