During the past two decades, there has been an increasing realisation that development programs are more effective when designed and executed by those most affected by the challenges they seek to address. That is why the SDG creation process was arguably the most participatory process in UN history, involving working groups, consultations, and open calls for feedback.

However, in retrospect, even that process had gaps and could have included many more communities and their concerns.

The Freedom Fund is nearly a decade into pursuing its mission of ending modern slavery, mainly by partnering with frontline organisations around the world. We have seen that the most sustainable and tangible change takes place when survivors of modern slavery and communities most vulnerable to exploitation take the lead. We work to fund their efforts and to amplify their voices and experiences.

As global attention turns to ‘localisation’, increasing numbers of people across the philanthropic sector are joining the conversation with a sense of urgency. In a world of compounding crises – including climate change, conflict, and disaster – donors have finally realised that the key to a better future is funding community-led organisations closest to these issues. The challenge now is how to turn this understanding into investment.

Investing in grassroots organisations and communities to help end modern slavery is what we do at the Freedom Fund. I’m encouraged that many philanthropists agree that shifting power and resources is fundamental to addressing inequalities. I’m passionate about ensuring our collective understanding of what it means to support frontline organisations is nuanced and effective and helping funders to support locally-based groups without causing harm. To do this, we need to engage in honest, meaningful and practical discussions about policies, costs, administrative requirements and grapple with the tensions between our assumptions and people’s lived experience.

When we first started operating in Ethiopia, supporting women migrating to the Middle East as domestic workers, we heard from several women and organisations that work with them that it was unsafe migration that needed addressing. Women needed economic independence to live dignified lives. We engaged a team in Ethiopia, and they helped us understand the nuance of the issue and how to explain it to our donors.

Consequently, we were able to support an incredibly impactful program informed by lived experience and community-level knowledge. We now fund an established shelter, trauma counselling, and vocational training, so women are not forced to return to exploitative work to earn a living. Combined with efforts to strengthen government approaches and raise awareness about unsafe migration, the NGOs we are funding are shifting the systems that contribute to exploitation.

Read the full article about philanthropy and the SDGs by Havovi Wadia at Alliance Magazine.