Abby Rose shares reflections on her experiences as part of Be The Earth's Giving Circle programme. She discusses the challenges and rewards of this experience and shares the inspiring work of Misery Party, one of the groups the Giving Circle funded in the 2022 cycle.
I was part of the Be the Earth Giving Circle 2022 which was a humbling, joyful and nourishing experience. Being brought together online with 5 other inspiring women across 3 different continents and co-creating a funding approach together was unbelievably rewarding. I am incredibly grateful to Musa, Pri, Zayaan, Suzi and Claudia for what you each bring and for co-crafting a way of working together based in deep trust and sisterhood. Musa wrote a brilliant post on the power of this collective weaving across oceans.
Our Giving Circle had £50k funds to share with projects, it’s both a lot, but also a little, to distribute among multiple people, so we decided to focus on providing useful but smaller amounts of funding for on the ground projects that might be more nascent and so not as easily finding more traditional funding at this point.
I wanted to share two things from my experience, firstly the amazing and important work of Misery Party, one of the groups we were able to fund through the Giving Circle and secondly the power of unrestricted funding and how it allows us to truly witness the work of those we are funding.
As part of the Cultivating Justice podcast series,created by Farmerama, LION and OOTL (LWA LGBTQIA+ group) we featured Maymana Arefin who was helping to run Misery Medicine walks in green spaces around London. Misery Medicine multi-sensory walks are run once a month by Misery Party and are only for queer people identifying as black or brown.
This was such a wanted and needed offer that over 100 people turned up to their first walk and so they quickly had to bring in ticketing and every month it is sold out. Aisha Mirza started Misery Party back in 2018 as a sober QTIBPOC party centering healing and joy. This evolved into the Misery Medicine walks after lockdown when Aisha had the experience of really connecting with the natural world and met, soon to be Misery Medicine facilitators, Rasheeqa Ahmad, a medical herbalist at Hedge Herbs, and Maymana Arefin, who created Fungi Futures. Aisha shared the importance of the Misery Medicine walks:
“It’s just a beautiful thing, everyone in the team is so passionate about Misery Medicine now and cultivating that relationship with the plant world, especially living in the city. It’s huge, the mental health impacts are huge. We called it Misery Medicine on purpose to kind of highlight the medicinal aspect of the work from a mental health perspective. But it’s also about the empowering work too, in terms of reclaiming medicine and knowing you can to some extent make medicine with this knowledge and using the knowledge of our ancestors, so it’s very holistic work in that way.”
The Giving Circle were excited by Misery Party’s work because of the focus on creating the space for particularly black, brown, queer and trans people to connect with the living world and all the other beauty that brings with it. This is vital work as it is something that has been insidiously denied to many black and brown people in the UK today, Aisha explains more:
“I think there is more and more understanding in the mainstream of the ways black and brown people have been marginalised from feeling like they can roam and explore freely even in green spaces, even in so-called public spaces. So there is that part which is directly challenging the idea that we don’t belong, or that nature belongs to white people and purity. There has been a weird sort of gaslighting that has happened where a lot of us felt like it wasn’t for us, or we don’t belong in the countryside. Where naturally in so many of our cultures, obviously there is a deep deep kinship and relationship with plants and food and medicine. So there is also that part, that decolonial work of finding ways to make that connection again. It’s very ancestral and I think it does wonders for a sense of connection and belonging which we know is key to mental health crisis for a lot of people and I think that’s what hit me the most when I had my own journey during lockdown, was how held I felt, and I felt like it was almost the same feeling as having friends, making that connection with each plant or tree.”
In the last 2-3 years I have had a few opportunities to support funders in allocating grants. This is a very different position to be in and it certainly has its challenges but it has also been exciting to be part of the peeling away of the traditional funding approaches and being more radical in the approach to giving. Be the Earth have done a lot of this work to get to the point of experimenting with approaches like the Giving Circle.
Part of the beauty of the Giving Circle is that to satisfy the Charity Commission’s reporting requirement we 6 women in the Giving Circle need to provide a story of our experiences and by doing that we relieve the grantees of most reporting work, only asking for a few photos and a chat. That is already hugely different from almost every granting process I have been part of. Aisha agrees:
“One of the things that really stood out when you first got in touch, was that you said ‘we are conscious there is a lot of bureaucracy that goes along with funding’. The fact that you have done that work to really understand that, it really means a lot and really made me trust you. It really pisses me off the whole funding rat race, we have even said ‘no’ to some funding that asks so much of us and when you crunch the numbers they are essentially just giving you enough to cover doing the work they are asking of you. That doesn’t make sense!”
Alongside this, maybe the most radical aspect of the grants that we give is that they are completely unrestricted, Be the Earth literally puts the money in the bank account of the grantee and then the grantees decide what to do with it. In the end, giving money in this way was a bit of a learning journey for me - it was amazing to me how attached I was to ensuring the money we gave was spent in a way that I thought was good. I noticed that I found giving money with no control over how it’s spent scary and even frustrating, in some ways I was even embarrassed of telling the others in the Giving Circle how some of the money had been spent because maybe it didn’t sound like it had ‘enough’ impact. After talking through this with some of the other Giving Circle women I was able to let go and to trust that those we were giving the money to know how it needs to be spent. It sounds obvious but it was only once I was in the position of the funder that I realised this desire for control and that I needed to let go. I am very grateful to have this experience and to see just how powerful unrestricted grants can be. Aisha shared the power of this approach from the Misery party perspective:
“The restrictions often put so much pressure on us, especially the timing restrictions - they are often very intense. For example, we won a £25,000 grant at the end of last year and then we had to spend it in 5 months. It starts to get really stressful trying to move money around and spend it all in that time. I don’t earn very much from this and for part of my hours to be based on making sure we are meeting the funding requirements and writing feedback or evaluation reports - that’s tough. So I really appreciate the move towards just witnessing and trusting - because I mean ‘clearly we are doing the work, come on!’ I think the unrestricted funding thing is really a god-send and really appreciated.”
I am left with the sense that many more of these kinds of funding experiments are vital as we feel into a future that inspires us all. Finding ways to lead with trust that at the same time don’t further embed privilege and inequality is vital. It’s not easy to do – I know I have many blind spots and work to do, so it’s very likely that in some ways I have brought my privilege to the Giving Circle, but that is the value of experiments - pushing us to see what is possible and learning along the way. Thanks so much to Aisha for sharing the brilliant work of Misery Party and your experience of being a grantee and to Be the Earth for making the Giving Circle possible.
Abby Rose is a farmer and soil health advocate, the co-founder of Vidacycle: making apps that support farmers to take a more regenerative approach to farming, including the Soilmentor Regen Platform in partnership with Nicole Masters. She is also co-creator of Farmerama Radio: an award-winning podcast sharing the voices behind regenerative farming. Based in the UK, Abby splits her time between working on her family farm, Vidacycle Farm, in Chile, and visiting farms on multiple continents learning from soils and understanding what it takes to build a more ecological farming future.