Money’s too tight to mention

Business & Finance

West Africa 15th – 21st May 2000

Money’s too tight to mention

Ade Sawyerr begins a two-part series looking at the funding barriers facing African community organisations

AFRICAN community organisations are relative newcomers to Britain, purely as a result of immigration patterns. Although primary immigration was supposed to have ended in the 1960s and 70s, a large number of Africans arrived in Britain during the 1980s from different routes and for different reasons. Many came to study and now find themselves with no real urge to return home.

Consequently various associations began to spring up, both to cater for the welfare needs of Africans and to fuifli their needs of belonging to a group. Most African community organisations still struggle to attract funding for their vital services and feel they are making little headway.

Too often, we are viewed as social dubs. While most African community organisations are welfare-oriented, only a few focus on developing and delivering services for a particular sector. As a result their services are not properly defmed, and cultural identity is usually used as the only way of differentiating their style of service provision.
In reality African community groups undertake anything and everything. Yet, in the view of funding agencies, we are unable to quantify the volume of the work or prove its value to the beneficiaries.

One of the biggest obstacles to attracting funding is the fact that many African community organisations are exclusive, contravening the equal opportunities equirements set by most funding organisations. By opening up just a little, we wifi be able to operate organisations that are attractive to a wider group of people who share the same objectives.

By their very nature, many African organisations are drawn towards past affiliations. The old school networks and tribal associations are certainly desirable, in the sense that we are trying to help our kith and kin back home, but they also exclude many people with whom we now share a closer bond.

There is also the problem of people who imbibe the individuality of Western society and are no longer interested in becoming part of our community groupings. Increasingly, however, I have come across professional organisations that are looking to grapple with the newer opportunities presented in this country by forming cross-cultural organisations. Another obstacle is the fact that funding for community organisations is borough-centred. African organisations tend to represent people who live all over the country so they cannot say they specifically service
one particular borough. As a result, they miss out on a wide range of funding opportunities. Some organisations which really cater only for people from, say Sierra Leone call themselves African in an attempt to project a different image for local funders.

There is an urgent need for African organisations to formalise their operations. Often they are not registered, they do not attain charitable status and nobody knows they exist. Therefore, they are left with little political clout. Group members are not involved in local politics, they do not attend local churches and do not play an active role in parent- teacher associations, so nobody can give them credit for the good community work they do.

In addition, poor governance is a serious problem for most African organisations. Many are not democratically run. Come election time there is always a tussle, a battle to change the leadership. The organisations fail to attract new members because of issues of accountability and transparency.

Even when organisations do have a constitution, there are often deliberate attempts to subvert it by a small cabal who erroneously believe they have a God- given right to remain in office for as long as the organisation exists. Poor governance makes it difficult, even for groups with an impressive track record in winning funding, to demonstrate their capacity to properly manage funds.

Thankfully, there is a way forward for African groups to resolve most of these issues and make themselves an integral part of the community We can promote our different culture and rich heritage that we bring into the melting pot of diversity We can be Londoners as well as Africans or Ghanaians; after all, we need an audience to expose our culture to.

NEXT WEEK The way forward

Ade Sawyerr is a partner of Equinox Consulting, a management consultancy that provides training, research and management support for the black voluntary sector in London. He can be contacted on 0207-733-7000 or

West Africa 15th – 21st May 2000


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