Encouraging Innovation & Collaboration at the Grassroots: GoPhil Seed Grants in Nepal

Encouraging Innovation & Collaboration at the Grassroots: GoPhil Seed Grants in Nepal

GoPhilanthropic is a US-based non-profit that helps grassroots organizations provide access to education, health and human rights in impoverished regions round the world. Co-Founded in 2011, our belief is that genuine philanthropy goes well beyond simply writing a check — philanthropy involves active engagement, investment and collaboration on all levels. Our vision is to create a network of partnerships around the world fostering a shared responsibility in solving global issues. We value innovation, collaboration and cross learning and support some 40 programs in seven different countries – Kenya, Guatemala, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, India and Nepal.

Trafficking, particularly of women and children, is a critical issue in Nepal. Despite the efforts of many government departments, UN agencies, INGOs (International Non-Governmental Organizations) and NGOs, it is a problem that is growing rather than shrinking. Over the past three years working in Nepal, GoPhil has raised concerns over a lack of collaboration, coordination and resulting duplication of efforts between varying organizations working in the arena.

As GoPhil’s Director of Global Programs, I attempted to understand more of the landscape by researching and conducting extensive Skype calls to meet with a wide range of NGOs and networks in Nepal working on trafficking. It led us to realize there are indeed a number of existing efforts to promote collaboration and coordination amongst organizations (particularly within the Nepalese NGO sector) yet there was definitely room for improvement in terms of the effectiveness of their efforts. Many reported that there was “more talk than action” and that any organized networks or trafficking alliances were not known about by their peers and didn’t have sufficient funding to act.


Network Mapping

GoPhilanthropic Foundation has a long history of encouraging organizations to network, share and cross-learn. It’s the third prong in our mission to IDENTIFY, INVEST, and SCALE the work of grassroots efforts providing access to education, health and human rights for marginalized people. In hopes to fuel more of this “scaling” we proposed taking our cross-learning efforts in Nepal in a new direction. Rather than continuing to develop more partnerships with individual organizations, each working on their separate agendas related to trafficking, we decided to develop a pilot program with seed funding that would specifically encourage and promote more effective collaboration amongst the organizations working on this issue. This rather unique notion was set forth by June Holley in her “Network Mapping” work. GoPhil had the honor of being guided by June as we set out to apply her concepts in the human trafficking NGO world in Nepal.

June introduced us to The Leadership Learning Community (LLC), a non-profit organization transforming the way leadership development work is conceived, conducted and evaluated, primarily within the nonprofit sector. They had already run a successful seed grants initiative. They shared that in 2017 they had funded three seed grants—each around $8,000 each (not huge amounts) and explained that their original idea behind this was to create funds with few strings attached so that organizations could learn and experiment. Grant applications were simple and easy to fill out and the time frame for the grant cycles short (8 months). Then they focused on bringing back and sharing the lessons of success and challenges from their collective experiences. This would encourage innovative ideas that are usually not given the space to be tried out. For more information about their process, please visit: http://www.leadershiplearning.org/blog/miriam-persley/2017-04-27/how-leadership-development-programs-can-harvest-social-change-though-


Selecting our Grantees

Once we had developed a Call for Proposals that emphasized all the core criteria (anti-trafficking, innovation, collaboration, maximum grant size $3,000 per project) we circulated this widely amongst our networks. We were very pleased to receive 20 very strong proposals from a wide range of NGOs across the country, both big and small organizations, many of whom we had never met before. Given the high quality of applications received, selecting the successful four projects was a challenge and involved reviews and discussions across the GoPhil team. Grantees were chosen on the basis that the project seemed ‘do-able’ within a budget of $3,000 per grant and could be completed with in the six month time frame (January – July 2018), Most importantly though, they needed to highlight a strong element of innovation within their chosen project and display a genuine desire to learn and collaborate. We selected four projects that were employing very unique strategies to tackle trafficking and were located in different parts of the country.

Using a spider web ice-breaker exercise to demonstrate the power of collaboration.

In July of this year, after the projects had been completed, I had the privilege to travel to Nepal to meet all of the organizations involved in our seed grant initiative and to facilitate the sharing of their unique learnings. It was enormously inspiring to meet all the people who had been working hard to tackle trafficking in their communities and to see them exchange their experiences, successes and challenges with each other. Every organization had approached their project differently, with the seed grant initiatives ranging from capacity building within an existing network of anti-trafficking NGOs to producing a short animation to raise awareness of the risks of volunteering in an orphanage (and the link to trafficking of children to orphanages). Each of them had achieved far more than we even expected in the short six-month window and every one of them planned to continue their efforts. Amazingly the seed grants had kicked off new programs of work and brand new collaborations between organizations working for the same goal.

Video on GoPhil’s seed grants:

For GoPhil, there were many key highlights of this new program:

  • Expansion of GoPhil’s network of great NGOs: GoPhil takes vetting of new prospective partners very seriously. Through this seed grant process, we have now met (and vetted) some incredible new organizations, as well as having an opportunity to work formally for the first time with a couple of NGOs we have known for a while. Being able to see how organizations operate, communicate with their donors, report on their work and interact with each other is a wonderful way of identifying potential long-term partners for GoPhil.
  • Honest Reporting: We really probed our grantees to share their challenges, as well as what went well.

This is often difficult for implementing organizations to do though, as they are keen to paint a rosy picture for their donors! However, we were thrilled that our message got through and the organizations shared very honest and reflective reports with us—highlighting not just their achievements but also what they would change or do differently next time.

  • A rare yet needed form of granting: Throughout the one-day meeting, participants kept remarking how unusual it is to find funding available for these kind of pilot projects. The organizations hugely appreciated the opportunity this grant had given them to learn, experiment and try out new ideas that they had been wanting to explore for a while but lacked funds. Providing this opportunity for them to experiment and learn is very unique and important in helping them to fine tune their programming.

Macchindra from Chapter Nepal talks us through the organizations and networks that he is associated with.

  • A genuine desire to help each other: In the meeting, people were very interested in each other’s projects – and we had to allow more time than we had anticipated after each presentation for questions and answers, and also for participants to make suggestions for each other. There was a real sense that everyone wanted to help each other. No one organization can address all the aspects of anti-trafficking work – e.g. protection, prevention, rescue and rehabilitation – so the participants were very pleased to learn about each other’s organizations and what they did because they could identify where they might be able to refer cases to each other in future.   
  • A new life experience for isolated NGOs: For some of the people attending the meeting from outside Kathmandu, this was the first time they had ever been invited to participate in a national level meeting in the capital.
  • Proof is in the pudding—it worked! The power of collaboration was definitely recognized – through working in networks, referring cases to other organizations and working with other organizations in order to have a wider reach. At least two networks will continue as a result of the grants – with the anti-trafficking network in Makwanpur that we supported now revitalised and a new network formed by one of the partners Kumudini in Nuwakot district.

We are keen to stay in touch with all the participants to find out what else emerges from these seed grants over the coming months and years. GoPhil learned a huge amount on the different strategies to tackle trafficking in Nepal through this program and our partnerships. We are very grateful to June Holley and her colleagues for all their support and will continue to follow up with June and other networks doing similar work so we can continue to learn from one another.

This seed grant program was very different to GoPhil’s normal way of working and has given us the motivation to continue to apply new and innovative approaches to complex problems. We are now looking at developing similar seed grant programs on other issues and in other countries – and welcome any further support, including funding, that helps us to expand this exciting program!