Aligning funding themes with grantee needs
“The project outcomes exceeded our expectations.” – Sarah Sommer, EPIM Programme Director
The online facilitated process enabled the Steering Committee to:
- review findings from a large-scale survey and an internal analysis of EPIM’s funding portfolio
- generate, discuss and prioritise 41 ideas to improve EPIM’s work
- select 9 ideas and turn them into actionable strategic recommendations
- identify 9 positive practices that were considered instrumental to the organisation’s work.
The Steering Community unanimously adopted the 9 strategic recommendations including 6 that came with specific budgetary implications. EPIM staff and committees are implementing the recommendations and have already undertaken the following:
- engaged with an external expert to explore effective ways to strengthen EPIM´s commitment to combating discrimination
- organised a dedicated funder convening on strengthening support for migrant-led civil society organisations and prepared a survey to better understand its partner foundations’ priorities and concerns
- initiated a structural dialogue with an independent funder collaborative focused on technology to explore opportunities for closer collaboration and joint financing for relevant projects
- merged two thematic funds and commenced work on developing a new strategy for 2022–2024.
Steering Committee members all reported being very satisfied with the process. They:
- appreciated having ample time to discuss each suggested idea’s nuances and implications in live meetings, together with deeper written conversations between meetings
- were thankful to have time between meetings for their views to evolve and mature, and to work in pairs
- appreciated hearing constructive views from a Consultative Group made up of civil society leaders with direct experience of the field.
Context and challenges
EPIM is a collaborative funding initiative of 16 partner foundations and 8 associated foundations. These philanthropic foundations choose to link their financial resources and expertise to strengthen the role of civil society (i.e. NGOs) in building inclusive communities and in developing humane and sustainable responses to migration, based on Europe’s commitment to universal human rights and social justice. EPIM is hosted in the Network of European Foundations in Brussels, Belgium.
In 2015, EPIM started structuring its work into distinct thematic funds to organise its support to grantees. Each thematic fund, for example ‘Asylum in Europe’ or ‘Building inclusive European societies’, is a semi-autonomous and highly dynamic entity with its own decision-making committee, strategy, and funding mechanisms.
Since the creation of EPIM’s thematic fund structure and the introduction of its first portfolio of funds in 2015, the socioeconomic and political context for migration in Europe shifted dramatically. Migrant arrival numbers and routes have shifted; policy responses were developed in rapid succession and often with limited transparency; and COVID-19 reshaped the migration landscape in unprecedented ways.
In light of the immense pressure faced by civil society organisations, and fast-shifting realities on the ground, EPIM’s Steering Committee sought to ensure its funding portfolio would remain relevant in the years ahead.
EPIM set out to review its funding portfolio to determine whether the thematic focus areas were still aligned with key needs and opportunities in the migration field, and to ensure that EPIM’s funding would continue to add value and provide relevant support for the coming years.
The project objectives were to:
- gather input from key stakeholders – grantees and other civil society organisations, policy-makers, non-EPIM funders, researchers and EPIM staff – about the field of migration today
- take in that input and discuss current funding themes and their added value for today
- co-create and agree on 8–10 strategic recommendations to guide EPIM’s strategic decisions for the years to come.
Bruno Selun, IAF CertifiedTM Professional Facilitator and founder at Kumquat, was hired to design and deliver a process to reach these objectives.
EPIM needed new strategic recommendations by the end of 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented meeting in person. Starting from the client’s initial ideas, Kumquat designed a fully remote facilitated decision-making process in which Steering Committee members heard from stakeholders, discussed current funding themes, and co-created and agreed on strategic recommendations. This took place over five weeks of discussions, including four live sessions.
First, EPIM staff designed and circulated a large-scale survey of EPIM’s contacts to find out about relevant challenges, opportunities and trends in the field of migration. Staff shared the findings with the committee, which also heard from 6 invited experts – civil society leaders, researchers, and an EU civil servant – about the political, technological, legal, environmental, social and economic drivers of change in the field of migration (Meeting 1). This helped the committee better understand the migration context in Europe so members could take informed decisions.
Second, committee members and EPIM staff discussed the experts’ input alongside an internal analysis of synergies and gaps within EPIM’s funding portfolio, which the EPIM secretariat wrote. Considering the European context for migration in 2020, committee members and staff shared what they felt were the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to EPIM’s funding portfolio. This took place in a live session (Meeting 2) and continued in writing online using the decision-making support platform XLeap (previously MeetingSphere). Once committee members and staff shared 41 strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (including 24 prepared in advance by staff based on prior research), they were invited to individually prioritise the 8 they thought were the most important to act on. They then met online again (Meeting 3) to look at which items received the most votes, and to keep only 8–10 of them. They selected 9.
Third, volunteer Steering Committee members worked in pairs with support from staff to turn the 9 selected priority items into draft strategic recommendations. Each recommendation summarised the current situation; a target improved situation; a range of options which EPIM could consider to enhance its impact; any budget required; and any limitations or barriers identified. This packet of 9 draft recommendations was circulated to the Steering Committee, as well as to a Consultative Group of civil society experts asked to critically assess those recommendations considering their work and the field’s reality. The committee exchanged with the Consultative Group and adapted the recommendations’ contents and budget to suit all committee members (Meeting 4). The Steering Committee adopted the 9 strategic recommendations unanimously.