When Indigo started funding in Africa four years ago, we set out to do something that we felt other funders weren’t doing. Not only did we feel that the potential impact of mobile and web technology was ripe and should be supported, we also recognised that many organisations – particularly small, local ones – needed access to small amounts of finance quickly and often for high risk or untested ventures. As such, ever since we started funding in this area, relatively small grants of around £10,000 have been at the heart of our strategy. They have allowed us to support start-ups like BudgIT in Nigeria or iCow in Kenya that have since gone on to attract significant funding and revenues from a diverse range of sources. For most aid agencies and many larger philanthropic funders, such initiatives might have been too small or early stage to be eligible for funding. Indigo’s approach to small, locally-based and owned projects, however, has provided us with the flexibility to support such groups.
While this flexibility and willingness to support smaller organisations and projects has remained throughout the last four years, we have on occasion provided larger or multiple awards to some organisations. There are a few reasons why we do this, although each case is treated slightly differently. So why do we sometimes award large grants?
- Rewarding success: While not every grant can be an unrivalled success, we believe that success should be rewarded. When CoCreation Hub in Lagos, for example, initially came to our attention we provided them with a small grant for an event. Recognising their potential, however, and the interest from other funders it seemed the right time for Lagos to have its own tech hub interested in social change. Thanks to their strong performance and track record working with start-ups and securing more funding, we awarded them a £75,000 three-year grant to support the work of their incubation services. It was a way of acknowledging their success and backing it up.
- Scaling up: For some projects, £10,000 is exactly what is needed to see it through. For others, £10,000 is a vital first step, but building on what’s achieved will require ongoing investment. iCow, for example, required ongoing investment to be able to scale beyond a small-scale service reaching a limited number of farmers to something much more ambitious and profitable. The demand for the service and its value had already been demonstrated, so extra funding as the organisation expanded seemed like a natural way forward for us and them.
- Supporting multiple projects: Our recent grant of £60,000 to the joint hub fund managed by Hivos is a way that we can use our funding to leverage and support funds provided by others. The fund is a way of distributing Indigo’s funding to multiple hubs alongside others. The £40,000 grant we provided to mySociety, recently, is similarly used to support multiple African transparency projects across a number of countries. It makes sense to bundle that funding into a single, larger package as it’s easier and more efficient to administrate.
- Core costs: Raising rent or salary costs can be one of the most difficult and frustrating tasks for any charity. In some instances, Indigo provides core costs to organisations with which we have already established a successful relationship – usually by firstly funding a particular project or activity. The nature of core cost funding and the difficulties of raising it, means that we will occasionally award a larger-than-average grant.
These are just some of the reasons that we sometimes award larger grants and the reality is that we try to treat each case on its particular merits.