Power in Letting Go: How Participatory Grantmakers Are Democratizing Philanthropy

After eight years evaluating advocacy and development programs for Oxfam, Allison Davis noticed a common factor in success stories. 

“The No. 1 thing that determines the success of anything seems to be how much people feel ownership of it,” she says. “They really own it.”

Davis takes that observation to heart in her current career as a grantmaker. She’s at Global Greengrants Fund, one of a small but growing set of funders that are handing over decision-making power directly to people they serve, a practice known as participatory grantmaking.  

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'You Get Ideas.' Flatiron Institute Brings Biologists, Astrophysicists, and Coders Under One Roof

Bring leading computer scientists together with leading astrophysicists, and exciting stuff happens—complex computer simulations of galaxy formation, algorithms churning through terabytes of data collected by telescope arrays. 

Same thing goes for biologists, as they work with programmers to bring order to the chaos of neurons firing by the millions. 

But get everyone working together under the same roof with extensive time and funding, and unexpected work might take shape. New ideas could form as computer scientists and researchers from a variety of fields hold meetings, chat over lunch, or just run into each other in the hallways.

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The central activity of the internet has become eliminating trash

At some point, the central activity of online communication shifted from seeking to eliminating. 

This is something I realized much later than I would have liked, but is fast becoming my grand unifying principle of networked life. It basically goes, when the internet was a new and wonderful place, it unlocked paths of communication, so its power was in what it could provide that was not previously there, or was only there through very limited avenues.

Today, the central feature of the internet is that everything is there, all the time, provided and consumed by everyone. That overabundance is not only abused for nefarious purposes, it’s simply, logistically unsustainable. There is so much information beaming out at us that if we're not careful we become effectively snow-blind. 

So the central task of anyone seeking to consume information online in any kind of useful way is no longer to hunt things down; it’s to constantly eliminate as much as possible. To clear away sticky, screaming tidal waves of trash. 

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