In the past few years, the process of applying for grants has gone online. This probably makes it easier for those with money to give. I spend hours completing the so-called Letters of Intent (LOIs). A bunch of fussy boxes measuring information in words, or worse, in characters. The questions vary in character and order, making each new application a re-think of wherever I’m planning to do. The field of supplicants grows exponentially. What are the chances when one competes with 649 others for a depressingly small amount of money?
I’ve gotten well practiced in this process but it occurs to me that the very people who would benefit most from a cash infusion have limited, expensive access to the Internet. Their groups have no web presence. Their facility with English may be limited. What they have is rare passion and local orientation for assisting people whose circumstances are unimaginably bleak and invisible to many perusing grant applications. I’m thinking of the half-dozen people from far-flung, generally impoverished places who’ve emailed me requesting help to set up a Women’s Center in their communities. I would love to engage immediately. Indeed it is the mission of WCI. But I struggle to keep my own young organization afloat.
This takes me to the phenomenon of moving people to act – to contribute. I frame WCI’s work not as ‘charity’ but as the necessary re-allocation of resources to those whose talents – possibly world-changing – are shrouded in the dust of poverty. What would it be like for them to stand in the sun of prosperity? What great genius would be unleashed to alter, for millions, the current stacked deck of opportunity?
One of the biggest challenges of working with women living in poverty is promoting a mindset that sees beyond it. On the face if it, one might assume they have nothing to lose and nothing to take them forward. But these women have children, and what they have to lose is their future. It’s a powerful motivator for change.
At Baraka Women’s Center, we worked through the initial jostling for attention and clannishness inherent in new groups. It took over a year but then the magic rose up. They saw common ground. They found relief in sisterly support. The group mattered to them. It made them stronger, more willing to risk learning and the hard changes new information demanded. I believe in the power that emerges in groups of women. It a singular gift that requires nurturing from anyone who imagines a humane world order defined and fostered by women.
So I keep in my mind a bit of wisdom from Harriet Beecher Stowe: “When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” Every day brings breakthroughs in persistence.