Lessons from capacity offerings of the Women’s Voice and Leadership – Caribbean Program
written by Angelika Arutyunova
In a continuously shrinking funding landscape for human rights, social justice, and progressive organizing, the need for more agile, creative, and diverse resource mobilization strategies has grown. So it is no surprise that resource mobilization is consistently cited as a top priority among grantee partners in Women’s Voice and Leadership – Caribbean, a program dedicated to advancing women’s and LBTIQ rights and gender equality in the Caribbean region.
I recently spent four months on an intensive learning journey with WVL-Caribbean partners to share learning and strategies on feminist resource mobilization and I am excited to share key insights that emerged.
First, it is important to define our terms. My focus is on feminist resource mobilization capacity support to women’s rights and LGBTQI organizations and groups. This approach differs from fundraising in some essential ways, including understanding the politics of money; contextualizing funding opportunities for each particular group, location, and moment; and focusing on resources beyond money, by analyzing and improving the many resources of an organization, from networks to staff to technological and administrative resources.
This multidisciplinary approach to resource mobilization includes understanding our personal relationships to money and how it may influence our fundraising and budgeting patterns at work. It also deepens our understanding of our connections to wider community and networks and how it improves or hinders our resource access. It helps groups build a staged approach to resource mobilization with a reality check of its context, moment in the life cycle, and capacity assessment. At its core, it analyzes how patriarchy has impacted resource distribution, control, and comforts.
More than grants
When the 27 grantee partners of WVL-Caribbean were asked to identify their needs beyond funding, resource mobilization was consistently a top response. A majority of these partners have either never had funders before or received very small funding. As a result, financial sustainability is a top concern by all of the groups, especially in the region with a dwindling economy and ever-shifting foreign funding presence.
Responding to this identified need, the WVL-Caribbean team invited me to offer a Feminist Resource Mobilization learning module to their partners. Thus began a four-month Feminist Resource Mobilization journey consisting of monthly sessions, office hours, and resource mobilization strategy development support. At the core of the module was a multidisciplinary approach to resource mobilization mentioned above.
A wealth of collective insight
These key lessons emerged across our shared journey:
- When groups come together to learn about resource mobilization and move beyond fundraising, a collaborative (and not competitive!) space for deeper understanding emerges. In this space, we came to see clearly that the current political economic system is set up to de-prioritize social justice and especially gender sensitive budgeting. Thus, the scarcity of resources experienced by each group is not an isolated case of “we are not good at fundraising” but more of a system problem.
- Balance of understanding global funding context with regional, national, local nuances and specificities. Resource mobilization strategies can be straightforward and easy to navigate once there is a global trends analysis offered with nuances of regional and local specifics of funders, needs, and economic conditions. Resource mobilization training offers such an analysis by starting from global, breaking down different funding sectors, and going deeper into regional and local analysis.
- Feminist analysis of resource distribution is essential. A light bulb moment emerged in the trainings when activists realized that their challenges in accessing and finding funding for their feminist work is in direct parallel with undervalued and under-resourced women’s labor in any other area of current economic and political system. The fact that the women’s rights movement is among the most underfunded movements (resulting in small grantmaking budgets in private foundations and women’s funds) is inherently connected to the systematic devaluing of women’s care work in the home and women’s labour in the economy at large.
- Resource Mobilization is not a one womxn job! At the start of the trainings, many groups were represented by an executive director, the same person responsible for multiple functions within a group. By the end of the four month process, many groups were inviting their board members and considering how best to distribute responsibilities for resource mobilization across the group’s staff, networks, or members. Resource mobilization is not and can never be a one womxn job.
- Resource Mobilization is less scary when it is well planned. A lot of initial anxiety around resource mobilization was due to a lack of planning and understanding that resources can come from multiple sources. The creation of a resource mobilization strategy is an important tool in documenting our politics, approach, needs, and priorities, which are essential to developing a concrete plan to achieve our goals.
- Funders need us. Shifting the script to recognize that without our work, funders will not be able to reach the goals they set up for themselves can be transformational. Entering conversations from a place of strength, with a clear and confident sense of our contributions and accomplishments, positions us as equal partners with funders, opening the door to a new conversation and new results.
These insights will continue to grow and deepen as each partner takes this work forward. For other funders who are interested in reaching beyond grants, they demonstrate that an intentional and deliberate focus on resource mobilization can improve collective understanding, readiness, and confidence around resource mobilization. They plant the seeds for groups’ resource autonomy into the future.