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Preserving Memory, Sharing Knowledge

Knowledge sharing and production occupies a central position in the development and funding environments and are key components of any organisational or funder process. It is not only the generation of new data, and the production of materials to ensure accessibility, that occupies the “knowledge space”. Other forms include the preservation of records, of archive, and of memory.



The protection of data sources and the preservation of archival material – and therefore of memory – that form the foundation of knowledge, both historically and into the future, is also significant at the national level. Knowledge production, and the development and maintenance of archives, have thus been important destinations for funding support.

Preserving memory


left-quoteright-quoteIn South Africa, a strong component of our Reconciliation and Human Rights programme has been to preserve the archive on colonialism and apartheid as well as of the anti-apartheid struggle. Atlantic has supported a dozen or more projects, including the establishment of Traces of Truth, a non-commercial digital archive of the materials from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to preserve the findings of the largest survey of human rights violations in history.*

The Atlantic Philanthropies

Funding support for archival projects has enabled access to, and the gathering of, previously-hidden source documents and records so as to construct archives that richly reflect South Africa’s histories. This is particularly important in regard to revealing and preserving the documented lived experiences of apartheid. In Atlantic’s words, “Several initiatives broke new ground in the field of heritage and reconciliation, and some of our grantees have taken strong activist roles.”33

Archival and memory projects supported by Atlantic include the following, each directly linked to Atlantic’s grantmaking focus areas:

  • The South African History Archive 34aims to continue a process of retrieving records on the apartheid era that are not yet in the public realm
  • The Archival Platform aims to strengthen the capacity of civil society to effectively address the critical neglect of the state Archive, by providing support to the Archival Platform as a national network of stakeholders that advocates for the preservation of records relating to the apartheid era
  • The Visual History Archive to preserve historically important video and film records of the anti-apartheid struggle, which are in danger of deterioration by supporting the Archive’s innovative digitisation programme
  • Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action aims to act as a catalyst for the production, preservation and dissemination of knowledge on the history, culture and contemporary experiences of LGBTI people

Commitments to the preservation of memory are not limited to written and visual sources. Atlantic also recognised the importance of place as linked to both memory and identity. An example of this is seen in Atlantic’s largest grant in its “memory portfolio” being directed at transforming the Johannesburg Fort at Constitution Hill, previously an apartheid jail, into a museum that commemorates the struggle against apartheid. The Fort precinct serves as home to the Constitutional Court, a powerful symbol of South Africa’s victory over apartheid. Additional building projects supported by Atlantic to preserve the memory of the liberation struggle include The Nelson Mandela Gateway at Robben Island and The District Six Museum.

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Sharing knowledge

Sharing skills, learnings and knowledge is a way to build capacity and leverage the experience of both donors and grantees for the benefit of others in the non-profit sector. The production of resources for exchange and know-how is a key component of collaborative practice, and is increasingly recognised as central to sustainable development35.

Knowledge sharing not only concerns making information accessible. It includes identifying which stakeholders might benefit from particular knowledge products, as well as enabling access to these products and their value. Such knowledge-sharing can inform the development of grantmaker and grantee strategies and practice, as well as policy development where relevant.36

Accessible knowledge, learnings, data and information can take many forms including printed text, on-line materials, audio, film, and database information. Such resources are often the basis for strategy development, delivery of training workshops, advocacy campaigns, programme design, and communications. For funders, both their own and their grantees’ activities, provide opportunities to develop, co-produce and exchange knowledge.

left-quoteright-quoteI think that Atlantic had a very innovative style in the way they engaged with us around report writing and in their interaction. It was much more valuable than the way in which some other donors engaged with us with their log-frames and very structured reporting, as opposed to a more open-ended reflection.*

Erica Emdon, National Director, ProBono.Org

In this area, Atlantic stands out not least because of the scope, breadth and volume of the material resources it has produced and made publicly accessible. These include research reports, evaluations, organisational and programme outcomes, impact data, as well as publications on the Foundation’s grantmaking programme as a whole. In spite of, or perhaps because of, Atlantic’s exit they continue to write and publish regularly on a range of topics related to their global grantmaking and its impacts.

The Atlantic website hosts a database of all its grants to South African organisations. This is a resource through which Atlantic’s funding strategy and areas of support can be tracked. The database supports collaboration in that prospective funders, interested in social justice and human rights funding in particular, may access the full spectrum of facts and figures on Atlantic’s global investments. An abridged version of the database provides a view of Atlantic’s grants in South Africa by sector, organisation and investment amount.

Another means through which Atlantic has shared knowledge and experience from its grantmaking programme, is through the development and dissemination of programme-focused publications. Examples of these include:

Lessons from a Communications Campaign for South Africa’s Rural Poor

by Joanne Edgar

Guns-and-Roses---Advocacy-in-an-emerging-democracy-1 Guns and Roses – Advocacy in an emerging democracy by Marian Nel and Janet Shapiro
Joining-forces-for-the-poor--1Joining forces for the Poor Alliance-building for social justice in South Africa and the story of the National Alliance for the Development of Community Advice Offices
by Saranel Benjamin
Striking-the-Rights-Chord-2012-1Striking the Rights Chord – Perspectives on Advancement Perspectives on Advancement from Human Rights Organisations in South Africa
by Melanie Judge and Sean Jones (eds)

In addition, Atlantic convenings produced reports, in an effort to make accessible the discussions held, and knowledge developed, during any particular forum. Examples of Atlantic’s convening-related publications include:

Power-–-Partnership-–-Collaboration---A-Year-in-Review-1Our World Our Responsibility: South Africa Opportunities Now! Donor Conference 2010 – Summary Report by Sean Jones
A-Meeting-of-Queer-Minds-1A Meeting of Queer Minds Report on a retreat of LGBTI leaders and activists from the Republic of Ireland and South Africa
by Karen Martin
Public Interest Litigation – Summary of a meeting of organisations Summary of a meeting of organisations from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland,South Africa and the United States
by Brian Kearney-Grieve

Many additional resources are available online, providing detailed insights into the programming in all of Atlantic’s funding geographies.

Atlantic is now focused on capturing stories and sharing lessons learned, in support of ongoing funder and grantee learning. To this end, it is currently in the process of establishing an on-line archive, to be based at Cornell University, of its grantmaking activities across all of its operating geographies.

In its closing period, Atlantic seeks “to help grantees, policymakers and other funders understand and learn from our history and methods to help change the trajectories for people, institutions and nations, and it’s our obligation to gather and relay the lessons and stories that have helped make that happen”37.

As Atlantic prepares to finalise its grantmaking and close its doors, there is no shortage of information available to donors, grantseekers, strategists, policy-makers and potential philanthropists, with regard to Atlantic’s funding programmes and impact in South Africa. This information includes:

  • Programme and project experiences, lessons and successes
  • The rationale for funding particular sectors, organisations, projects and campaigns and links to the overall funding vision for long-term gains
  • The results and impacts of programmes and campaigns
  • Approaches that informed decision-making around funding strategy

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