The Importance of Trust

Sylvain Mazas illustration for FundAction.eu

When we think about those who disagree with us, we need to make a distinction on the basis of intent. There are two types of ‘wrong’ people in the world: those who are unaware of the harm they are causing, and those who deliberately cause harm.

When my partner leaves his socks on the floor, he doesn’t think “Ha! My wife will tidy those up. Submit to my dominion, subservient spouse!” No, he’s actually just absent minded (he is a university professor), and careless with socks. But when someone creates a mess with the deliberate knowledge that someone else, likely an under-paid, over-worked cleaner, will have to deal with it, then they are simply being a dick.

Too often we are quick to find injury, and feel every offense. This is understandable; those who are continually, institutionally, structurally marginalised have to deal daily with violence, ranging from subtle everyday discrimination to active egregious abuse. Social media such as Twitter exacerbates this; those who defend their right to take up space are assailed from all sides by those who wish to silence them. So it’s not surprising that online spaces can be full of anger and accusations.

But especially online, perpetual suspicion can erode trust and community. My mum may not know what it means when someone asks what her ‘preferred gender pronoun’ is, but that doesn’t mean she’s a bigot. Nor does it mean she’s incapable of understanding. It just means she lives in a heteronormative society, where she hasn’t been exposed to a diverse range of people (Yorkshire). It may be exhausting to teach (see racial battle fatigue) and the burden should certainly be on those with privilege to learn, but sometimes we have to trust that people’s intentions are good. We all have something to learn, and we can do this best by engaging. We can all learn and teach by cooperative participation.

At FundAction, trust has to be our default operating system. There are so many different issues across Europe, there is no way we could possibly understand them all. We can’t know the context each applicant is coming from, but we can try to learn, and more importantly, we can trust that they know what they’re talking about. Fundamentally, we have to chose whether to operate with suspicion — checking up on people, second guessing their approaches, casting aspersions on their efficacy — or to operate with trust that their intentions are good.

As such, we’ve been having conversations about the budget to request from applicants. Some of us feel strongly that we simply ask people to be realistic, then (if their proposal is chosen by the collective) allocate them the full amount they’ve asked for. At the end of the day, we can either spend hours researching the price of a meeting room in Palermo or the cost of a train ticket to Sarajevo, or we can trust people not to be a dick.

There may be people who take advantage of this system, but the current, traditional, grant proposal system is also vulnerable to this. Many funders simply reward creative accountancy — those who can hide their costs best, win. At FundAction, we’d rather respectfully ask people what they need, then trust in their response. We’re trusting people to make decisions about where the funding goes via our grantmaking approach, and we’re trusting them to report back honestly in whatever way they see fit. So why not trust that they know how best to spend the money too?


The Importance of Trust was written by Rose Longhurst (Edge Fund. Manchester, UK)