What if grantmaking were revolutionalized to be a much more participatory, transparent and democratic process, where there was little to no distinction between grant recipients and grant makers? What would that look like and how would it work?
By Alexandra Pittman
The Young Feminist Fund – FRIDA has set out to do just that. FRIDA was launched earlier this month with the aim to cultivate and support a community of young feminists and people who support women’s rights worldwide. FRIDA was born out of collective calls by feminists globally at the 2008 AWID Forum to close the significant gap in funding available for feminist organizations, particularly those led by young feminists.
Calls for action were spurred on by the rise of youth-led groups and movements and the higher demand for funding support in addition to the need to advance sustainable solutions to the rights violations, violence, inequalities and discriminations that girls and young women face daily. Three years later, we fast-forward to the Fund’s realization and articulation of its mission and unique funding model.
FRIDA aims to provide accessible, strategic and responsive funding for young feminist-led initiatives. We aim to strengthen the capacity of young feminist organizations to leverage resources for their work and to increase donors’ and allies’ commitments to resourcing young feminist activism.
FRIDA works toward a future where, among other things, young women and girls live their lives free from violence and poverty, can obtain an education and control decisions about their bodies. FRIDA believes that not only is supporting young women-led initiatives important in itself but also that no lasting solutions to the world’s major challenges can be effective if young women are left out. To this end, we envision progressive, multi-generational women’s movements that are strong, effective, well-resourced and that reflect the diversity of women’s rights organizing globally.
FRIDA’s model is a participatory “donor +” model, not only focusing on giving small, flexible funding to feminist groups, primarily led by women under 30, but also aiming to strengthen organizational capacities and facilitate networking between groups. The focus on flexible, core funding is central to its values and its commitment to strengthen organizational capacity by respecting the analysis, strategies, and actions as defined by grassroots groups themselves. Externally, the Fund aims to develop stronger interest and broaden the support of traditional donors, as well as to encourage greater involvement of non-traditional donors, particularly young philanthropists and entrepreneurs.
The resource mobilization aspect of the Fund moves beyond the traditional model, which only seeks fundraising for its own projects/programs to a collective model. In the collective resource mobilization model, the aim is to raise more money for young feminist activists and the gender equality sector overall, as well as to influence other donors’ practices. That means that FRIDA is most concerned with building up demand and support in donor communities to channel funds to youth programs that use a rights and empowerment perspective and that are led by the opinions and leadership of young people.
In many ways, FRIDA challenges current donor and grantmaking paradigms and processes. Young feminist groups that apply to FRIDA are not seeking funds to only support their work, but they are also entering a process where they will become the decision-makers, selecting which groups will actually get funded. This dual role honors young feminists’ prioritizations of which issues and groups should and should not be funded.
FRIDA expects to launch its first call for proposals before the end of the year. The call will be open for a period of 6 weeks for groups based in 5 regions: Africa, Asia and the Pacific, the Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean and Central and Eastern Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States). Once potential grantees have submitted their applications, FRIDA staff and advisors will conduct an initial screening process to ensure that the applications received match FRIDA’s funding criteria and priority issues.
The selection criteria for the initial screening include: groups must be led/founded by young women or transgender youth under 30, they must be groups with limited access to resources, and they must explicitly be working to advance women’s human rights. Applications that do not meet these criteria are automatically excluded. Once the applications have been screened, the online voting process begins.
Potential grantees are given access to short summaries of the screened applications and are asked to vote for their top ten choices for groups to fund within their specific region. The summaries mention the title of the projects and the location of the groups, but do not include any names to ensure some anonymity and fairness in the process. When voting, groups are asked to bear in mind what they think is important for the promotion and defense of the rights of young women in their regions, as well as FRIDA’s funding priorities.
Groups are also expected to provide comments along with their decisions. The only restriction is that groups are not permitted to vote for their own proposals. From these votes, FRIDA gets a popular ranking of the top grantees in each region. For the first round of funding, only 10 grants will be given. So the top 2 ranked applicants per region will be selected for funding—for a total of 10 grantees. Once the groups have been selected, in addition to receiving general support funding, they participate in various capacity building and networking activities coordinated by FRIDA.
Using this participatory grantmaking model, FRIDA is democratizing the funding process and re-conceptualizing the role of grant maker and grant recipient. As such, the distinctions between ‘grantee’ and ‘grantor’ begin to disappear. The funding model further aims to break down power and expertise barriers that commonly arise in grantmaking, which are often exacerbated by identities and alignments, such as North and South, expert vs. practitioner, professionalization vs. activism, young vs. experienced, traditional grant makers and institutional donors vs. emerging young philanthropists and individuals.
Groups are also empowered in the collective decision-making process, learn from each other, and build their knowledge of existing issues and approaches in the field. This broadens their awareness of the landscape and critical strategies that feminist groups are using to combat discriminations, rights violations, and inequalities around the world (perhaps even feeding back and strengthening their own organizations and future joint initiatives). It also assists groups in understanding what the decision-making process for grantmaking looks like and in thinking critically about how they made decisions on their top ten. This can help build their capacities in the future when it comes to positioning themselves and perhaps writing and applying for funds.
FRIDA’s re-conceptualization of power in grantmaking addresses critical feminist principles of participatory action and the radical re-shifting of institutional practices towards greater equality and democracy. In this quest, the FRIDA team is learning much from the experiences of Fundo CentroAmericano de Mujeres (Central American Women’s Fund) (FCAM) in Nicaragua andAWID’s collective resource mobilization strategies. The Fund is replicating FCAM’s model on a global scale. Other organizations are using similar models, including RSF Social Finance, a US-based organization that promotes shared giving to reduce competition and encourage collaboration between organizations by putting decisions in the hands of grantees themselves. Insights from these participatory funding models could have profound implications on grantmaking and future trends.
This article originally appeared on the Hauser Center blog
Alexandra Pittman is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations and a Research Associate at the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID). She has in-depth experience writing, conducting, and designing research and evaluations for NGOs and donors.