Looking Back: Learning to Listen

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The Learning to Listen project has been a long, and rewarding journey for everyone involved since it was originally imagined back in 2020. As a matter of fact, this was the first Participatory Grantmaking initiative done in the Puerto Rican philanthropic ecosystem. Now that the project is finally reaching its end, Glenisse Pagán-Ortiz and Anja Paonessa Braffet look back to reflect on some of the details, challenges and lessons learned during the past two years.

Going back to 2020, FIlantropía Puerto Rico (FiPR), having just opened its membership, found itself in a transition period, a shift towards more inclusive and listening initiatives was a priority for the organization. This shift happened to coincide with the final phase of the FORWARD Fund, where approximately one million dollars were still up for grabs. When the Fund for Shared Insight (FSI) announced an opportunity for organizations like FiPR to develop a Participatory Grantmaking project, everything seemed to align perfectly in place. This was definitely the right time to do it!

Now, it was up to the FiPR team to figure out an effective and inclusive way to run this participatory grantmaking project in the island, which was named “Learning to Listen: Incorporating EDI Awareness and Community Feedback into Grantmaking Practices”. As a result, 12 nonprofit organizations, 12 grantmakers and 12 community leaders in the areas of education, environment and governance/transparency are participating in the project.

Looking back, Pagán-Ortiz, Executive Director of FiPR, recognized the scale of the project they took on. “It was a major initiative, something that had never been done before in Puerto Rico”, acknowledging that they had to figure out a lot of the details as the project developed. Is it better to provide a level of guidance for the participants, or to let them work as freely and openly as possible? How do we make sure the project is as participative as possible without losing the final objective and goals we had set out from the beginning? These were all questions that were answered during the process, and are now lessons learned for future projects.

Glenisse also recognized the nature of unexpected challenges in these types of projects. For the FiPR team, an unexpected hurdle was the changes of the team working internally. There was a big turnover of people coming in and out to work on the project, which made it harder to find a consistent workflow. Nevertheless, both Glenisse and Anjannette agreed that the team needed to be ready to overcome these unexpected challenges in order to provide a successful result.

And so it was! The whole team is extremely proud of what Learning to Listen has become. This is a project that will help open up the conversation about listening practices and Participatory Grantmaking in Puerto Rico. Not only that, but the upcoming Learning to Listen Toolkit will provide guidance for each and every organization that would like to explore participatory grantmaking, making it easier for them to find success. Learning to Listen was a massive initiative that turned out to be much more challenging and detailed than originally projected, but every single minute worked on this project opened the doors for other organizations to be inspired by our work and strive to be more participative and inclusive in their practices.

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