By Suzane Muhereza
Like many organizations are doing at this time of year, our Internet Society Foundation (Foundation) team is currently planning our 2022 priorities. In doing so, we got into a conversation on clarifying and naming our beneficiary communities. In the Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) office, I am thinking about how we will define and measure our impact, so the use of language is critical for me to develop adequate metrics that tell the full story of our giving. We defaulted to use words like “Global South” and “emerging economies”, until we realized we support communities and individuals in the “Global North” that have limited access to Internet connectivity such as in this project, or in which the benefits of having Internet access are not fully realized, as we saw in this project.
As a MEL practitioner trained and working in the Global North, I take comfort in the objectivity of certain MEL approaches, and an iterative process of learning and adaptation to make these decisions. I know we can rely on globally accepted terminology from the United Nations and other similar organizations to identify said communities and track how our funding impacts those communities over time.
As a black African woman, living in Africa which is part of the Global South, my worldview boils down to the simple question: How do we move money, skills, knowledge and power from places of capitalist plenty to places in which individuals and communities are historically and politically marginalized and underserved; wherever in the hemisphere they might be. In my mind, we want to be more deliberate in channeling our funding to communities and individuals in locally and globally marginalized places and spaces.
These conversations can get uncomfortable because sometimes the act of naming a thing in a specific way highlights power dynamics. We are a global Foundation based in the US, trying to clarify how to provide funding from a position of plenty to spaces and places of “assumed” scarcity. How do we, a small team, decide which people and communities are in need of this funding while being responsible stewards of our funds? I am proud of our team for taking a step back to be more deliberate about how the Foundation engages in the funder space.
Here are a few questions I am mulling over as we navigate our 2022 action planning exercise, that you might help me think through:
- What have you noticed about the language you use to identify and name the communities you care about?
- Whom does certain language and terminology include and exclude?
- In what ways does this naming allow you to tell the story of your work?
- In what ways does this naming limit or expand the type of impact or social return you hope to see?