Participation for effective economic advancement programming

Building participation in processes and tools used to facilitate economic advancement

Equality, Paul Simpson. Flickr, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0
Edited by Alan Stanley
Meet the editor

In this guide we explore evidence of strategies and entry points that funders, grantees and investees may use to build participatory processes, practices and tools for economic advancement programming. 

The starting point for building participation within programming, is that success is more likely if the people programmes hope to reach are involved directly in developing and implementing them – this is known as the effectiveness imperative for participation. A long history of attempts to build participation in to development programing have shown that efforts to involve target audiences can enable their knowledge and experience to inform program design, implementation and evaluation, leading to greater impact.

Including target audiences in program design and implementation can empower them to share learning and become involved in joint decision making, and enable more adaptive and creative programming. Perhaps the most important outcome of participation in programming is the trust that can be built between funders, implementers and their target audience, which improves credibility and engagement throughout interventions.

We know as well that effective programming requires that participation be meaningful and empowering. Focusing, therefore, on the quality of participation should be a central feature of strategies for building effective programming. As discussed in the What is Participation? overview guide, this requires engaging with the spectrum of participation and understanding power dynamics.

Next, we examine opportunities for participation in grantmaking, and then, the new and exciting field of building participation in impact investment.

Continue reading: Participatory grantmaking

Meet the author

Marina Apgar, Grace Lyn Higdon and Peter O’Flynn 

Get the content

Eldis content is published under a under a Creative Commons Attribution Unported (CC-BY) licence. You can embed this guide in your own website.

Embed this guide

Participatory grantmaking

Participatory grantmaking aims to bring decisions about philanthropic resource allocation closer to those who stand to benefit - grantees (civil society organisations) and their beneficiaries. It can potentially foster a convergence of bottom-up approaches that share decision-making power about financial resources with strategic decision making about long-term funding practices.

An example of participatory grantmaking that illustrates commitment to inclusion across all levels of decision making within a foundation is the approach taken by Disability Rights Fund, which grants exclusively to organizations led by persons with disabilities. Inclusive decision making is operationalized through incorporating people with disabilities and deep knowledge of issues faced by people with disabilities at all levels of decision-making. At the strategic level, the Board of Directors are experts in disability rights, global civil society, philanthropy and non-profit governance. A Global Advisory Panel comes from all over the world and reflects a broad cross-section of the disability and broader human rights community and is tasked with recommending grantmaking strategy and participating in monitoring and evaluation.

Funders may take on a facilitation role by working with grantees and their target audiences to include them in how they design, implement and learn from their programming. Participation of grantees and target audiences can happen throughout the grantmaking cycle or at specific moments.

Phases of the grantmaking cycle (Author's own illustration)

There are more and more examples if funders now engaging grantees and end users in the grant application process as well as the grant review process.

The Edge Fund, for example, uses a uses a cooperative structure with donors and grantees as members. Members of the fund work with grant applicants to collectively decide funding allocation through consensus or majority vote during a two-month proposal review process. For more information:

Another example of participation in the grant review process is a peer review process used by The Other Fund, which aims to advance human rights of LGBTI people in Southern Africa. A group of peer reviewers from six southern African countries were nominated through an open call to work with the Fund’s board. The selected reviewers were widely respected LGBTI activists, leaders, and scholars in the region. The participatory grant review process took place over two days during which board members joined teams of peer-reviewers to review applications and award grants. For more information

Bringing participation in to investment processes and structures is a new and exciting agenda. 


Participatory grantmaking: Has its time come?
Ford Foundation, 2017
The paper surveys a number of frameworks that have been developed for incorporating participation into decision-making processes, both inside and outside philanthropy. More clarity about the what, why, and how of participatory grantmaking will help create a baseline for action and experimentation that can be tweaked by the field of philanthropy over time. As awareness of the concept grows, so will understanding and, ultimately, acceptance of participatory grantmaking as an essential component of philanthropic practice. This paper is an effort to begin to develop more clarity on the topic.
Participatory philanthropy
Winston Churchill Memorial Trust of New Zealand, 2015
Current philanthropic practices often funnel power into the hands of a few individuals in positions of power, whose world views and cultural ideologies take precedence in all aspects of philanthropic endeavour. There are numerous ways to address these philanthropic problems, including practical changes to legal structures, adaptation of processes, changes to how, who and what we fund and changes to the culture and values of the philanthropic sector.  This paper aims to look at only one of these methods of change - participatory philanthropy.

Participation in impact investing

Impact investing is a movement for a more socially responsible approach to investing. Since the 1990s it has grown out of the blended value approach which is supporting foundations’ endowments to be invested in alignment with the mission of the foundation instead of only through a restricted view of maximizing financial return. This is a useful strating point for exploring how investments can support participation of the economically disenfranchised as part of their journey to economic advancement.

As we seek to engage with what participation may mean within this form of investing, and how programs may set up and manage investments in participatory ways we note that there is limited evidence of good practice. While many impact investors may report that they ‘engage with communities’, they do not outline the mechanisms of engagement, nor how communities are involved in any form of decision making process.

There is now a growing movement by a small number of actors to push further and improve community engagement, accountability and empowerment in impact investing. At an operational level for investors, there are two important entry points for participation within the investment process itself:

During the due diligence stage, while the investor is working to understand the potential investee, and their strengths and weaknesses there is opportunity for including investees and their target populations (workers, customers or supporting communities) in to the assessment process.  Participation may become one of the areas for the due diligence process to look in to – both to use a participatory process during due diligence and to inquire into participatory capacity and intent of the investee as part of the mission defined impact.

Once an investment is made, it then enters an asset management phase, including reporting to the investor and contributing to portfolio updates and assessment of compliance with the mission defined impact and risk. Participatory processes through including investees and target populations an investment is intended to support, can help with retaining focus, gathering feedback, and sharing decisions throughout the asset management phase, thus avoiding mission drift when the the mission is centered around a target population’s priorities. This can improve impact measurement.


Where’s the community accountability in impact investing?
Green Money Journal, 2016
The concept of impact investment that has the explicit purpose of supporting economic and community development is receiving a growing amount of attention from an increasingly diverse set of financial players.This emerging trend is one of the most exciting, and potentially problematic, trends I’ve seen over the last decade. As with any new field, impact investing raises consequential questions and issues with the answers and intended results remaining up for grabs.
Impact investing
Accountability Counsel, 2018
What tools do people around the world have to raise grievances if an impact investment in their community causes harm to their livelihoods, negative gender impacts, or environmental abuse?How would an impact investor know about the harm, prevent further harm, or remedy an abuse? Accountability Counsel is working to address these questions with concrete tools.
Getting serious about impact
LinkedIn, 2016
Realising the potential of impact investing in Africa will require all actors in the impact ecosystem to demonstrate courage in speaking “truth to power” in unpacking impact measurement – when things go well, and also when they do not.
Participatory impact investing: whose voices count?
Institute of Development Studies UK, 2018
Impact investing is a financial investment made with the intent to affect social or environmental change. It is an ever-growing investment method with the GIIN’s 2017 Annual Impact Investor Survey finding that over USD 114 billion was invested in impact investing assets.To put that into greater context, net ODA from official donors totaled USD 146.6 billion in 2017, and the impact investing market has greater scope (and appetite) to invest with these aims.
Accountability: the golden opportunity in impact investing
Stanford Social Innovation Review, 2016
Why investors need to integrate rights and accountability into development finance, and how they can begin. Consider: Investors in traditional energy sectors routinely apply policy and accountability frameworks to manage their social and environmental risks. The sorts of risks associated with impact investments, such as investment in a biomass energy project, aren’t any less important to investigate and address than risk of harm from, say, a coal mine.
Transformative participatory impact investing: The Buen Vivir Fund
Institute of Development Studies UK, 2019
In 2018, the Institute of Development Studies partnered with the Open Society Foundations Economic Justice Programme to build an evidence base to explore the question: “What constitutes meaningful participation in economic advancement?” Researchers sought to map cases in which alternative economic processes allow people at the grassroots level to have a real voice in economic decision-making, including business and financing models that enable participation.
Is participatory impact investing the antidote to “impact washing”?
Institute of Development Studies UK, 2019
As impact investing becomes more prominent and the market matures, so do concerns about so-called ”impact washing”. In this blog, Peter O’Flynn and Grace Lyn-Higdon explore how taking a participatory monitoring and learning approach could contain attempts at impact washing as well as ensure the investment results in meaningful impact for the people it’s supposed to benefit. This piece is part of a series on participatory impact investing.
Time to share the costs of participation in impact investing
Institute of Development Studies UK, 2018
That there are real costs to participation is not news.  But impact investors, donors and investees themselves have not yet confronted the question of how such costs should be addressed across their industry. It is time to do so.
Opportunities for participatory approaches in impact investing cycle
Institute of Development Studies UK, 2018
Building on the foundational definitions that underpin participatory processes in impact investing, the authors identify entry points for participation during the investment process for members of the wider community who will be affected by an investment, intended beneficiaries of an investment, consumers of a product in which an investment was made, and producers of the product.
Participatory impact investing: concepts and definitions
Institute of Development Studies UK, 2018
Impact investors have done a lot of good (and some bad) so far, but mostly on their own terms. From a “return on investment perspective,” this makes sense: they have the capital, the knowledge and the means when it comes to “investment”.However, even with this perspective in mind, incorporating participation affords an opportunity to receive feedback from a larger range of stakeholders with better local knowledge and consequently safeguard against financial and social impact risks.

Building the capacity of grantees and investees

An important role for funders of economic advancement programs is to build an enabling environment for their grantees and investees to use participatory tools for including target audiences in programming.

One strategy that practice evidence suggests works, is to use teams of mentor-mediators who are deployed to different grantee (and potentially investee) settings and sites to facilitate organisational strategy and guide participatory practice. Mentors can also be more deeply embedded depending on needs of grantees/investees.

An example of this model in practice is the Developing Evaluation and Communication Capacity (DECI-2) team of mentors and facilitators that provide capacity development for adaptive management, research communication, and systems-based, participatory evaluations funded by Canada’s International Development Research Center (IDRC) Networked Economies Program. In this model, mentors are deployed and provide in-person support over the duration of an IDRC grant. Mentoring is targeted and scheduled to match each grantee’s needs and work plans. Activities include: facilitating inception events which conduct participatory activities for agenda setting, expanding voices of stakeholders, or intervening mid-project to renovate theories of change.

You can download a write up of DECI-2 case studies here

Next steps

There is more experience with building participation in to grantmaking than investments, yet evidence of how to do so effectively is a nascent field. This guide will be updated regularly as we build evidence from practice within the EAP programme.

Continue reading: Back to introduction


Deepening impact through a participatory due diligence process
Institute of Development Studies UK, 2019
Impact investing can create a disconnect between the needs of the people that an investment means to serve and the intentions of the investor.