One country or many?

Finding the right funder can be very difficult and there are a number of factors applicants need to consider. Some funders are sector-specific, others only provide a set amount of funding, some will only consider organisations of a certain size and yet others have restrictions on the age of organisations. Aside from these considerations, there are myriad other reasons why a funder might not be quite the right fit. But one of the most basic questions funders get asked is which countries or regions they fund in. Many funders (large and small) have particular countries of focus or even specific cities that they fund in to the exclusion of all others. There are several advantages to this sort of approach. First and foremost, it allows funders to really understand the context in which they work and to build a network of grantees, contacts and partners with similar interests and concerns. This can be invaluable as it helps funders to make informed decisions and to learn and share what works in a given set of circumstances. It also sends a very clear message to organisations in that place that here is a funder who works in your community and that you can approach. And from a funder’s perspective, it reduces the number of proposals and helps to make the process of grant-making quicker and more efficient for all involved.

At Indigo, however, we have taken a different approach. Rather than restricting ourselves to one country or even a region such as East Africa, we accept proposals from right across sub-Saharan Africa. There are several reasons for this. When we started funding technology-driven initiatives back in 2010 there were fewer organisations around doing this sort of work. Restricting ourselves to a single country then would have been tricky, as the supply of projects and organisations would not necessarily have been sufficient. Secondly, by funding in multiple countries we are able to learn from what is happening across the continent. Rather than a narrow and deep focus on one country, we can study what is happening across sub-Saharan Africa, learn about innovative or interesting approaches to problems and make contacts with organisations working in a huge variety of technological, social and economic contexts. While we may lose some of the country-specific knowledge of other funders, we benefit from a broader understanding and appreciation of initiatives across borders. Funding in multiple countries, meanwhile, means that we are able to avoid only funding in what are sometimes called ‘aid darlings’. OECD data shows that more than half of official aid flows to Africa go to just ten countries, with Egypt alone swallowing up 10% of all official assistance. To a certain extent, Indigo’s funding flows are subject to similar patterns in the sense that most of our funding goes to organisations in a handful of countries. But retaining flexibility about where we fund allows us to support groups in places like Liberia, Togo, Mali, Zimbabwe and other countries where funding sources are harder to come by than in places like Kenya or Tanzania, where funders are familiar with the context and where there is a ready supply of NGOs.

As things develop and Indigo’s focus matures, it may well be that we start to look at funding in specific countries. Indeed, recent work in South Africa has shown the benefits of working intensively in one country – it is easier to coordinate grantees, more efficient to organise training courses and share lessons between organisations. It also provides a clearer picture of the common concerns and worries that organisations in a particular place may share. For now, though, we will continue to accept proposals from wherever in sub-Saharan Africa they may come. So if you have an idea, please get in touch and we may be able to help.