Young Women Are Rewriting the Rules of Funding and Movement Building
Feb 13, 2012

The author, Myra Batchelder, in a conversation with Marisa Viana, AWID

By Myra Batchelder

The revolution will not be foundation-funded, advocates sometimes joke, representing their frustration with the current funding structures for social justice efforts. However, the young women that spoke last Thursday at Harvard’s Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations highlighted an innovative new model of participatory grant making with theFRIDA – Young Feminist Fund, that has potential to alter these funding structures. The fund is committed to funding organizations led by young women aged 18 to 30 from around the world. Based on the Central American Women’s Forum model, at FRIDA the applicants are the ones who decide who should get the grant, turning the typical foundation power structure on its head. As Alexandra Pittman wrote in this blog back in December, “Using this participatory grantmaking model, FRIDA is democratizing the funding process and re-conceptualizing the role of grant maker and grant recipient.”

Betsy Hoody, a FRIDA Advisor, explained at the panel they have just started their first grant-making rounds and have already had over 1,000 applicants! The sheer volume of grant applicants is a powerful response to the often-cited critiques that the younger generation is not involved in feminist activism. In fact, young women are involved all across the world, though their involvement may look slightly different from earlier generations, including the incredible amount of online activism.

As a young woman (slightly over the FRIDA age limit), I have worked in women’s rights activism for the past decade and have often been frustrated by the way that building young women’s leadership has not always been on the forefront of the movement’s agenda. In fact, in the United States, leaders of some women’s rights organizations have sometimes complained about the lack of young women’s involvement, while completely ignoring the fact that their organizations and others are made up of passionate young women in entry-level and mid-level positions!

Young feminist activists exist across the globe and are redefining the role of philanthropy and the women’s rights movement overall. They are working beyond just the realm of long-standing women’s rights organization and are starting their own organizations and changing the rules of how feminist activism should be done. One of the ways they are doing this is by using the internet to build connections and linkages between organizations worldwide. FRIDA’s idea of getting organizations to vote for one another online is not only redefining the way the grant process happens, but also providing a great opportunity for young women-led organizations to learn about related efforts happening in their region. They are committed to connecting these young women led organizations with one another. As Marisa Viana, Manager of the Young Feminist Activism Program at the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), which helped start FRIDA, explained, they are not viewing young women as “just recipients,” they “want to invest in young women as leaders and as powerful agents of change!”

FRIDA is meeting more than just the financial needs of these young feminist activist organizations. Young feminist activists are very eager to find ways to connect and learn from one another. Seven years ago, a friend and I were working in sexual and reproductive health and rights non-profits in New York City and became frustrated with the lack of opportunities to engage with our fellow twenty- and thirtysomethings interested in similar issues. We started up a monthly networking happy hour called “Repro Health Happy Hour” to connect young activists in the New York City area. The event now has a listserv of over 1,100 and the model has been replicated by young activists in over 12 cities, everywhere from Boston, MA to London, England to Nairobi, Kenya! Our effort is just one of many on Facebook, Twitter, and other vehicles that young activists are utilizing to connect with one another.

Young feminist activists from around the world have much to learn from one another and creating new avenues to build these linkages is an important way to strengthen the entire women’s rights movement. However, funding is needed to expand these efforts and to support the growing number of organizations led by young women. Funding mechanisms like FRIDA are incredibly important and much-needed vehicles for building these growing organizations and movement building efforts led by young women. FRIDA is providing an innovative new way to reexamine and redo the philanthropic model to better meet the needs and vision of the next generation of young feminist activists from around the world. However, it is only one part of the solution. With 1,000 applications for only ten grants of $5,000 each, there is still more work to be done.

Myra Batchelder is currently pursuing a masters degree in public administration at Harvard Kennedy School.

Cross-Posted from the Hauser Center for Non-Profit Organizations