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Please table this funding topic for now

by michael eisenmenger Monday, Aug. 14, 2000 at 2:31 AM

There has been a raging debate over whether to accept Soros funds for years now. Hard-liners accept no compromise on the issue - but one would be hard pressed to find any foundation whose trust fund didn’t come from some past global conquest (remember that Carnegie built the public library system as a penance in his old age - he was convinced he was going to hell for his brutal business practices).

My personal (evolving) view is that it is what an organization accomplishes with it’s fundraising and less about what foundation the funds might come from. There are plenty of multi-million dollar non-profits that get Soros and other foundation funding and go on to make little or no impact in any community or policy area. On the other hand, I’ve seen firsthand some of the community radio stations in South Africa that wouldn’t have existed without the Soros Open Window Foundation that has been very active there. And the word I heard over and over from the people there was that there were no strings attached - and these stations were accomplishing some pretty amazing community based work that no other foundation was willing to go near at the time. Typically the namesake of a foundation has little to do with the disbursement of funding - it’s the grant officers that decide what projects to fund, and the Soros fund has helped some quite small progressive organizations get off the ground when no other funding source would consider them viable.

Having said that, I still think it is in the interest of the IMC to not become dependent on regular funding from any source. This dependency on funding is typically what ossifies and institutionalizes emerging non-profit organizations. I’ve seen this happen to groups in the space of 2-3 years whereupon they become so irrelevant to their original mission that they fall apart or dissolve (if they’re smart).

If the IMC is to continue to grow, it needs to remain decentralized, scrappy and highly participatory. The last thing it needs is a board of directors and non-profit management structure that creates hierarchies where none are needed. I hope the event driven IMC’s find ways to continue from the strength of its volunteer base of individuals and groups, donated and borrowed equipment. All an IMC needs to come into being is a space, bandwidth and hopefully some furniture - people bring their own equipment and provide the infrastructure (though a bunch of traveling IMC owned laptops would make life easier). Typically costs for special projects are funded by the organizations participating in them (satellite feeds, videos, newspapers, etc.). Seattle was done on a shoestring, and DC on even less (about 10K). These were ridiculously low sums of money given the amount of output created - but more importantly the primary objective in all cases was not creating a ‘product’ but to improve a ‘process’ of how people can work together - and this is singularly invaluable. Many costs are swallowed by individuals and community media groups that have chosen to work in the various IMC’s. They do this because they know that we are stronger as a group, that we can accomplish so much more by working together as opposed to independently and that what we are doing is building a movement and a network that will hopefully outlast our present efforts.

As for where current IMC funding is coming from - it should be transparent, of course. There were no secrets or apologies in past IMC’s and this time should be no different (just read Jay Sands blueprint posts on DC). Currently, how the ground teams of IMC’s fundraise is up to them, there is no policy or consensus on this aspect of organizing an IMC yet, perhaps a worthy discussion topic after the dust settles in LA. But for now - it shouldn’t be a point for divisiveness, it just is not a productive discussion at this moment in time. I move to table this discussion until after LA.

Also - please switch to the listserves for these internal discussions. And use the comment feature if you must post follow-up (as I have done here). The newswire looks really fucked up at the moment and is a poor reflection of the work people are doing out there.

Michael Eisenmenger

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