Shifting Power to Catalyze Movements: Our Inclusive Grantmaking Journey

Shifting power. These two words are at the heart of the Equality Fund’s vision and fundamental purpose. Every day, we see how feminist movements are addressing the world’s biggest challenges—building durable, scalable solutions to seemingly intractable issues like inequality, climate change, and conflict.

At the very same time, we see how traditional approaches to philanthropy and development forfeit this potential from the start, keeping money and power at the top, starving feminist movements of the resources and agency they deserve to build the future we all need.

This blog expands on these main areas of the Equality Fund’s inclusive grantmaking work:

  • Our inclusive grantmaking journey
  • Our timeline
  • Our top five takeaways

By its very design, the Equality Fund is a challenge to this status quo. It is a collective promise to unlock capital to unleash the full power of feminist movements. Together, we are reimagining old approaches to philanthropy, investment, and government funding simultaneously, with a model that shifts sustainable and scalable resources to feminist movements for lifetimes to come.

Ultimately, shifting power is about much more than what we fund. It demands that we examine how we resource movements, and how we can disrupt the colonial and patriarchal practices that continue to be so deeply entrenched in our field. It means moving beyond words to action—a willingness to experiment and co-create new approaches to governance and funding practices. And while we have so much more to figure out, we are committed to the journey, and to sharing what we are learning along the way.

Inclusive grantmaking

When we envisioned and started the Equality Fund, we set out to honour a deeply held belief and commitment to solidarity, accountability, and transparency with movements. As we began the Equality Fund, we worked with the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) to consult feminist activists globally.

In AWID’s report, High Hopes and High Expectations for Resourcing Feminist Movements, feminist movements highlighted the importance of inclusive grantmaking, with a priority on placing funding decisions in the hands of communities as a matter of both principle and efficacy. This echoes current conversations in Canada that highlight

The importance of abandoning the ethnocentric and imperialist practices whereby donors and experts from the global North impose questionable solutions to historically disadvantaged and donor-dependent countries and communities.

Listening and responding to these conversations, it was clear from the outset that the Equality Fund would use a community-informed strategy to ensure the necessary power shifts could take place to support a global move towards more decolonized philanthropy and funding. 

Over the course of eight months, we designed and implemented a community-informed process to make participatory grantmaking decisions in our inaugural Catalyze grants program. Through a dynamic partnership between the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) and Equality Fund, AWDF led a call for proposals across the African continent, ultimately selecting 42 grassroots feminist organizations for funding. The Equality Fund led a call across Asia, the Pacific, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, selecting 30 new grantee partners. Together, the 72 grants total $4,365,632. Read more about our grantee partners here.

For Equality Fund’s selection of the 30 new grantee partners, we worked with a Global Advisory Panel—a group of ten feminist leaders supporting our decision-making process by providing recommendations and insights on selecting our new cohort.

The following infographic outlines our step-by-step timeline—unpacking how we implemented our first participatory grantmaking process and highlighting the key elements and principles needed to deliver it in line with our feminist values.

Our Timeline

Our top five takeaways

In addition to documenting and sharing our overall process, we want to share some of the deeper elements of how we lived through it, what we gained from it, and what we take forward as lessons learned. Here are our top five learnings and takeaways gathered through reflective conversations with team members across the Fund.

A Fund shows its values and intentions, not by how it speaks, but by how and who it funds.

When building the Equality Fund, we were intentional about moving beyond messages that are increasingly common in our sector toward real action. We pushed ourselves to do the right things with integrity and intention, even as we continued to learn. Feminist philanthropy is a political act which seeks to challenge and transform notions of power, privilege, and resources. Our model aims to meet the moment we are in—putting funds directly in the hands of women, girls, youth, and gender non-binary leaders pushing for equality, justice, and transformation rather than superficial or short-term responses.

Creating the Global Advisory Panel (GAP) of ten exceptional feminist leaders was one of the most critical manifestations of our commitment. This Panel and our core community played an instrumental role in ensuring that feminist accountability was at the heart of our approach—staying true to inclusive grantmaking, community-informed strategies, and our Principles for Feminist Funding. 

Further, we ensured that the creation of the GAP was not just about ticking a box—but a meaningful experience. We endeavoured to create a sense of community by getting to know each other and supporting one another as we live through these unprecedented times (and unstable internet connections). We continue to learn from this first round and know where we can improve and refine our approach from the feedback submitted by panellists and consultants.

Thanks to the GAP, we are proud to have selected the 30 diverse groups working on interconnecting issues of racial justice, the rights of Indigenous women, precarious workers, migrant workers, the needs of refugees and displaced women, as well as sexual and reproductive health and rights. Read about these courageous groups here.

Involving communities in decision-making is not a binary. It is a spectrum.

In principle, participatory grantmaking is gaining new momentum and attention in philanthropy. However, funders are still largely uncertain about how to make participatory grantmaking happen in practice and are hesitant to try for fear of making mistakes. This is how we felt too. But we decided that the stakes were too high not to begin, even if we would need to move incrementally and continue to learn in real-time. We dove in and launched the Catalyze grants program, stating our intention to use a community-informed strategy to make decisions.

The pressure to deliver on our intention was heightened by the urgent context of the pandemic. Furthermore, we had to acknowledge that our rapid growth and the structure required to manage bilateral funds presented limitations. Taking this all into account, we opted for an advisory panel model that would enable us to involve the community and leverage collective expertise to make informed decisions within a specific timeframe and manageable structure. We continue to aspire towards deepened participatory models in the future as used by our peers, like FRIDA, but also recognize we are on a journey—and embrace the notion that there are many paths towards participatory grantmaking.

It would be a failure as a global North Fund to not be accountable to the movements we serve in the global South.

For too long, philanthropy and global development have sought out ‘silver bullet’ approaches that promise systems change from the top down. Yet many years and many billions of dollars later, lasting change has remained elusive. What is needed instead is deep dialogue and accountability with communities and movements: the very people who live closest to the challenges and who hold the most promising solutions to them. Our community-informed approach is one of the many ways we honour our commitment to offering an alternative to funding approaches of the past—one that honours and uplifts the wisdom of movements and communities as the key catalyst for lasting change in millions of lives.

COVID-19 measures including lockdowns, interruptions of international travel, and social distancing highlighted that the international system—despite being well-resourced and large in scale—was not the best positioned to respond to the crisis. Rather, local groups and movements were ready to respond and address their communities’ needs. This is not new. In the face of crisis, local grassroots groups hold the deepest relationships and know exactly how to take action to support their communities. It would only make sense to seek the expertise of these groups to inform our grantmaking.

Some might refer to this as localization, but for us, involving feminist leaders from those communities in our decision-making means the design of the solution and its impact rest within the community. Over time, and as we build trust with partners, we are building a deeper knowledge of how things are shifting and changing—and this means we can respond proactively and appropriately in real time.

We have the opportunity to rewrite the rules on risk—and ensure we are in solidarity with global movements.

Beyond our fiduciary responsibility, our relationships to feminist movements push us to think about and manage risk with more nuance and accountability. How do we acknowledge the risks that our grantee partners take every day in their work pushing for transformative change? What is the risk of not funding this work? In the corporate world, taking risks is deemed necessary and often rewarded—so why not be bold as funders?

We know that having communities support our decision-making is crucial. Input from locally-led groups and movements better informs and prepares us in our grantmaking—much better than we ever could accomplish from our perspective in the global North alone.

Authenticity is powerful when sharing learnings as a funder to encourage honest and transformative conversations.

We have learned to practise progress, not perfection. In reality, participatory processes are not just a way to make decisions about funding, but an experience of transforming how we practice power. We believe funders can and must include communities in the decision-making process. We also know that this approach is not easy and requires space to try, to fail, to learn, and to reimagine. 

It was not always easy but we have made progress—in our own authentic way—with deep listening alongside our advisors, our community, and amongst each other. And we know how much further we have to go, together. Ultimately, involving our community in our decision-making always centres on accountability, transparency, and keeping true to who we are. And it is here to stay.

Thank you to Devi Leiper O’Malley and Swatee Deepak for leading and collating reflective conversations with Wariri Muhungi, Remie Abi-Farrage, Marine-Celeste Kiromera, Sue Snider, Beth Woroniuk, Jess Tomlin, Katy Love, and Ruby Johnson.

 REPORTEmerging Reflections from the Global Advisory Panel Process – Equality Fund (October 2021) | Español

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