From 27-29 March 2023, Samdhana convened its Grant Advisers at the Furama Hotel in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Due to the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, this was the first offline gathering in almost three years. For many Samdhana Advisers it was a chance to meet their colleagues – and some of their key Partners – for the very first time.
In total, 16 advisers attended the meeting. Twelve came from Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines, while another four Advisers and one staff/fellow joined online. This ‘hybrid’ format has become the norm in recent times, and enabled those Advisers who were unable to travel to get involved – this was especially beneficial for the two Advisers currently based in Canada and Australia.
As this was the first time many of the Advisers had met in person, the event featured an evening of introductions to foster a sense of commonality and solidarity, with Partners who were based in Chiangmai, including organizations from Myanmar, Cambodia, and from the Chiang Mai University- School of Public Policy. All in attendance presented and shared a part of their respective cultural backgrounds and highlighted the diversity of the group, while also revealing a good deal of common ground on which to build in future.
Organised by Samdhana’s Grants team and Mekong team, the primary purpose of the meeting was to revisit Samdhana's grants-making strategy in response to recent developments and to identify ways in which the current grants-making process could be improved. Participating staff and Advisers shared their insights about the origins of Samdhana’s grants-making, the current state, what lessons have been learned, and how the current approach could be made more relevant, effective and impactful to the lives of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs).
The Advisers shared their experiences working with partner communities, such as the highland groups in Vietnam, and Indigenous peoples in the Philippines, outlining the challenges and opportunities they had encountered. They also reflected on the common social and environmental issues being faced by communities, and the solutions they availed or the innovations they discovered to overcome such obstacles to their development.
They discussed their role as Grant Advisers and how they can be more effectively engaged in the grants-making process. They recognised that Advisers play a crucial role, not only in reviewing proposals, but even more in helping reach out to new local groups and organisations that may be in need of funding support. In providing their analyses of communities and groups that we are supporting, they helped to ensure support is strategic and conducive to the building of local movements, rather than being too preoccupied with projects.
During the three-day event, Advisers and staff visited Ban Nong Tao community. Here they learned about the Indigenous Karen people’s integrated agriculture and forest management practices. Ban Nong Tao is a current Samdhana grantee-partner, so the Advisers had an opportunity to see the community situation first-hand, and meet the individuals who are currently building a cultural learning centre.
During this visit, the group met Mr. Johnny, who is a key figure in the community’s campaign for recognition of their land and forest management rights. Seeing this campaign at ground level was vital for the advisers, especially as some were in the process of reviewing proposals.
The visit affirmed Samdhana’s vision of being able to “fund the un-fundable.” It served as a valuable way to renew advisers’ commitment and facilitate more open communication between them and the Grants Programme team. By revisiting their grants-making strategy, Samdhana Advisers and team members discovered a renewed sense of purpose, which they will utilise to further their support for IPLCs.
Through proactive efforts identifying new ways to engage with partner communities, Samdhana is better positioned to continue its mission of promoting social and environmental justice in Southeast Asia for the next 20 years and beyond.