Development through (em)power(ed) relationships

January 2019 | Graeme Wilkinson (Social Investment Specialist and Analyst Team Lead) |

Part 1: Power over

An unshakable reality in the work of any social investor is the power-dynamic inherent in any benefactor-beneficiary relationship.

Traditionally, the view is that the one with the money has the power – to infer, to influence, to direct, to impose. This dynamic is often further fuelled by compliance requirements of the donor: “payment is conditional upon x, y and z “. In other words, the donor assumes power over the beneficiary.

No social investor is immune to this dynamic.

Some social investment practitioners are energised by the chase for compliance, ticking off all the regulatory boxes to ensure that a social investment opportunity is legit and that the promised returns warrant consideration. There is a thrill in getting the job done, completing the checklist, being part of something that is going to make a difference.

Other practitioners are fundamentally uncomfortable with this dynamic. They are reluctant to become the agent that imposes, as this contradicts a value that may have drawn them into the sector in the first place: the desire to empower others. Indeed, they are keenly aware of pervasive inequality and they want to be a part of bringing about greater equity in society – not reinforcing a skewed system.

An experienced social investment team is aware of these dynamics but is also aware that (in a Foucauldian sense) power is all pervasive; it is within you, and within the people you engage with. It is also within the system that provides the context to your work.

Power is something an experienced social investor works with purposefully to build relationships. And through relationships, true development happens.