The Spark Fund invests in youth-led and youth-focused groups tackling injustice and inequality, driving transformational change, and building a more inclusive post-pandemic world by harnessing the power of digital technologies. Through a participatory grantmaking process, regional youth panels make funding decisions using an innovative technology platform. After considerable deliberation, the youth-led Spark Fund panel in Africa chose to fund 16 organizations in Lesotho, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.
My name is Khalid. I work with the Network for Children’s Empowerment in Sierra Leone. I serve as the Executive Director [of this] youth-led group that works to empower adolescent boys and girls with three issues on education, health care, and social protection.
Well, the Spark Fund is an opportunity I was exposed to when I saw an advert talking about young people living in southern Africa to participate in the Spark Fund, which is a platform for young people to make decisions. So, it was to ensure that young people can make decisions that will be able to fund beautiful initiatives or ideas around organizations within southern Africa.
So, after the introduction session, we discussed how can we design the criteria, the application process, determining what should we look at. It was a tough process because we realized that we have different opinions. And combining those opinions, harmonizing them to one, was a difficult process.
You have young people that are very smart and energetic, so, it took a lot of time to build the process, because we were looking at, should we have organizations that are registered or not? Should we have youth-led groups or youth-focused groups? We had a debate on that for a long number of days. Should we talk about the [Sustainable Development Goals] or special issues? It was tough to agree, but the beautiful thing was, no matter what happened, we had a point to converge, we had a point to be flexible with our ideas to see how we can have a meeting point.
The inequalities that organizations face to access funding in my country are so large. It’s difficult for grassroots groups to get funding. Only if you are lucky to have some connection, you have been sub-contracted, you get grants.
One thing about [the Spark Fund] I like is that this is the first grant of this type. But [the Spark Fund] is not that donor that tells you, “Do this, do this, and do this.” It gives you the platform, it gives you flexibility, and allows you to determine based on what you think works best for your organization. Though they give you more capacity building to be able to structure your programs and structure your systems, but again, they give you that free will. I’m hoping and thinking and praying that [the Spark Fund] […] can expand to West Africa to see how other young people, if not myself, but other young people from West Africa can benefit from the Spark Fund. At least to continue the good work that they’re doing.
They may not be registered, but they’re doing a good job. They may not have accounts, but they’re doing a good job. They may not have offices, but they’re doing a good job. They may not have all it takes to get the big grants, the big funding. But it’s more like there is no trust by these big donors to support young people. For young people to start a network, it’s very difficult, to manage is difficult, because it’s their initiative, it’s their community, it’s their people, it’s their family that is staying in the community. They know their issues, they know their problems, and they want to solve it, but they don’t have the platform, they don’t have the money, they don’t have the support.
So, until donors start changing their lenses to see young people, the changemakers, giving them support, giving them the opportunity, we cannot have a better world.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Global Fund for Children (GFC) UK Trust, created in 2006, is a UK registered charity (UK charity number 1119544). We work to generate vital income, create new fundraising opportunities, and raise awareness of the invaluable work of GFC’s grassroots grantees. Our aim is to extend the reach of GFC in the United Kingdom, Europe, and beyond.
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