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Looking Back at a Year of Capacity Strengthening in East and Southeast Asia

Posted 28 September 2022 in EMpower News   |   Share


“EMpower is the only grantmaker—as far as I know—who would pay attention to our staff's well-being and would really fund work-life balance initiatives for our staff. I think this is really a highlight.” 

We heard this recently from one of our grantee partners in a survey we conducted looking at our new approaches and impact. This past fiscal year, the EMpower Hong Kong Programme team was keen to pilot innovative ways of working, collaborating, and partnering with our grantee partners in East and Southeast Asia. Our goal was to strengthen their capacity in supporting marginalised young people in the region, and our support this past year was about much more than making grants. While COVID-19 forced us to meet virtually rather than in person, our ties with our grantee partners, and among the partners themselves, grew stronger.

After hearing directly from our partners about what they needed most, we offered opportunities for them to learn about and share knowledge on topics including:

  • Coping with the repercussions of COVID-19 (we explored issues like adjusting to virtual learning, fundraising, and addressing metal health)
  • Safeguarding children and young people
  • Developing strong job readiness and vocational skills training programmes for marginalised young people in our region
  • Supporting young people to make healthy and informed decisions with regards to their sexual and reproductive health and rights

And we did this through consultations, newsletters, webinars, and other virtual meetings.

Grounded in participatory grantmaking and capacity strengthening, as well as in trust-based philanthropy, we worked intentionally to share power with our partners by:

  • Reviewing proposals with them as peer reviewers
  • Incorporating their input on calls for proposals for consultants or on requests for grant applications
  • Including them in making direct decisions about grants
  • Inviting them to join interviews with consultants and incorporating their feedback in our hiring decisions
  • Co-designing—in close collaboration with our consultants—the form and content of our capacity strengthening offers
  • Co-creating and co-delivering with them strong webinars and other learning opportunities for their peer organisations  

At the end of the 2022 fiscal year (which ended June 30), our team was curious to evaluate this unique and enriching journey. We surveyed our grantee partners to hear what they thought of these more participatory and collaborative approaches.

It was rewarding to get highly encouraging feedback: All respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with what we offered and found our work and collaboration very useful or useful. Many were highly appreciative for the opportunities we created to collaborate with their peers in the region and to learn from each other. They reported—and we have seen first-hand—that these activities have already resulted in practical and immediate changes within organisations and programmes. Our partners report they have made changes to the design and delivery of their sessions with youth participants to make them more engaging, and they have assigned dedicated point persons to ensure safeguarding, amongst other changes. 

What We Heard from our Grantee Partners

“Commendation to all the facilitators […]. I liked the activities that they did during the session. I also liked how engaging they were, despite barriers to communication. They made sure that everyone was on the same page.”

“Always being sensitive to our limited English language skills. Very kind. Please continue supporting organisations like ours who [are] very eager to help many underprivileged, especially young people. Thank you so much for your generosity.”

“We look forward to having more opportunities for our younger staff to learn from EMpower’s experiences.”

Our strong commitment to shift power dynamics and decision-making bore fruit: Over 81% of the respondents felt that within the confines of our capacity strengthening, they always felt heard, valued, respected, and had the space to provide feedback. The overwhelming majority told us that they felt the relationship with the EMpower Hong Kong team was two-way.

Partners also gave us very constructive feedback and advice, which will inform our activities this year. Their appetite for learning energises us to continue these initiatives. And who knows, we may even be able to meet face-to-face this year!

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