Fund emerges to support small UK overseas development charities at-risk due to Covid

We interviewed Murielle Maupoint, CEO of Play Action International to understand how philanthropists can mitigate their risk when supporting small British international development charities. Listen to our full interview with Murielle above.

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Sidelined by Covid-19, between 5,000 and 7,000 small UK charities that work in the field of international development are at imminent risk of closure, according to Murielle Maupoint, CEO of Play Action International.   

Determined to do something, Murielle is launching a £20 million private philanthropy fund to support 1,000 UK charities working in Africa to keep going through 2021. If the fund is successful, she hopes similar funds will be launched for small UK charities working in other parts of the world.  

Small international development charities often employ small teams in the UK who support larger teams in the international locations where they work. Closures in this sector will create a ripple effect of job losses and the closure of vital frontline support services in places around the world most heavily hit by Covid-19.  

“Small international development charities span the whole spectrum of international development: health, education, human rights, environment, disability. Their work is laser-focused to a particular issue or cause, which creates a huge amount of impact at a grassroots level,” says Murielle. 

Last April, when the government announced its £750 million rescue package for the UK charity sector, international development charities were specifically excluded. In April, the government provided £20 million for this sector, though this was largely ear-marked for a list of large charities. 

Small charities, those with incomes of £10,000 – £1 million per year, are now reaching the limit of their reserves. The Small International Development Charities Network estimates 45% of small UK overseas aid charities won’t survive until June 2021 without urgent intervention. 

Through the Impact Africa fund, Murielle is hoping to raise £20 million to offer one-off emergency grants to UK-registered and regulated charities operating in Africa. Murielle says the fund will help to mitigate the due diligence challenges that face philanthropic funders when considering investing in overseas development charities.  

We see this fund as a pilot. We are focusing on Africa because it the region we know best. If it is successful we hope it will pave the way for other funds offered by specialists in other regions,” she says. 

Investing independently in small, frontline international development charities presents significant challenges for philanthropists. For example, the distance between the funder and the grantee organisation can exacerbate risks such as fraud, corruption and safeguarding. Mitigating these risks requires thorough and thoughtful due diligence, as well as a good understanding of the local or regional context.   

Donors also often misunderstand the relationship between scale and impact in small organisations, leading to the perception of wastefulness in smaller charities as overheads can appear disproportionately high. The scale of large development charities means 10p in £1 spent on overheads is a large amount. The same ratio would generate too little for a small charity to be viable, yet their focus on end-service delivery directly within communities can deliver a much higher impact.  

Murielle points out that impact is magnified even more in overseas development because money can stretch much further in developing countries. This effect will be felt within the fund, she notes.  

How often do you get the chance to donate money knowing it will directly benefit up to 1,000 charities?” she asks.  

With the clock running down, Murielle asks any donors interested in the fund to contact her directly for more information. 

Murielle Maupoint, CEO, Play Action International: