Reflections on our first year as the Equality Fund

One year ago, we stood on stage to announce, alongside Canada’s Minister for International Development and Women and Gender Equality, Maryam Monsef, that the Equality Fund would receive $300 million CAD to build the world’s largest feminist institution. That was a remarkable day. It marked the largest single investment in gender equality by a government, but it was more than just the number (though the number is indeed significant). It was an endorsement of a new model to get more money into the hands of women, girls, and non-binary people around the globe.

The announcement was the culmination of months of incredibly hard work and relationship building between a diverse group of partners. These extraordinary women shared the stage with us, each representing a different organization. We put our trust in each other and in betting on a big idea. The Equality Fund was nothing short of a radical ambition. To pursue that ambition, we needed amazing partners, trusting relationships, willingness to work hard, and quite frankly, incredible stamina.

In the twelve months that have passed since that milestone, we have been tested, pushed, challenged, and celebrated. But most importantly, we have learned a great deal as we build the Equality Fund. We have the privilege of standing up one of the world’s largest feminist institutions and now the challenge of doing it amidst a global pandemic.

It is the first time for everything. We are building something no one has ever built before. We have no blueprint to guide us. We negotiated one of the largest-ever contribution agreements with Global Affairs Canada in record time on behalf of a model no one had seen—let alone funded before. New for everyone, we used co-creation and collaboration to speed us up rather than slow us down.

Building a feminist institution is hard—and so fun. Shifting power is critical. It is also messy. The Equality Fund brings under one (virtual) roof leaders and dreamers who have the same north star but varying ideas of how to reach it. What works in Ghana may not work in Guatemala. What makes sense in the world of finance can fall flat for long-time feminist activists. But figuring these things out together is what makes our work so engaging.

People are everything. The Equality Fund has quickly built a team of philanthropy, investment, grantmaking and advocacy experts whose focus is getting funding where it needs to go for the greatest impact. Assembling a staff and board of brilliant feminists and building an organizational culture without the benefit of face-to-face interaction has been our biggest challenge in these months.

Designing and building is a process. Working with our grantee partners, donor partners, and global network of feminist activists, we are co-designing feminist funding and accountability structures. As the feminist trailblazers on whose shoulders we stand have always known, there is no roadmap for equality. So we are building one as we go. Our consultation process in partnership with Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) is an example of how we are asking hard questions, listening to the answers, and challenging our own assumptions.

Trust is key. We have quickly learned that everything we do to build the Equality Fund must be rooted in trust—from our relationships with our grantee partners and donor partners to our day-to-day relationships with each other. This has become more important during the pandemic when we are dispersed and working independently. If trust erodes, we back up and try again.

Pivoting our work to respond to COVID-19. Since March, we have already begun to change our plans. We have built new strategies to engage with our partners, engage donors and investors, and build team cohesion and culture as we are coping with a world in flux and chaos. Shifting the way we work has also meant recognizing our own limits and remembering that our holistic health and well-being is central to our success.

The work of building this innovation is not for the faint of heart. It is tiring. We dig deep to find our own resilience and determination because the Equality Fund is needed now more than ever. It hurts to see our team push themselves so hard especially with the additional stresses of the pandemic and the other ways the inequalities of the world are laid bare in this moment.

As we stand with those protesting and articulating the pain of Black people now and throughout history, we pledge to hold anti-racism as a central tenet of our feminist values. Racial justice is a feminist issue. We cannot achieve gender equality without racial equality.

In this moment, shaped by COVID-19 and the worldwide demonstrations against anti-Black racism and the backlash, we are more committed than ever to our radical ambitions. Staying centred on the work of the women’s organizations and feminist movements we are supporting is vital. They are suffering more, pivoting innovatively, and inspiring us to double down.

Given what has happened for the Equality Fund and the world in the last 12 months it is hard to imagine what the next year holds. We hope that the world seizes this moment to break free from traditional ways of working that have never served women. We are brave. We are terrified. We keep going.

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