Angela Britto is an Equity, Diversity & Accessibility Coordinator at the Ontario Arts Council. Earlier this year, she spent a month volunteering as a Grant Writer at the Women’s Education and Research Centre.
I began 2018 volunteering as a grant writer with the Women’s Education and Research Centre (WERC). WERC is a women’s studies, rights, gender training and socio-economic development organization in Colombo with projects across the island. As I work for an arts funder in Canada, the opportunity to contribute to feminist work through applying my knowledge of granting applications and assessment was an exciting one.
I spent the month of January researching, editing and writing grant proposals and learning about the landscape of international development funding which I came to see was very different from my world of arts grants in its size and scope of applications. The greatest gap I feel that I was able to fill during my time there was for a dedicated resource person at WERC with strong writing skills and a background in funding processes to spend the time navigating and assembling complex and detailed applications. It was a steep learning curve with little direction but I learned to adapt quickly, pick things up through observation, be entrepreneurial, and contribute where the need was rather than what my expectations dictated.
As I hoped that this placement would continue to have an impact after my time there had ended, I saw the need for some capacity building activities in addition to proposal writing. Using my background in communications, I reviewed the WERC website and made some recommendations for updates and I conducted two workshops – one on communications fundamentals for fundraising/development and the other on writing grant proposals and managing the application process. The discussions during the workshops helped staff brainstorm future WERC programming and fundraising ideas. The presentation slides I developed for the two workshops served as ongoing resources both for WERC and other NGOs who requested grant writing assistance from comdu.it. I learned a lot from the staff at WERC, particularly Ms. Shiranee Mills, Executive Director, who was a fantastic mentor and a kind and supportive friend during my time there.
A broader impact of the placement was listening to the experiences of people who are doing work on the ground, specifically Tamil women. Being there allowed me to learn about their challenges and realities in a way that I had never had been able to connect with before. This helped me understand some of the work of civil society organizations and movements for rights, justice, healing and liberation that have Tamil women at the core of their advocacy and who are also heading this work. In addition to managing issues of scarce resources, constrained capacity, and a restrictive national and international development funding system that supports a depoliticized “empowerment” and “reconciliation” model, the women I met are also leading courageously in a context of systemic anti-Tamilness, ongoing violence, and the silencing and policing of Tamil grief and organizing, while also navigating sexism and casteism. Still inspiring, were the Tamil women from diaspora who had returned to do this work, enacting the different kinds of political, community-directed, diasporic engagement that I was looking to learn more about through this experience.
My suggestion for future comdu.it programming is to partner with organisations that are led by and work with women in the North and East, particularly those that focus on the struggle for truth, rights and socio-economic independence, as well as support for mental health and participation in the arts and engaging in this partnership also should involve a community-led needs assessment. Given how much a volunteer needs to make happen in order to have a meaningful impact, I hope that volunteers could receive a greater level of support in order to increase their placement time beyond one month. I also hope that comdu.it’s partnership with WERC continues and that future volunteers are able to keep building up WERC’s capacity to continue their necessary work.