Recommendations for supporting diversity and inclusion in Scottish Government grant-making, especially for smaller organisations and under-represented groups

24 June 2022

This webpage sets out a number of draft recommendations from the SMP to the Scottish Government, at the suggestion of the Scottish Parliament’s Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, as to how smaller organisations and under-represented groups could be better included within the Scottish Government’s international development grant-making. We invite member input to these draft recommendations by Monday 18th July and we will then share the final version with the Scottish Government.

The SMP is preparing this advice as a longstanding friend and partner of the Scottish Government, looking to make a genuinely constructive set of recommendations, informed by members’ and partners’ experience, to help support the Scottish Government deliver on its stated policy and principles.

The context: Why we are making recommendations:

Listening to and led by its members, the SMP had long supported the Scottish Government’s excellent Small Grants Programme and we were therefore very sorry to see this innovative and impactful programme cancelled in 2021, following a review in 2020, despite an SNP manifesto commitment to maintain this programme.

We feel the Small Grants Programme helped create a more inclusive and diverse space, supporting smaller organisations and potentially under-represented groups, who are often volunteer-led, to be able to contribute to the Scottish Government’s international development work. Feedback from members in Scotland and their partners in Malawi, was that the fund was well-managed and impactful. Uniquely, in the SMP’s experience, even those small organisations who applied to this fund but were unsuccessful, found it a worthwhile process. The SMP feels this is, to a significant degree, due to the supportiveness, flexibility and empathy of The Corra Foundation as the grant managers.

The SMP was invited by the Scottish Parliament’s Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee to give evidence to their inquiry into the Scottish Government’s International Work, and was specifically asked about the Small Grants Programme. Through this process, in both our written submission and oral evidence, we represented our members’ views with relation to the Small Grants Programme, making a positive case for this impactful programme to continue, for reasons of both inclusivity and impact, and questioning whether the decision to cancel the programme was justified by the independent review.

The Committee published its inquiry report on the 7th April (read in full here). Two of the report’s findings/recommendations related to the cancelling of the small grants programme:

  • “183 The decision to cancel the Small Grants Programme has not been without criticism. The Committee heard the rationale given by the Scottish Government and note the further information provided in the Minister in his letter of 1 March. We ask to be kept updated on any further developments, including the outcomes of the Minister’s planned discussions with the core funded networking organisations as mentioned in that correspondence.
    “184 The view of the Committee – while understanding the logic of the process and the criteria applied – is that it should still be possible to enable a role for small initiatives i.e. those innovative and community-led projects which have the potential to grow into bigger undertakings and attract more funding. Once the Minister has discussed next steps with the relevant partner organisations, we ask him to write to us again, setting out what support the Scottish Government can provide for the growth of such grass-roots initiatives.”

Following the Minister’s statement to the Parliament committee that he is meeting all four core funded networks (including the SMP) and is “keen to hear from them their thoughts on how we can support and engage with civil society following closure of Small Grants programme with a view to future more impactful programming”, we are keen to offer constructive recommendations in this area, as a longstanding friend and partner of the Scottish Government.

We know this is an area where there are passionately held views in our membership. This has been the case for many years but, especially since the cancellation of the Small Grants Programme, many of our members have made strong, public calls for greater support for smaller organisations and have made direct asks of the SMP to make representation in this area. In recent months, in each of our high-level roundtable meetings, members in Scotland and partners in Malawi have raised this issue. And, following these events, the SMP has been directly asked by members to make representation on this point, rather than just feed into others’ consultations.

As a member-led network, it is important the SMP responds to, and represents, its members’ concerns and priorities, and hence we are happy to offer constructive recommendations in this space in keeping with the explicit ask from members.

Others’ good work in this area:

We fully support and endorse the excellent work currently underway by Scotland’s International Development Alliance (‘A new way forward for global solidarity’) which is presenting a more general set of wider recommendations for the Scottish Government and we look forward to seeing the final outcome from this consultative process. At the time of writing, the latest draft of this report includes the below, as one of the 50+ recommendations:

  • “Ensuring grant-making flows to a mix of different types of large and small NGOs, social enterprises, purpose driven businesses, research institutions etc. Some thought might be given to how to support medium and small NGOs access specific funding.”

This SMP paper therefore complements the Alliance’s work well, as it offers precisely the sort of thinking about how small and medium sized organisations could access funding, as is recommended.

We are keen to also acknowledge and endorse the fantastic work of The Corra Foundation, who have invested time, expertise and funds to consult widely as part of their review of inclusive grant-making (‘Voices, Relationships and Partnerships in International Development’). This work was focused on shifting the power and equity but we feel many of the lessons captured are also directly relevant when looking at how to support, and be inclusive of, smaller organisations. We wholeheartedly support all their findings and specifically include some of these in our own final recommendation below.

Reflections on inclusion, diversity and the role of smaller organisations:

The value of smaller organisations:

We believe that smaller organisations and under-represented groups, including diaspora communities, have a really valuable role to play in Scotland’s international development work. Such groups are often volunteer-run, with low overheads and high impact for the funds invested. They are often community-embedded, with longstanding relationships of mutual understanding and mutual respect and hence are not seen as part of the ‘aid industry’ by local communities. This can make them well positioned to undertake genuinely community-led work and to operate outwith the layers of expectation, assumption and norms which have built up over decades of development work in countries like Malawi.

A key distinctive feature of Scotland’s unique approach to international development is the extent to which it inspires civic activism, in Scotland and in partner countries. We feel the Scottish Government has achieved greatest impact where it has harnessed the experience, expertise and enthusiasm of civic and associational life, and used this as a powerful ‘force multiplier’: achieving considerable impact for comparably modest inputs. Key to this, is creating a welcoming, inclusive space which makes a diverse range of groups feel valued and able to contribute, both in Scotland and partner countries.

Scotland has many outstanding large NGOs which do amazing work in countries like Malawi; they are an integral and valued part of the SMP’s own membership. Such groups should continue to be supported and we recognise that the majority of Scottish Government funds should continue to go to such organisations, given the capacity and scale of their excellent work. However, we feel that for Scotland to have greatest impact there needs to be a healthy, vibrant and diverse eco-system, which engages large, medium and small NGOs, community groups, faith groups and schools (albeit likely in different ways).

Crucially, we do not feel that the success of an initiative which looks to build diversity and inclusion by engaging smaller organisations should be judged solely by the extent to which these smaller charities grow into bigger charities. Many small organisations do not wish to grow into larger organisations; they can, and do, make meaningful contributions at their current scale of operation to Scotland’s international development work.

Delivering on principles:

We strongly welcome the Scottish Government’s international development principles, published in 2021: ‘Inclusion and diversity’; ‘Innovative, adapting and sustainable’; ‘Amplify global-south voices’; ‘Equality’; ‘Partner-country led development’; ‘Amplify global-south voices’; ‘Embrace technology’; ‘Accountable, transparent and safe’. We see strong resonance between these principles and our own 11 Scotland-Malawi Partnership Principles, which we have held ourselves and our members accountable to for ten years.

We hope that these recommendations offer constructive insight into how we and our members feel the Scottish Government could best deliver on these principles, most especially ‘inclusion and diversity’.

Country-led development:

Through the Scottish Government’s 2020-21 international development review there were a number of references in meetings and publications to making grant-making systems more inclusive to groups in partner countries like Malawi. We warmly welcome this. However, we are concerned that expectations have been significantly raised in Malawi and, to date, there hasn’t been information about how small organisations in Malawi could be eligible or apply for future funding. We know this is a major concern for the membership of our sister network in Malawi, the Malawi Scotland Partnership (MaSP).

Similarly, we welcome statements which seem to support greater diaspora involvement in the grant-making process. The Malawi diaspora are at the heart of the SMP and we welcome all policy steps which look to create a more welcoming, accessible and diverse space in grant-making, to better encourage, support and value diaspora participation.

Inclusion and accountability:

We are keen to emphasise that having a grant programme which is inclusive to smaller organisations and under-represented groups, is not
about lowering the bar in terms impact, efficiency or accountability. Tax payers’ money must be protected, investing judiciously with effective safeguards. It’s not about lowering the bar but understanding the blockers for certain groups and thinking pragmatically about what is the appropriate, proportionate and effective process for grant-making, which supports inclusivity and diversity, as well as robust accountability and demonstrable impact.

Blockers to participation for smaller organisations:

We recognise that, technically, there may be nothing excluding smaller organisations and under-represented groups from applying for funding. It is therefore important to set-out why we feel smaller organisations either do not feel they are able to apply, or so infrequently are funded if they do, unless there are specific provisions to support their participation.

We feel blockers for smaller and under-represented groups often include:

  1. Not feeling they are likely to succeed. All organisations weigh up the costs (time and money invested in making an application) and benefits (the funding) in making a grant application; this is informed by their sense of the likelihood they will succeed. This is entirely appropriate and in keeping with Trustees’ responsibilities to use charitable assets (including time and capacity) for maximum impact against their charitable purpose. If smaller organisations and under represented groups do not see an explicit willingness and enthusiasm from funders to fund their sort of organisation, they are less likely to apply.
  2. Lack of capacity and experience to write a competitive application. Smaller organisations and under represented groups are often more volunteer-led and hence don’t have the staff or capacity to be able to complete application forms with the same technical detail, language or insight as larger organisations with specific roles focused on application writing.
  3. Lack of time between the call for applications and the deadline. Smaller organisations often particularly benefit from more time between call and deadline, as those developing the application are often not working full-time. To be able to develop really inclusive, partner-led applications, more time is needed as individuals are often working around holiday dates or limited availability. Advance warning of calls is therefore especially valued amongst smaller organisations.
  4. Lack of dedicated capacity and experience within the funder to engage and support smaller organisations: As outlined above, we think that smaller organisations and under-represented groups, including the diaspora community, can often offer remarkable impact for the scale of investment. This is often because they are embedded at a community level, with a depth of understanding and relationships of mutual trust and understanding, as well as having comparably low operating costs, volunteerism and efficiency of operation. However, we recognise that to harness this potential, funders need to make an initial ‘pump prime’ investment, offering dedicated support, advice and encouragement. This requires an open and welcoming mindset, empathy and knowledge of the challenges faced by smaller organisations. We recognise that the Scottish Government international development team, like all of the civil service, has finite and limited human capacity. It is understandable therefore that government looks for the most efficient modalities for grant-making and grant management but we feel that a lack of capacity and experience in this area, may unintentionally be excluding smaller organisations and under-represented groups.
  5. Gap between calls for applications: While we recognise the administrative efficiency for government of having one large call for applications every 3-5 years, we feel the previous system of smaller, annual calls, with regular and reliable annual cycles, was more conducive to inclusive grant-making. With an annual system, smaller organisations are more likely to make the investment to build their capacity, so they are able to apply, knowing if they are not successful this year they can learn from the feedback and apply again next year. But if calls are many years apart, with low certainty and unclear systems, we have found smaller organisations are quickly deterred from considering building up the requisite strong foundations.
  6. Simply not knowing about a call for applications. Some tenders and processes have clear rules and systems which exclude certain groups, others can de facto exclude simply by not promoting in the right places, where smaller groups are likely to see the notice. This is less frequently an issue in Scotland, in part because of the Scottish Government’s commendable and far-sighted investment in the core funding of national civic networks, which are able to disseminate information to a grassroot level.

We feel the previous Scottish Government Small Grants Programme was well-designed to mitigate the above challenges and blockers, specifically:

  • The clear statement it made in terms of the Scottish Government’s desire and willingness to work with a diverse range of organisations.
  • Close and cooperative working with the core funded networks, to encourage and support the involvement of different and diverse groups, share learning between funded groups, and collate feedback to inform annual learning and development.
  • Proportionate and well-thought through application and grant management expectations.
  • Phone calls with all eligible applicants, discussing at length the proposed work, so decision-making wasn’t solely made on the written application form.
  • A phone number which prospective applicants could call to discuss the idea of applying.
  • An empathetic and supportive approach to reporting and programme management.

Recommendations to build inclusion and diversity:

We hope, in time, the Scottish Government will consider re-instating its excellent Small Grants Programme but, in the mean time, we feel that the below recommendations would significantly help build inclusivity and diversity, specially for smaller organisations and under-represented groups, within the existing grant programmes.

  1. Ringfence 15% of each call for applications, for small and medium-sized organisations, with smaller grants on offer and proportionate application and reporting procedures. We feel that, in the context of the international development budget increasing by 50%, from £10m to £15m, it is reasonable to ringfence a proportion of this for small and medium-sized organisations to ensure diversity and inclusivity. If there are insufficient fundable applications from small and medium organisations, these funds could revert to the main call, but we feel earmarking a small proportion for small and medium organisations would have significant impact in encouraging small organisations to apply.
  2. Invest capacity and expertise in the grant-making process, so small and medium organisations are supported to apply. We think one of the key learning points from the Small Grants Programme is the need for dedicated capacity and expertise in the grant-making process, so smaller organisations are really welcomed and supported to be involved. This includes capacity and systems, for example, to be able to offer prospective applicants to phone and discuss questions regarding their application. While there is nothing stopping this investment coming within the Scottish Government team, we feel there is very strong merit in commissioning an external fund manager with demonstrable experience supporting small and medium organisations, and an empathetic mindset, such as The Corra Foundation. We feel this is the single biggest determinant of success in building a more accessible, inclusive and diverse portfolio of funded work.
  3. Work with the core funded networks in the design and delivery of calls, to ensure diversity, accessibility and transparency: seeking input on draft language, meeting before and after each call, and capturing clear lessons learnt for future development. The core funded networks have considerable experience and insight they can offer, and are able to adapt their own programmes of work to support the aims of a government programme, for example, building capacity and proficiency amongst more diverse groups in the sector to develop strong applications.
  4. Where possible, have annual calls for smaller organisations, with timescales published well in advance (ideally outline details trailed at least six months in advance), so organisations can invest in their own capacity building and co-creation with their partner communities, confident there will be a call they can apply to.
  5. Have a clear route through which small groups with links to Scotland, in partner countries such as Malawi, can apply for funding. This is to deliver on the Scottish Government’s stated commitment, for which expectations have been raised, that groups in Malawi will be able to apply directly for funding. Like others, we welcome the principle of this and highlight the need for clear communications, strong structures and real local knowledge, to ensure expectations are appropriately managed and the process doesn’t accidentally exclude the very groups it aims to transfer power to. We think our sister network, the Malawi Scotland Partnership (MaSP) could have a valuable role supporting this.
  6. Build flexibility and adaptability into the grant making and grant management system: We think this is crucial for all grants but perhaps most especially for smaller organisations. Currently, the SG requires all details about a proposed project to be included in the initial application. By contrast, many other funders have an application process which requires only an outline plan of what will be achieved, and how, at the point of initial decision making. Once approved, there is a process of some months through which the precise details are worked up, in part through co-creation with the funder, and with very high degrees of involvement and ownership from local communities. We feel this approach is the most effective, sustainable and best able to really transfer power to local communities. Applicants, especially smaller organisations, are very rarely able to invest sufficiently in the detailed consultation and co-creation process before funding has been agreed. This means that 3-5 year projects are often locked into plans which were written before there was any funding or capacity to really develop strong, locally owned, plans. We feel requiring all details and plans at the application stage makes it harder for small and medium organisations to compete with large organisations.
  7. Place strong emphasis on the value of working with under-represented groups, in both Scotland and the partner country. This would include diaspora communities. Key to this is recognizing why some groups may be under-represented and having open conversations about what can be done to address this.
  8. Publish details on the diversity of groups funded each year and set aspirations for increased diversity, with clear actions as to what more can be done to deliver on these aspirations, working with the core funded networks. This could be within the existing annual Scottish Government international development public reporting.
  9. Respond to the findings and recommendations of The Corra Foundation’s excellent research, ‘Voices, Relationships and Partnerships in International Development, specifically:
    Allow applicants to explain the context of their work, and give supporting information, as they think relevant, in the application form.
    Put greater emphasis on partner community’s voice in both the application and reporting processes.
    Encourage language which is accessible in both the Scottish and the partner country context.
    Have supportive structures, including phone calls/Zoom meetings with all eligible applicants and their partners, so the process is not solely reliant on written forms.
    Give detailed feedback which helps organisations learn and develop.
    Have clear guidelines on the expectations and requirements of grant recipients.
    Maintain direct contact between with grant-holders (including in the partner community) through the grant, so reporting is not solely reliant on a written form.
    Actively work to build relationships of trust and mutual confidence.

For example:

It might be helpful to give a hypothetical worked up example of how, if following these recommendations, funding for a typical call for applications might be structured.

If there were a £3 million Scottish Government call for applications as part of the Malawi Development Programme (this is the Scottish Government’s previously stated minimum amount allocated for Malawi, when the total International Development Fund was £4m (it is now increasing to £15m), there might be:

  • £2,550,000 (85%) would be open for all to apply for although, realistically, past experience would suggest most or all of this would be awarded to larger organisations, perhaps 4-6 grants of £500k-£600k.
  • £450,000 (15%) would be ringfenced for small and medium sized organisations, with more proportionate and supportive application and reporting expectations, and a clearly stated aspiration to engage under-represented groups. This could, for example, be broken down to fund:2-3 x medium sized organisations with grants of c£100,000
    6-8 x project small grants of £30,000 - £40,000
    £15,000 for external grant programme management, support and outreach

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SMP members share their support for Scottish Government small grants...

Click to watch.

Emma Duncan from Global Concerns Trust shares their support for continued inclusive funding opportunities for smaller NGO's.
Kevin Simpson, CEO of Malawi Fruits shares their support for the Scottish Government Small Grants Programme and the credibility and fantastic support it offered Malawi Fruits.
James Turing, Founder of the Turing Trust, discusses the impact of the Scottish Governments Small Grants programme as 'an incredible accelerator' for the Turing Trust.