Jess Schulschenk shares reflections on her experiences as part of Be The Earth's Flow Funding programme. She gives insights on what it means to be in this position of responsibility and how putting trust at the centre of philanthropic work fundamentally changed her perspective.
Reconnecting to intuition through trust, and finding the joy
In 2022, I had the great privilege of being invited to join Be the Earth's Flow Funding circle. Curiosity soon became a sense of accountability (wow, they trust me to gift on these unrestricted funds to grass roots community initiatives), which very quickly became feelings of fear and uncertainty... how on earth would I do justice to this tremendous opportunity?
It took me much longer than I would have imagined to start to connect with projects to flow the funding onto - trying to find 'just the right' people to gift. In the end, as much as the funding flowed through me to amazing projects doing amazing things (from regenerative agriculture for rural villages in the Eastern Cape to reconnecting children with place through ocean access), there were impacts unexpected along the way that have become a meaningful part of how I think, and act, today.
For most of us in the development impact space, we have been educated and socialised into such high levels of accountability, that at least speaking for myself, I had diminished the spaces for freedom and flow in my work. I had learnt to prioritise the expectations and voices of others (often those with the resources we feel we need for the work of systems change) and diminished not necessarily my understanding of the need and importance for our work, but my own intuition of how we might connect in ways that are more emergent, more trusting and, ultimately, much more generative.
Flow funding reversed the flow of this tide for me. I reconnected with every day truths that surround us - that every day heroes in communities are always doing this work already, that something shifts in them too when they are seen, valued and trusted (unrestrictedly!) to do more of what they do, and that we all are braver, wiser and freer when we can work in these ways. In getting to visit and connect with these amazing individuals, their work and their impacts over the months that followed (recognising my contribution was an incredibly small and humble part of their much bigger stories of community relationships in place), I also reconnected with the incredible joy in them, in myself and in people coming together in service of the flow of life.
Jess Schulschenk is the Co-Director of the Sustainability Institute. She is a lecturer with the School of Public Leadership at the University of Stellenbosch, coordinating the Corporate Governance and Sustainable Enterprise module for the PGD and MPhil programmes. Jess is also Research Director for the Embedding Project, a global public-benefit research project that helps companies embed sustainability across their operations and decision-making. Jess holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration with the Graduate School of Business at the University of Cape Town, holds an MPhil in Sustainable Development from Stellenbosch University and a BSc in Ocean and Environmental Sciences from UCT.