Can we collectively imagine and build a funding ecosystem where feminist movements are funded as bravely as the work they do?
This was one of the questions that the Equality Fund set out to answer. And we wanted to involve and draw on feminist activists—in all their diversity—to help us dream how the Equality Fund could build something new and play a pivotal role in this ecosystem.
As part of our ‘Design and Build’ phase, we started discussions with AWID (Association for Women’s Rights in Development) in the spring of 2019. Would they work with us to convene activists from around the world to provide inputs and guidance into how the Equality Fund should move forward? We were delighted when they agreed.
Together with AWID, we organized three in-person convenings: Panama City, Accra, and Colombo. We also held three virtual discussions (in English, Spanish, French, and Arabic), launched an online survey, and convened numerous conversations. These discussions reached over 1,000 activists in over 45 countries.
We listened intently during the consultations and took action on many emerging ideas even before the consultations wrapped up.
The brave AWID colleagues took all of the consultation discussions and compiled them into a report: High Hopes and High Expectations: Feminist Movement Recommendations to the Equality Fund.
This report raised big questions and provided numerous (over 60) recommendations on grantmaking, investment, philanthropy, and governance and accountability. While these recommendations are primarily aimed at the Equality Fund, they are relevant to a full range of funders, as they explore key issues related to how to fund feminist movements, how to build accountability, and how to lean into feminist principles across all areas of an organization.
Our staff, Board, collective, and other supporters read the High Hopes report over and over. We held sessions to unpack and socialize the consultation discussions, the recommendations, the hopes, and the challenges. The report provided direction through the second half of 2020 and into early 2021 as we built out our initial grantmaking stream, our investment mechanism, our philanthropic outreach, our evaluation principles, and our governance structures. We consulted it often as we designed internal systems and leaned into feminist accountability.
We carefully considered each recommendation and looked at what we could do, how, and by when. Where we could not implement the suggested steps, we have tried to outline why. Our Shared Hopes report provides all of the details.
The Shared Hopes report provides an update on what we have been doing at the Equality Fund and how we are responding to the High Hopes recommendations. We outline five principles that have been guiding our ‘Design and Build’ work:
- We have a commitment to a new model for feminist funding.
- We are looking to advance our shared dreams with feminist activists around the world. For us, these consultations are one moment in an ongoing process.
- We are striving for quality and innovation over speed.
- We have a ‘duty of care’ to our staff and partners. While standing up the Equality Fund, we have to work at a sustainable pace for all.
- We have an ongoing commitment to transparency, accountability, responsiveness, and consultation.
We are pleased to report that we were able to implement or advance the implementation of the vast majority of recommendations. For a small number of recommendations (primarily a few related to governance and accountability) we have plans to comply with the spirit, if not the specifics, of the recommendations.
Here are just a few of the recommendations that we have been able to implement:
- We are taking all steps to ensure that our grantmaking reaches feminist groups who have been historically sidelined and/or are working in the peripheries of movements. Our grantee partners include organizations led by young women, LGBTIQ people, sex workers, Indigenous women, young women with disabilities, and more.
- We adopted a participatory/community-informed approach to our first call for organizations under our Catalyze stream and our grantmaking in our Women’s Voice and Leadership — Caribbean program is guided by an Advisory Council of feminist leaders and activists.
- We have started work on a Theory of Change for our investment work, involving outreach and consultation with feminist activists and gender-lens investment practitioners. Our work on gender-lens investing (and our contributions to this growing field) includes ongoing feminist interrogation and analysis.
- We strive to be transparent and accountable in all that we do. This report is one example. Our forthcoming Annual Report is another.
- We thrive on our discussions with our colleagues in feminist and women’s funds, whether it be strategizing around the Generation Equality Forum, problem-solving around nuts and bolts of grantmaking, feminist evaluation, or joint fund mobilization.
- We have built a truly global Board to provide strategic direction and feminist governance and we have launched our Investment Advisory Council with participation from diverse women.
There were two specific recommendations where work is still underway. The High Hopes report recommended allocating a greater percentage of funding to feminist grantmaking in the first three years (instead of putting it into the investment mechanism). While we see the enormous need to fund feminist movements now, the Equality Fund’s core experiment is to build a new funding structure, one that can independently and sustainably provide funding to women’s organizations far into the future. To do this, we are developing an investment mechanism that will invest with a gender lens and, over the long term, provide returns that will finance grantmaking. This is the challenge from Global Affairs Canada that we responded to. This is our bold experiment to do something new.
A second recommendation from the consultations was to apply screens to all investments to exclude companies that are harmful to the environment, people, and gender equality. In principle, we accept this recommendation and we are working towards achieving this. We are using multiple existing investment screens. However, we have also found that current investment data and practices do not meet our needs. We will need time to build the tools that will enable us to ensure that 100 percent of our investments are consistent with our values. Check out the report for more information.
Like most initiatives, this was a team effort that benefited from the inputs of so many people. We are so grateful to our AWID colleagues: Kasia Staszewska, Kellea Miller (who has since moved on to the Human Rights Funding Network), Hakima Abbas, and Cindy Clark. Rajasvini (Vini) Bhansali was our facilitator extraordinaire for the in-person consultations. The beautiful design of the final report is by the talented Sonaksha Iyengar. We are grateful to Lilly Nichols, who was Canada’s ambassador to Panama who facilitated the logistics of our session in Panama City. We also send big thanks to the African Women’s Development Fund (who co-hosted the Accra meeting) and to both Women’s Fund Asia and Urgent Action Fund – Asia and the Pacific (who co-hosted the Sri Lanka meeting). On our side, Beth Woroniuk led the process and many other team members facilitated sessions, provided inputs, wrote contracts, attended consultations, checked details, and so much more. Huge shout-outs to Amina Doherty, Ann Elisabeth Samson, Bea Gonzalez, Bonnie Foley-Wong, Dana Sakalla, Erika Gates-Gasse, Hilary Clauson, Jess Houssian, Jess Tomlin, Joanne Sevigny, Laura D’Angelo, Mathura Karunanithy, Shannon Boeckner, and Wariri Muhungi. The Equality Fund Board played an active role in crafting our response and we are grateful for their wisdom.
We are grateful for our ‘shared hopes’ with feminist movements and activists:
As we move forward, we know that the radical ambition in the Equality Fund model means that we will always be reaching, building, growing, and learning. We are committed to doing that together, grounded as always in solidarity and partnership with feminist movements everywhere.