Exploring barriers to funding: insights from community businesses experiencing marginalisation

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Ishita Ranjan-Churchill from Spark Insights shares the findings from their research into the experiences of community businesses led by and supporting people experiencing marginalisation.
5 Apr, 2023
Ishita Ranjan-Churchill

Ishita Ranjan-Churchill

Founder, Spark Insights

In 2022, Power to Change commissioned Spark Insights and Locality to research and explore the experiences of community businesses and organisations led by and/or supporting people experiencing marginalisation, their barriers to accessing funding and support, and potential solutions. 

Spark Insights is the training, research and consultancy arm of Spark and Co. As a community business ourselves, one led by a team of people experiencing marginalisation, we have been on a similar path to many of the community businesses who took part in this research.

Having been on the journey (one we’re still on) of accessing support and funding to grow and sustain our venture, there were many conversations we had with participants that deeply resonated with our research team. Working in partnership with Locality, both organisations have been deeply committed to representing the voices and experience of the community business leaders who took part in this research.

It was also important for us to speak directly with funding and infrastructure organisations to better understand their experiences and perspectives. In order to create recommendations for meaningful change, we wanted to ensure we had an understanding of the blockers and barriers to funding and support organisations enacting meaningful change.

This was an integral part of ensuring we were able to build recommendations that were rooted in an understanding of perspectives and experiences on both the supply (funding and support organisations) and the demand (community businesses) side.

We’ve centered voices with lived experiences of marginalisation, and we urge you to listen

When we originally set out to do this research, we had two goals in place:

  • Centre the voices and experiences of community businesses who are led by and/or supporting people with lived experiences of marginalisation
  • Engage at least 20 community businesses with the research.

We have instinctively known for some time that community businesses led by those experiencing marginalisation are keen to have their voices heard by funders, and desperate to see change that creates a more equitable playing field when it comes to securing funding and support (indeed the evidence review we conducted would echo this, see more below).

Something we were not prepared for, however, was the overwhelming response from community business leaders who expressed interest in supporting this research; we received 45 expressions of interest, and ultimately conducted 27 interviews. All 27 community businesses we spoke with were led by people with lived experiences of marginalisation:

  • 88% of the community businesses featured in this research are led by racialised people (including 37% Black led community business)
  • 8 of out 27 (30%) have a visible or invisible disability
  • 6 out of 27 (22%) are neurodivergent

The contrast between conversations on the supply and demand side was stark. Whilst we had an overwhelming response from community businesses and booked 27 interviews within three weeks, it was more challenging to engage funders, where we found it took four months to schedule and complete ten conversations.

In our next blog, we’ll be sharing more insights from these conversations with funding and infrastructure organisations.

What did the evidence reveal?

Prior to the interviews, we conducted an evidence review which included a range of reports that have previously explored the experiences of charities, social enterprise and community businesses led by people experiencing marginalisation when it comes to accessing grant funding, social investment and capacity building support.

Through a thematic analysis of 15 evidence review reports, the following themes emerged:

  1. Organisations are striving for equity, and there’s an uneven playing field from the get-go: Persistent and severe underinvestment into community businesses supporting people experiencing marginalisation, alongside the impact of austerity measures and increased demand on stretched services has resulted in community businesses struggling with financial sustainability, dependent on volunteers and small teams, and ultimately striving for equity.
  2. Funders aren’t meaningfully placing equal value on lived experiences: The battle between authenticity and tokenism is underway when it comes to lived experiences. It is estimated that only 1 in 10 funders work collaboratively and equitably with people with lived experiences.
  3. Changing exclusionary behaviours is essential: Pre-existing stigma and bias exist, with leaders and staff from marginalised backgrounds reported feeling uncomfortable or unwelcome when entering spaces and places which were not part of their ordinary communities.
  4. Existing processes and approaches aren’t equitable and need to be redesigned: Leaders experiencing marginalisation feel the system is not designed to support them. Whilst people can be upskilled, evidence collected showed the sentiment there will not be progression until systems are designed to include people experiencing marginalisation, regardless of how much capacity building is delivered.

New complexities in a rapidly changing world

Through our interviews, we found many of these themes recurring, however there were new complexities and challenges in a rapidly changing world.

Overall, community businesses expressed a renewed sense of urgency and frustration. Many commented on the impact of wider macro factors on their organisations. Uncertainty and volatility caused by austerity measures, Covid-19 and economic pressures has contributed to many community businesses calling for funders not just to support them, but to develop this support quicker.

Several community leaders we spoke with also described their mental health challenges in the current climate, despite the challenges in accessing funding, participants described how demand on services had increased. This has resulted in many leaders feeling stretched, burnt out and like personal resilience is at an all time low. Challenges and barriers such as inaccessible processes, capacity, language and jargon were also reiterated.

What’s coming next?

5 April 2023: Session on exploring marginalisation: experiences of community businesses. Watch the recording below.

19 April 2023: Second blog on the insights from funding and infrastructure organisations, best practices and examples.

26 April 2023: Final blog and report, including a call to action on how to make funding and support more equitable and reflections from the event.