Our story

The MATCH International Women’s Fund

MATCH International Centre

In 1976, two Canadian women, Norma E. Walmsley and Suzanne Johnson-Harvor, had the revolutionary idea to place women’s rights at the centre of successful development in the global South. After returning from the first UN World Conference on Women in Mexico City, they created an organization—known at the time as MATCH International Centre—to match the needs and resources of Canadian women with the needs and resources of women around the world.

Women’s organizations and movements have long been on the cutting edge of social change. With the help of loyal supporters across Canada, MATCH International supported these innovators as their creative breakthroughs transformed farming practices, child nutrition, and anti-violence campaigns. Working with over 650 women’s organizations in 71 countries, the organization invested nearly $12 million in women and girls.

The MATCH International Women’s Fund

In October 2013, MATCH International Centre established itself as a women’s fund and launched its first international call for proposals. Known as The MATCH International Women’s Fund, this new women’s fund was scrappy, bold, and thriving, thanks to a small but growing group of donors who saw its potential. The organization funded the work at the grassroots that needed to be done, supporting innovations that were holding and breaking ground for women’s rights: the first LGBT filmmakers in the country of Georgia, boxing classes for girls in the slums of Kenya, entrepreneurs who turned recycling into art in India.

Craving to reach “beyond the choir” and to build a robust movement of support for women’s organizations around the globe, The MATCH Fund collaborated with corporate partners to design shocking awareness-raising stunts. A bright pink bus with live handcuffed models drove through the streets of Toronto. Actors “arrested” Canadian women on their commute for the “crime” of wearing pants or leaving the house without a man’s permission (things for which women in some countries can be jailed.) The MATCH Fund’s digital women’s rights quiz went viral overnight.

People started paying attention. The MATCH Fund found themselves on stage with powerful advocates, philanthropists, and storytellers, such as Women Moving Millions and the creative director of Sesame Street, to share more about their tactics to raise awareness for women’s rights. The MATCH Fund’s annual budget doubled year-on-year for several years in a row. Major news outlets like the Toronto Star and the The Globe and Mail started publishing the organization’s voice and, most importantly—in its first five years as a women’s fund—The MATCH Fund provided 75 grants to 32 partners in 26 countries.

But The MATCH Fund was still dissatisfied. Women’s rights organizations around the world were still doing the most work with the least resources. Canada still provided only a fraction of its international aid directly to women and girls at the grassroots. Less than 8% of philanthropic dollars ever left Canada’s borders.

The team at The MATCH Fund knew they needed to fundamentally shift money and power to dramatically expand the total resources available to women and girls around the globe.

Equality Fund

In May 2018, the then Canadian Minister for International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau announced from a stage in Ottawa the Canadian government’s intention to invest up to $300 million dollars in a new innovation that would provide sustainable funding for women’s movements globally.

The MATCH Fund and a growing network of partners started dreaming about what they could design if there was no limit to what was possible. They had another big idea: why not create a mechanism that made money work for women—from the moment it was spent to the way it was invested? A collective, incubated by The MATCH Fund, put their heads together to respond to the government’s call for proposals and to harness the power of investment, philanthropy, and grantmaking to build an equal world.

On June 2, 2019, the members of the Collective stood alongside Canada’s Minister for International Development and Women and Gender Equality, Maryam Monsef—who announced that the Equality Fund would receive $300 million CAD to build the world’s largest feminist institution. That remarkable day marked the largest single investment in women’s rights organizations 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.

“Women’s rights are challenged the world over. With the Equality Fund, Canadians are shifting the power to women’s rights organizations and supporting women pushing back against the push back. Behind this effort is Canada’s best in philanthropy, feminist leadership, banking and investment, and international development. Canada is now the leading donor for women’s rights and gender equality globally,” said the Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister of International Development and Minister for Women and Gender Equality.

Jess Houssian from Women Moving Millions joined Jess Tomlin as a Co-CEO of the Equality Fund, and the collective of experts in philanthropy, finance, and feminism officially came together to steward the single largest investment that one country has ever made to women around the globe.

The Equality Fund was born much in the way that, ten years before, MATCH International Centre came back to life: with strong partnerships, significant funding, and an audacious vision for a better future for women. In the decades to come, we will be able to build the world we want to see thanks to the vision and tenacity of those who came before us.