Change Accelerator: Ouafa Belgacem
Our Change Accelerator for April is Ouafa Belgacem, CEO of Culture Funding Watch, Tunisia, who advocate for sustainable, transparent and smart culture and creative sector financing.
Please briefly describe what your organisation does
Culture Funding Watch is a social enterprise specializing in intelligence, capacity building and advocacy for sustainable, transparent and smart culture and creative sector financing.
We support cultural and creative industry workers by giving them access to the information, resources, advice and assistance they need to achieve their goals. We do this by facilitating access to information on resources, training and building capacities in resources mobilization, raising resources and influencing donors and future donors.
Our reach expands across Europe, MENA Region and Africa, offering 20 workshops per year and supporting over 9,000 users through our Facebook page.
How did you get into social impact sector?
This is funny story… I am actually an archeologist by trade, and I was destined to be a researcher or a teacher with little exposure to project design or implementation. My passion for old stones and dead bodies meant my mum used to tease me, saying ‘you are grave digger’. My shift to the social impact sector started when I got my first job and international experience at the supreme council of antiquities in Egypt where I was working on a Finnish/Egyptian collaboration project. There I discovered the whole world of development, collaboration and fundraising. When I joined the project it was nearing the end of it’s funding and I was worried about its sustainability and continuity. I remember asking my Egyptian manager “what is going to happing once the Finnish funding is over?”, to which he replied “you are a ‘digger’ and I have still 6 months budget for a junior researcher… go and dig and find out what we should do next”. I was convinced that the survival of the art and culture sector was dependent on the “cultural workers” themselves mastering their own financial sustainability.
And there came my lightbulb moment. I discovered that Fundraising is a profession in it’s own right, and there is a whole world out there that comes with it. In 2005 I decided to become a fundraiser, and to learn as much as I could, so I could come back and apply it to the arts and culture sector. It was around the same time that I found the Resource Alliance. It was a turning point in my career, and my whole life. Being among the 12 bursary winners from over 450 applicants for the IWRM Workshop in Malaysia was the little push that I needed to be able to shift from an archeologist to a professional fundraiser. I met people that inspired and encouraged me, and it allowed me to move forward and dare to apply for a position at the European commission delegation in Egypt (where I knew I would have exposure to the most complex intuitional donor in my region). Following that I worked at Oxfam as regional funding programme coordinator and now I am the founder of Culture Funding Watch. I am very proud of what I have accomplished so far. CFW is the only MENA and Africa focused social enterprise helping the arts and culture sector reach the resources they need.
What is your driving force for accelerating change?
I have always been driven to solidarity and caring about others, but most importantly I have a deep belief in the major role that art and culture plays in human lives and collective wellbeing. And besides, I am Tunisian and French – an explosive combination of cultures of resistance, revolution and strong women. It is in my genes. This is the reason I have been driven to working with organisations like Oxfam, SNV etc. I have a very low tolerance threshold to injustice.
What one piece of advance would you give to future change accelerators who want to make a big impact in their work?
Give it time. If you have a look at my career you will see what kind of change maker I am. I took time (15 years) to master my knowledge before creating CFW because I have always advocated that meaningful change can only happen when we act on the roots of the problem. I like to inscribe my actions in the time so that they have deep and lasting impact. It takes time to change policies and behavior and I am not afraid of time.
The first time art financing and funding was mentioned in the MENA regional art and culture conference arenas was in 2010 when I brought it into discussion, when most of the sectors’ attention was about cultural policies. CFW is 6-7 years ahead of the game when it comes to bringing this dimension of cultural and creative sector development. I am very proud now that my small organisation is operating with zero external funding, zero influential supporters is now a reference in the region. I take pride in quality, durability and solidarity.