Design and Build

Feminists @ Work: What We Learned

On July 1, the Equality Fund entered a phase we called “Feminists @ Work”. We envisioned F@W as a time to focus on our most urgent priorities and preserve our energy for the most transformative and essential work. We committed to taking fewer meetings, blocking time for deep thinking and collaboration, and prioritizing rest and recovery.

Today, as we close this phase, we are ready to share our reflections: what worked, what did not, and how this learning will help us as we design and build the Equality Fund.


Lesson One—We are one high-achieving group

We accomplished a lot of what we intended—we focused internally, grappled with big issues, imagined solutions, and came together as a team. We moved many critical pieces of work forward—and “surged” to support our top priorities.

We launched Catalyze, our first grantmaking program for small-to medium-sized feminist organizations. Learn more here. (DEADLINE EXTENDED TO OCTOBER 12).

We announced a number of amazing new grantee partners in the Caribbean alongside Astraea Foundation and Global Affairs Canada for our WVL - Caribbean program.

We made emergency grants to our partners most affected by COVID-19.

We deepened our partnership with the African Women's Development Fund (AWDF), advancing our shared values and goal to provide sustainable funding for feminist movements.

We dug into the thorough recommendations from the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) High Hopes, High Expectations report—a comprehensive guide from feminist movements that will shape our thinking as we build the Equality Fund from the ground up. We are committed to responding to these recommendations publicly later this fall.

We strengthened our feminist governance framework, including the expansion of our board of directors and advisory committees.

We refined our investment strategy and advanced our processes alongside our partner Toronto Foundation. We look forward to sharing more on this in the coming months.

We designed a new and exciting element of our philanthropy program—The Conversation. (LAUNCHING SOON).

We laid important groundwork for building our organizational culture, establishing our values, and determining our shared commitments—a body of work that is only just beginning.


Lesson Two—We did not successfully prioritize our need for collective care

Clearly, we did a lot of work during Feminists @ Work. But what about the sustainable pacing and care and slowing down? As other activists and organizations have shared and grappled with in recent months, burnout is real and threatens our work.

We are not alone in feeling this, especially during this pandemic—our sister women’s funds Astraea Foundation and FRIDA both took their own collective pauses this summer to address their exhaustion.

We were only partially successful at resting and slowing our pace. We took much-needed vacations and passed on many external meetings. We implemented “no meeting Wednesdays” and took Friday afternoons off. But even these efforts were not enough.

The reality is that the job before us is significant—we are building a new kind of fund, one that is designed by and fitting for feminists movements. A fund that is the largest of its kind. A fund that has infinite subtleties and multiple stakeholders. This is complex, demanding, and transformative work.

We were challenged by competing urgent deadlines, priority setting across the organization, the inevitability of welcome (and unwelcome!) surprises, and limited internal surge capacity—all while pushing through multiple substantial deliverables.

This is the constant tension we faced. Scaling an organization and driving innovation while also enabling deep thinking and restorative practice.

And this does not take into account the added pressures, complexity, and toll that was brought on by COVID-19. As with so many of us, our team was stretched as we navigated the realities of a global pandemic—the family responsibilities, the elder care, the homeschooling, not to mention the drain on our mental health, resilience, and well-being.

Nor does it take into account the trauma and pain many experienced as we witnessed the persistent assault on Black lives.

Indeed—as with so many of us in this moment in time—we did not thrive. But we survived.


Lesson ThreeWe will do it again. Just differently.

Was Feminists @ Work a success? Yes and no. Most of our team still believe in the original vision of Feminists @ Work and want to try it again. We have now acquired some useful wisdom.

Next time, we will customize Feminists @ Work to fit the needs of each team’s workflow and hold more space for difficult conversations about prioritization and workloads.

Can we break new ground and hold ground AND pause and hold still at the same time? We want to bring our best efforts to the challenges and opportunities ahead and for the long haul. Building a feminist organization requires balancing these polarities—which are so often at odds. We will keep trying.

Onward,

The Equality Fund team

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