FRIDA is continuously exploring new ways to reflect on its model and improve its participatory grantmaking practices. In this section, we share the insights generated out of an external evaluation process to assess the impact of FRIDA’s Participatory Grantmaking (PGM). As part of this external evaluation, we wanted to understand what participation means to the communities that we exist to support, where and how this grantmaking model brings joy and excitement, and what young feminist collectives found challenging in the process. Ultimately, we generated knowledge to transform and improve FRIDA’s participatory grantmaking model.

About feminist participatory research methodology

To carry out the study, we gathered a team of researchers to carry out a participatory evaluation that engaged the young feminist community of applicants, grantee partners, and advisors. The development of the methodology was a process of reflection and collaboration where all participants were included as active members of the team. We wanted to create a space to learn, exchange and co-create knowledge with everyone involved. The process inquired into participatory decision-making practices in philanthropy, but also provided insights into the nature of young feminist organizing and provided an opportunity for FRIDA’s community to see itself and learn together.

For this reason, we contracted external consultants with extensive experience in participatory research methodologies. In addition to the team of external research consultants, we contracted as co-researchers nine young feminist activists from the FRIDA grantee partner and advisory community. As part of their engagement, co-researchers contributed to the design of the data collection tools – including defining the objectives of each tool and framing the content of questionnaires. The consultants co-designed the methodology along with the FRIDA staff members who have been the most active in building, facilitating and managing FRIDA’s PGM process.

The 91FRIDA Grantee Partner Co-Researchers:  Priyadharsini Palaniswamy (India), Jade P. Leung (Philippines), Tatjana Nikolic (Serbia), Deniz Nazarova (Kyrgyzstan), Aline Izaias Lucio (Brazil), Dina Abdel-Nabi, Mona-Lisa Danieli Mungure (Botswana) FRIDA Advisory and Intern Co-Researchers: Twasiima Tricia (Uganda), Hazal Atay and Jessica Gonzalez Sampayo (Puerto Rico) co-researchers were recruited through an open call process and selected based on:

  • their background in feminist organising and participatory methodologies.
  • regional diversity.
  • availability to participate in all key stages of the research.

After the selection, co-researchers were trained in conceptual frameworks around grantmaking, participatory grantmaking and data collection tools. We also led specific sessions to train them in informed consent, reducing bias and tackling the challenges they might experience when conducting interviews online.


This entailed reviewing the feedback and voting comments from more than 900 groups collected during the calls for applications in 2016, 2018, and 2020.

  • 34 Interviews with Grantee Partners
  • 7 Interviews with Advisers
  • 5 Interviews with Applicant
  • 158 Survey Ressponses

The youth co-researchers conducted semi-structured interviews via Skype or Zoom with both grantee partners and FRIDA staff/advisory group members. The interviews lasted 45 minutes to 1 hour and were carried out in 6 languages. In total, coresearchers carried out 34 interviews with grantee partners, 7 interviews with advisors and 5 interviews with applicants who did not receive funding.

Based on advice and feedback from the FRIDA team and co-researchers, consultants defined questions that sought to capture experiences and feedback on participatory grantmaking from a larger number of respondents through a survey. The survey was open for a period of 3 months, and it was available in 6 languages. It was sent to all collectives that participated in the FRIDA voting process from 2016- 2020. We received 158 responses from young feminist collectives that participated in FRIDA’s participatory grantmaking process. A separate survey was also created for FRIDA advisors who were part of the peer review process during these cycles. Note that since data was collected in different languages to ensure better reach and participation, some of it had to be translated for further analyses.

Data was analysed and triangulated to identify emerging themes, trends, and outliers which were then confirmed with the original data.

When the research process was set up in November 2019, it included in-person gatherings for reflection and data interpretation between the co-researchers. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we had to modify the methodology, and the data collection process was conducted exclusively online.

FRIDA allowed this evaluation process to take as much time as needed. Our priority was to approach each aspect of it with care while providing continuous support for the FRIDA community involved. FRIDA is aware that communities might need time, resources and capacity-strengthening opportunities to be able to participate in an evaluation process. In some cases, groups were not able to find time to participate in the interview, even though they had voiced their interest. In those cases, we needed to extend the timelines to ensure their participation. 

We also need to acknowledge the power dynamics that exist between FRIDA and the participants (i.e. grantee partners) who were interviewed. If they hope to be funded by donors, participants may be reluctant to share their challenging experiences. The evaluation tried to account for power dynamics by making the process participatory and confidential. FRIDA staff members took part in the co-design of the participatory methodology and supported cross-communication; however, they did not carry out interviews or engage in any data collection activities.

Before starting the research, the methodology development team reflected on and spelled out the potential risks for both co-researchers and other research participants. This included the possibility of feeling uncomfortable answering certain questions and of social risks if any of the sensitive information they revealed were to be disclosed outside of the research.

Co-researchers signed a consent statement that clarified the objectives of the process, a timeline highlighting key deadlines and the key responsibilities of all parties involved. Co-researchers took on the role of reminding other research participants that they were under no obligation to participate. They told interviewees they could choose not to answer any question or terminate the interview if they felt uncomfortable for any reason.

All data collected was securely stored, and the methodology development team protected the confidentiality of all information gathered. Identifying information from participants, including first names and contact details, was gathered only after they consented to participate in this process. Such information has not and will not be disclosed publicly unless otherwise approved by them.

Raw data was fully anonymized for protection. Co-researchers had access to participants’ interviews and transcriptions only. Once the data was processed, care was taken to anonymize any identifying markers to ensure confidentiality and anonymity. Identifiable data (e.g. voice records) was deleted within three months following the completion of the study. Each stage of the process was in line with FRIDA’s Safeguarding Policy.

For the reasons above, the quotes shared in the evaluation are all anonymous.

Young feminist collectives' engagement with the
participatory grantmaking process

FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund’s participatory grantmaking model was co-created by feminist organisers to serve those same movements in ways that best allow groups to access funding, learn from each other, and build connections across the regions they work in. Young feminists are present at all levels of FRIDA’s work and organization, and participate in strategic, resource mobilization, and funding decisions. Young feminists are staff members, advisors, and board members who steer the strategic direction of the fund. 

FRIDA engages young feminist collectives, grantee partners, and those applying for funding, as well as young feminist activist members of the FRIDA Global Advisory Committee, in decision-making about its grantmaking process and participatory decision-making about where funding goes. 

FRIDA’s grantmaking model is in an ongoing conversation and reflection with young feminist movements on what a feminist funder should look like. This model goes through an evaluation and adaptation process after each grantmaking cycle to continue to respond to its purpose.

Almost all young feminist collectives regardless of whether they received a grant, when interviewed and surveyed as part of this evaluation, felt very positive about FRIDA’s participatory grantmaking process.

Groups very much appreciated the opportunity to participate, and they expressed that the process itself had been empowering and rewarding for them. Being able to participate in deciding who should receive funding in their context was overall described as a valuable learning opportunity that made them feel included, recognized, and accountable to other groups and to the movement as a whole.

The majority of the groups shared that it is important to include the young feminist young feminist collectives who apply that apply the decision-making process. 

They believed that the people who come from these communities should have a say in how funding is distributed and contribute to the transparency of these processes. It made groups feel that they were part of something collective and not just participating in an impersonal application process done behind closed doors where they don’t have clarity about the selection process.

In this report, we have also interviewed and surveyed the Global Advisory Community, who participate in the Peer Review Panels that are integral to the participatory grantmaking process, to share their feedback and experience. This feedback exchange with the Advisory Community, who also participate in FRIDA’s overall governance model, happens more organically and is part of FRIDA’s internal reflection process. Most FRIDA advisors who were engaged as part of this evaluation were excited by the opportunity to participate in FRIDA’s processes and to guide them in better reaching young feminist organisations.

The overall opinion of FRIDA advisors was that a participatory model was the best way for a feminist fund like FRIDA to decide which groups receive resources. Regarding the process in which applicants themselves decide who receives funding, the majority of advisors agreed with the model and felt FRIDA was doing a good job implementing it. However, some did believe that the groups should be engaged further to ensure they understand which proposals are the best fit for FRIDA and which most need the resources.

1.1 How did applicants describe their experience with FRIDA's
participatory decision making?

Most applicants described their patricipation in decisions about which groups should receive funding as something that made them feel included, recognized and accountable – to other groups and to broader young feminist movements.

Unlike submitting an impersonal application evaluated behind closed doors with no clarity about the selection process, being part of FRIDA’s participatory grantmaking process made groups feel part of something greater.

Groups regarded the opportunity to read and discuss the work of peers in their region as a learning experience; for this reason, most groups decided to engage with the participatory voting process as a team. They experienced it as a collective process.

Most of the groups also shared that they value including their entire collectives in the decision-making process. They believe that the people in their communities should have a say in how funding is distributed, and consider this a contribution to the transparency of grantmaking processes.

For most applicants, FRIDA’s participatory grantmaking process was the first (and for many the only) opportunity to participate in a voting selection process and be part of deciding how funds should be allocated to young feminist movements. For many groups, this experience was both rewarding and challenging.

It was exciting and novel for the groups to be recognized as experts in their work and context. All participants expressed that after their involvement in FRIDA’s participatory grantmaking process, they would be willing and eager to participate in other similar processes, thus further demonstrating that the experience was positive and valuable for them. In fact, several groups also participated in other participatory processes with FRIDA, which they also described as valuable and inspiring. This strengthened their belief in FRIDA’s work and its participatory approach.

Most were impressed by the work other young feminists in the region were doing and many reported that participating in the process invited internal reflections on their own work. In some ways, being exposed to other proposals improved their work. For example, several groups mentioned that reviewing the proposals of others encouraged them to discuss within their groups how to move forward with their work and explore different ways of organising.

It was very helpful and inspiring to know more about the works and future plans of other feminist groups. There were some proposals after reading which we knew so many new things about different issues in some regions that we have not even heard before.

Most of the groups expressed that this process allowed them to see the impact of their participation. Being able to witness the results of their engagement grew their trust in this grantmaking model and they felt that the time and the expertise that they have offered to this process were valued.

When we were voting, we did not really feel the significance of our votes as we have never faced such a system before and we did not fully understand how this process works. At the end of the voting, we understood how the voting system works and fully realised that our votes were taken into account. We saw that the two groups we voted for have received the grant.

1.2 What criteria and considerations motivated young feminist groups
to support their peers in the selection process?

When groups were asked which criteria they applied for the selection process, several of them said that they were guided by the connection they felt with the projects presented and decided based on what they considered to be the most critical needs in their context. The majority of groups expressed that they voted for underrepresented issues, for groups using innovative approaches, as well for those that they considered less likely to be funded. A few groups also shared that they selected some proposals based in their own country because they felt they could more accurately understand and assess their relevance. 

  • For the groups that work on the issues that not many groups work on64
  • For the proposals that addressed the primary needs of our community/72
  • For the groups that use the most innovative approach of strategy58
  • For groups that we considered would be less likely to access resourses62
  • For groups of social marginalized/under represented/45
  • Based how well the proposals were written33
  • For more rural and underrepresented groups40
  • Based on the effectiveness of the strategies the group use40
  • For radical and progressive proposals31
  • For groups whose feminist approach is similar to yours15
  • Based on how familiar you are with the problems the group is working10
  • For those groups that work on the same issues or use the same strate9
  • For the groups who are based in your country6
  • For the groups we know personally or are familiar with1
  • Randomly for any of the proposals in our region0
  • Other3

As part of the voting process, groups explain their selections. In the voting section, they can address any concerns or questions they have about the groups. In their comments, groups justify their vote by providing contextual analyses and deep reflections on the way they understood the value of – or resonated with – the vision of the proposals they voted for.

Below are some examples of comments explaining why groups voted for their peers and endorsed them to receive funding:

Across all regions, the majority of the collectives have provided a strong contextual analysis in support of their voting choices. They have been able to envision how the work of their peers is contributing to the broader feminist movements and also to their own organizing.  The majority of young feminist collectives have made decisions in the voting process guided by their understanding of the needs in their context and have prioritized the issues that are underrepresented, underfunded, or that are offering new approaches and strategies. Even though the majority of the groups have expressed the importance of young feminists deciding about the distribution of funding and consider themselves knowledgeable about their contexts, many felt discomfort making the right choice when voting for their peers. The majority felt that all groups are worthy of funding and felt uneasy that some might not receive the resources they need. In the analyses of votes and voting comments, it is evident that the majority of groups approach the voting process with responsibility, empathy, and compassion. This has been very much visible in the way how they show excitement about the work and potential of their peers as well as the understanding of the challenges they might be facing in their context and how the funds could also contribute to their growth, safety, and wellbeing.

1.3 What are the strongest points of feedback around FRIDA's
participatory grantmaking model? How does FRIDA respond to these points?

In addition to the model’s strengths, we wanted to share aspects of FRIDA’s participatory grantmaking model that surveyed groups found were either challenging or could be improved. We discussed each aspect as it emerged in the evaluation process. We then shared the recommendations made by external consultants for FRIDA staff to clarify or strategize about how to move forward.

In FRIDA’s current participatory grantmaking process, votes are anonymous. Many groups felt that having summary descriptions of the work is not enough to fully understand what the group and/or initiative is all about. This is especially true for groups who were applying for funding for the first time – as they might struggle to present their work clearly and convincingly. 

Many groups felt that knowing more about the organisations they were assessing, even their identity could benefit and simplify decision-making processes. There were even some suggestions that groups could have calls and closer interactions during the voting process to be able to clarify any doubts and learn more about the work of other groups. In the absence of calls, they suggested that applicants could share photos, videos, and audio of their work.

Maybe instead of reading the projects, it would be interesting to see videos or make virtual presentations to get to know better those who are applying for funds from FRIDA.

Amongst FRIDA’s advisors in the Peer Review Panel, there was some degree of consensus that more background information should be provided to those groups participating in the voting process. 

Some advisors felt that the decisions were being made based on which groups had the best skills in presenting their work and that this could affect the voting process.

Yet, other groups expressed safety concerns in sharing non-anonymized application material. They felt that receiving detailed information about groups and their work via email could pose a risk to groups operating in restrictive contexts. 

This may discourage some groups from applying for funding and be a reason why groups might decide to share little information about their work.

Some groups recognized that groups may be partial toward those working in their countries, regions, or with similar thematic areas. They questioned how to ensure impartiality in the participatory grantmaking process. In addition, some groups feared that it would be difficult to maintain anonymity: groups who know each other may coordinate to vote for one another, further harming emerging groups with less connection within the movement. Others were concerned about ‘stealing’ project summaries or ideas from other organisations. They requested clarification from FRIDA on how it addresses these risks and biases to ensure consistency in the voting process and that groups with less access can have equal opportunity to receive a grant.

Many groups also expressed concerns that feminist spaces are not always intersectional and feared that groups may not understand the importance of intersectionality when voting. For example, some groups working with trans and intersex collectives expressed concerns that they may be discriminated against, especially given the resurgence of anti-trans feelings within the mainstream feminist movement in certain regions.

Interestingly, in the analyses of vote allocations across contexts, we have learned that the collectives indeed applied an intersectional lens when voting. This is most likely because of their understanding of the dynamics that exist across feminist movements that should be taken into consideration when voting for funding priorities. The majority of young feminists recognize these complexities and approach the voting process with intersectionality and accessibility at the center. The majority of surveyed and interviewed collectives have found this to be a potential challenge in the applicant decision-making process and many have expressed concern if FRIDA as a funder would be able to identify how bias, increased access, and privilege facilitate the outcome of the voting process.

Despite positive feedback on the voting process, some groups felt uneasy about the responsibility of excluding some groups from gaining access to funding. Although certainly a minority, some groups expressed discomfort with voting, questioning whether they would make the “right” decision. The majority felt that all groups are worthy of funding and felt uneasy that some might not receive the resources they need. This shows that groups really show up to this process centering care and feminist solidarity.

When asked how they would envision this process differently, many suggested the need for another layer of review by FRIDA staff and advisors. Not all believed that the decision should be left entirely to the young feminist groups applying for funding. Many of them believed that FRIDA, with their experience and expertise, should also participate in the process and perhaps make the final decisions based on the recommendations made through voting. Some also felt that FRIDA should be more transparent about what happens after the participatory voting process and how it approaches these concerns and deals with bias.

FRIDA in fact does have another layer within the peer review process: following the voting, the young feminists who are a part of the FRIDA Advisory Community and grantee community participate in a Peer Review Panel to review the final voting results and support the final decision process.

The evaluation also engaged the Advisory Community to get a sense of how they understood their role in the participatory grantmaking process. Regarding the participatory process in which applicants themselves decide who receives funding, most advisors agreed with the model and felt FRIDA was doing a good job implementing it. Almost all advisors felt that the grantmaking process was clear and that they had received the necessary and appropriate support from the FRIDA team. However, some did believe that the groups should be engaged further to ensure they understand which proposals are the best fit for FRIDA and which most need the resources. The overall opinion of advisors was that a participatory model was the best way for a feminist fund like FRIDA to decide which groups receive resources; advisors also felt they could support it with regional expertise and inform final decisions when needed.

Even though the majority of groups shared that the timeframe they had to read and vote for proposals was enough, groups felt it must be acknowledged that it does require a significant time dedication for them to actively take part in such a participatory process.

As mentioned above, groups performed the task of reviewing applications and voting on them with responsibility and care – as such, many organised participatory processes where they worked together to review, discuss and assess the applications.

Though most were happy to dedicate time for this and described the process as worthwhile, for some this was a burden adding to the many responsibilities they already have. Some reflected that having to dedicate so much time to reading summaries might stand in the way of participating fully in the process – especially for smaller groups in which all members are volunteers.

How do young feminists visualize participatory
processes within their organisations?

During the evaluation, we had the opportunity to learn about how young feminist groups engage their communities and which organisational systems they implement. We wanted to learn how they make decisions within their collectives and ensure that FRIDA’s decision-making processes are familiar and resonant to young feminist organising.

The data informed us that many of the groups have a fluid concept of leadership and participation. When asked how they practice participation, most groups explained that they strive for consensus within small teams of co-leaders who share the responsibility for their organising.

With small teams leading the organisation and participating in its work, these groups often make decisions together, instead of having a single person in charge. They regularly meet to discuss and debate all major decisions within the organisation. Most of the groups that participated in this evaluation said that when participating in the voting process, they met to review the summaries and came to a joint decision on who to vote for.

Many also got together to participate in the interview as a group, or, if that was not possible, had meetings prior to the interview to discuss the topic and agree upon an organisational position. In other words, for feminist groups who participated in the evaluation, consensus building is achieved through dialogue and enabled by affective bonds, rather than through specific tools and processes. Interviewees showed great interest in participatory practices and expressed curiosity towards discovering new models. Groups are actively asking themselves: “How do we make our decisions?”

From the data, we learned that groups don’t have a technical understanding of participation – it is not operationalised through formalities but rather through ongoing dialogue between the people involved. Yet, participatory grantmaking provides a system, a mechanism, to engage with more complex decision-making processes. This is particularly important as groups grow.

Participatory grantmaking poses the question: ‘who makes decisions and what platforms and processes can we use to make them?’ When FRIDA poses this question, it spills over to the grantee partners. It sparks internal reflection, questioning and experimenting, especially because interviewees pointed out that participation within a group becomes harder as the organisation grows. For example, only one group was explicit in saying that their model is hierarchical. They shared that from a team of 3, they grew to a team of 8, thanks to FRIDA’s support. As the team grew, it was too hard to manage horizontal participation.

They then realised it did not work for them if all people participated in all decisions and instead, they decided to organise by assigning roles. Many groups considered participatory grantmaking to be inspiring precisely because it invited them to think more critically about their understanding of decision-making

Groups tend to involve their communities in decision-making processes.

Most of the groups surveyed also involve their communities in decision-making about their programmatic work, and about how they offer community support and services. They are conscious that if they are creating programs for a certain community, such a community needs to be consulted and involved in decision-making.

A few groups are also experimenting with participatory grantmaking internally.

Two groups shared concrete examples of how they tried to implement participatory decision-making practices internally. One group made available small funding and let community members vote and decide which project should get the funding. After ideas were proposed, the group facilitated a discussion so that every community member involved participated in deciding what kind of project to select. The group focused on facilitating the participatory process, while the community members decided everything else. They communicated with their community by saying:

Another group shared that they tried to mirror FRIDA’s participatory grantmaking. The group had come together to vote on FRIDA’s grantmaking cycle and realised the power of participatory decision-making. So, when they received funding, they encouraged the young girls they worked with to make decisions together about how to spend it. They were curious about the quality of the conversations and noticed that girls made collective decisions with respect. 

It appears that many groups are discovering what internal organising practices work for them without following a fixed model, but with an orientation towards challenging hierarchical practices. One of the lessons learned is that “Participatory decision-making could mean different things to different people.” 

Broadly, interviewees saw FRIDA as an example to look up to in terms of internal organising and participatory decision-making. Several interviewees stated that the relationship with FRIDA generated interest and learning around participatory practices. One interviewee, when asked if they were familiar with participatory decision-making practices, responded: “I am, and I was introduced by FRIDA. So that’s where I learned.” 

Young feminist groups took FRIDA’s participatory grantmaking process very seriously and many made significant efforts to ensure that, when participating in the voting process, they included all members of the group (even if that meant incurring costs). Many also expressed that this level of participation continued during the implementation of the work they received funding for, including for financial decisions.

How does FRIDA's participatory grantmaking
impact young movements?

An aspect of FRIDA’s participatory grantmaking process that participants have expressed the most appreciation about is the possibility for young feminists to see themselves as part of a movement. The types of feminist groups that collaborate with FRIDA tend to focus their resources and energies at the grassroots level. The participatory grantmaking process is built to invite groups to become aware of feminist work in their region, learn from other groups and establish new partnerships.

Interviewees explained how reading other groups’ project summaries awakened in them new ideas and the desire to tell stories about the movement. In their interviews, grantee partners resoundingly shared that the FRIDA grant application process helped them value and adopt a wider regional perspective. Some interviewees reflected that since problems are structural and deep-rooted, most groups in their region were grappling with similar issues, but which manifest differently based on specific groups’ contexts. In one of the voting comments, an applicant described reading proposal summaries as an opportunity to ‘see and think with the eyes of other gazes’ (translated from Spanish). By witnessing the panorama of different thematics and approaches proposed, another applicant suggested that they acquired a more comprehensive outlook on the many forms of feminist struggle.

A widened awareness of their regional contexts made young feminists feel like they are not alone and that their work speaks to the work of other young feminist collectives. This sense of solidarity was enhanced even without knowing each other. Reading about the work of other groups made young feminists aware of the diversity of feminist movements, with some expressing that it reaffirmed their belief that we should speak of feminisms in plural. The realisation that many factors that affect young women in their contexts also affect others throughout the world promoted in many of them the need for an intersectional perspective in their work. They also had the opportunity to learn more about the challenges other young feminists face in their countries and regions and the strategies and approaches they apply in their organising.

Although they were all excited and hopeful that they would be selected, many expressed that if they weren’t, they would still feel reassured knowing that the funding would be going to such amazing groups and supporting other young feminists in realizing their dreams. A group interviewed expressed that after reading the summaries from other groups, they were so impressed by their work and the difficult conditions they were working under that they thought about withdrawing their own application because they felt that others needed the funds more than they did. The process itself made the result not less important, but less determinant of how they viewed their participation in the process and the experience itself.

For example, one interviewee shared the experience of having established a research team but not knowing how to go about activating it. By reading others’ applications, they learned about an organisation in a neighbouring country’s research model. Reading about the other group’s work motivated them – they were able to discover their own model. Receiving the support and votes of other young feminists also made participants feel that there was a collective value to their work. They expressed feeling recognized in ways they would not have if those who had acknowledged their work had been people in far-off offices, disconnected from their realities. Knowing that other young feminists believed in them and valued their work was an important validation and reassurance of the need for their work. By ‘seeing each other’ through the voting process, groups shifted their perception of isolation and understood differently their social transformation power.

Those who received grants associated felt that being selected by the movement with a greater sense of responsibility for their work. One interviewee conveyed the importance of it by saying that, by voting for them, their peers acknowledged and recognised their work as something valuable. The appreciation for their work encouraged them to continue.

Although project summaries are anonymised, FRIDA’s voting system includes a mechanism to establish new partnerships. In the voting comments, groups respond to a question expressing whether they want to connect with other groups. Most groups respond yes to this question. Groups can also specify the application code and country of the group they’d like to get to know. Applicants often express interest in following other groups’ work and seeing their projects come to life.

How does FRIDA’s participatory grantmaking model
contribute to feminist philantrophy?

This approach is not always common in the philanthropic sector, but it resonates with the organisational cultures of young feminist groups. Young feminists value the quality of their connections and personal relationships. FRIDA’s grantee partners describe how friendship acts as a glue: it is an important dimension of their work because it binds the group together.

In the evaluation, grantee partners stressed that their interactions with FRIDA staff are profoundly human – they recognise FRIDA is guided by principles of self and collective care. Sadly, young feminists around the world are used to being mistrusted because of their age and other intersecting factors such as gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, race or class. Having an international fund engage with them respectfully reinforces that they do in fact deserve trust and recognition. For example, in contrast with traditional vertical relationships they experienced with other donors, grantee partners valued that FRIDA is open to recommendations and incorporates them in subsequent processes. This made them feel heard and like equal partners in the process.

During the interviews, grantee partners felt that donors are usually more interested in funding ‘projects,’ rather than ‘groups.’ 

Because of this, donors are less willing to fund operational costs, and this negatively affects groups’ capacity to sustain themselves. An interviewee puts it this way:

Our problem was mainly the operational cost(s) and how to sustain ourselves. In the beginning, FRIDA’s support was not directed to the project. That happened after we grew, and we grew because of FRIDA’s support.

The same interviewee explained that FRIDA’s interest in their group, rather than in their projects, created a sense of group cohesion. They explained that using the language of ‘the group’ instead of ‘the project’ created more shared responsibility that shaped how they function as an organisation. Through this dialogue with grantee partners, FRIDA uses its position as a donor to invite groups to reflect on how they want to grow, while remaining flexible – the group retains the freedom to steer its path. For example, two interviewees stated:

Receiving a grant from FRIDA provides experience and credibility to groups. Traditionally, grantmakers expect organisations to demonstrate their capacity to implement funding. For example, most donors demand that organisations have a certain level of administrative infrastructure before they can receive funds.

The PGM model proposed by FRIDA supports groups in becoming more comfortable with managing resources. This is powerful, especially in regions of the world, such as in the MENA region, where young women are often kept from controlling their own financial resources.

Practice managing small funds and understanding the grant cycle makes it more possible for grantee partners to apply for bigger funding. To be eligible to apply for funding, most donors require prior experience. One group shared that when they apply for a grant, they are asked questions such as: how has the association utilised funding before? Who benefited from that funding? How do you organise financial resources? As a FRIDA grantee, they grew their portfolio, gained a better understanding of philanthropic cycles and practiced allocating and managing funds. Many shared that they felt more confident applying for other grants since they could now demonstrate previous experience with managing grants.

So, I think FRIDA is actually giving us a good exercise by owning our resources. Especially in feminist economies, women are not (pause) I mean, one of the challenges is that women don’t have, in many societies, they don’t have the right to actually decide how they want to mobilize whatever resources they have – let alone young women (…). When you have resources in your hand to decide what’s important at this moment and at this level for you (…) it’s also because of that sense of responsibility towards what’s important for us as young feminists.

Most of the groups that receive FRIDA’s funds are ‘too small to be funded’ by traditional donors. For example, out of the respondents to the PGM survey, 47% were unregistered collectives. 

Grantee partners have expressed that traditional philanthropic culture makes them feel stressed, uncomfortable and inadequate. For many emerging young feminist groups, registrations can be inaccessible – this harms their ability to secure funding for their work. Others prefer to remain unregistered as they do not wish to be part of the system, but also recognize that this is a barrier in accessing other resources. Interviewees expressed that FRIDA not requiring registration is positive and crucial in being able to reach more groups doing powerful work in their communities.

Grantee partners stressed that they feel discomfort about the volatile nature of trends in development: several interviewees pointed out that they have seen donors get fixated on one region/issue/cause/approach, missing the creativity and possibility of what does not fit into their agendas. What we see in the data is a search for coherence within the grantee partners. They reject trying to speak the donors’ language and crave frank dialogue with funding partners who could be potential allies. This explains why FRIDA was valued for being so approachable. 

One interviewee shared that the international development community only funds what is trending and mainstream – foreign policies and agendas influence funding availability, they explained. In their opinion, the problem is not having an agenda, but instead the lack of flexibility needed to recognize that there are multiple paths towards realising the world we want.

FRIDA also has an agenda, advocating for the feminist movement and building a real feminist world, somehow that’s an agenda. Agendas are not a bad thing. The flexibility in what you actually want and how you want to build this world and the invitation to ‘let’s do this together is what I think is different.

Young feminist groups felt flexibility within the philanthropic community allows for movements to remain independent, acting on their own interests and working as they see fit, instead of forcing themselves to implement agendas established by agents disconnected from their realities. It allows grantee partners to focus on long-term change and not exclusively on quantitative short-term outcomes. It grants the space for young feminists to define their priorities and organising strategies:

For organisations like ours that are still figuring out the best approach and improving every year, flexible funding is extremely important to create the best version of our program.

The data conveys grantees’ overall excitement toward participatory grantmaking. By including groups in the decision-making process around who should receive funding, participatory grantmaking invites a more horizontal and accessible partnership between grantee partners and FRIDA. Trust is a novelty in philanthropy where, as a norm, control over results and compliance with technical requirements prevails over empathy for diverse experiences and cultural contexts. For example, an interviewee recounts how, for safety reasons, their group decided to suspend activities for a few weeks after a terrorist attack in their city. A donor threatened to pull their funding because they had suspended activities. The interviewee expressed frustration and disbelief sharing this story. They remarked:

I think that complete distrust of anyone that they’re giving money to is the biggest factor, keeping (Edited to ensure anonymity) organisations from having any sort of participatory decision making.

Several interviewees shared their amazement over how much freedom FRIDA gave them to implement their work. Trust is a value that FRIDA cultivates throughout the grantee journey, and that encourages grantee groups to grow their capacity and leadership. One interviewee shared examples of how FRIDA’s communication encouraged freedom and autonomy:

You can make all the changes you need to do without feeling any obligation to kind of ask permission from us. You don’t need permission from us to change things in the organisation. We know that you know your organisation and your country’s situation the best. And you have all the power to adjust all the changes that are necessary for your organisation. The most important part is to — for you to feel safe enough to do it.

Trust sparks grantee partners’ excitement and sense of responsibility. This grantee partner shared excitement over an email they received from FRIDA:

We received an email mentioning literally that FRIDA considers us the experts in our region and that no one would evaluate the projects better than us! We felt responsible and excited.

One group also expressed that they felt FRIDA’s decision-making process to be horizontal, mirroring how most of them make decisions within their groups. They expressed that this was not the case of other donors they had worked with.

Most funds are not allocated to small organisations but we are grateful to FRIDA because they gave us hope.

This type of communication recognizes grantee partners as knowledge holders and as equals – it cultivates ownership, accountability and motivation.

Because of organization like FRIDA, dreams like our or young feminist dreams are going forward.

The relationship groups establish with FRIDA – in many cases their first donor relationship – has the capacity to create a template for a new generation of donor-grantee culture. In fact, when a group experiences a more horizontal relationship with a donor in which their opinion and feedback is valued, they might be more likely to give feedback and avoid approaching other donors from the position of having less power. Young feminist groups are more likely to raise their voices to make it known when the system is failing them. These abstracts from interviews illustrate this point:

“Interviewer: Would you like to take part in other participatory grantmaking processes by other donors?
Grantee: Yes. I think it’s a model that I’d advocate for. I’m one of the people who believes in changing the narrative about development work in our world today. For me, this is another way to actually look at things. I mean, I really hate the regular funding process and how we have people determining what is important for us based on what serves their agenda. (…) We wish more organisations are using this approach in the funding cause it’s actually changing the development
narrative. it gives people the opportunity to decide what’s important for them.

Another group shared their experience with a funder, stating: “Our needs were neglected. We did not have decision-making power.” After their experience with FRIDA, they now want to manage their funds directly. They conclude: “It was necessary to experience FRIDA first, learn, and later experience another organisation managing resources.” The group shared how they fought for the last year to convince the donor to allow them to manage funds. This shows how groups can grow confidence and feel more emboldened to speak up to donors instead of falling silent for fear of losing funding.

A participatory grantmaking system that doesn’t focus on building trust-based relationships where funders offer holistic support and resource the well-being of the grantee partners can still enforce transactional connections. Organising communities should not only take part in deciding where funding is going but in how funders set overall funding priorities and offer funding in a way that sees and resources collectives’ individual needs.

Opportunities for FRIDA to
reflect and grow

Groups recognize that FRIDA puts a lot of effort into making the grantmaking process available in several languages and that they have worked hard to incorporate advisors who can communicate with groups in their local languages. At the moment, FRIDA offers the opportunity to submit applications in seven languages. Applicants who do not speak one of those languages as their mother tongue, however, may be at a disadvantage when describing their work.

Interviewees recommended that FRIDA explore whether groups can share their applications in other formats while taking into consideration their security and safety. If this is not possible, FRIDA should be transparent with the collectives about this challenge and why a certain format is required.

For many of the groups, FRIDA’s participatory grantmaking was the first time they had any form of relationship with donors and their first time applying for funding. Many had never written a funding proposal before.

Whether they received the funds or not, most groups valued taking part in the participatory decision-making process. However, many would have liked to access the feedback they received from other groups. They expressed that it would be very valuable for them to know what their peers thought of their proposal, as it would help them reflect on their work and potentially improve their applications for future grantmaking rounds. This transparency would help to address the concern that there may be a lack of impartiality when groups know those they are voting for, or vote for applications exclusively because of the region or thematic area in which they work.

Groups recommended that FRIDA might want to observe and consider how applicants compare with one another in the voting process. New or smaller groups might have a harder time articulating what they do and what they hope to accomplish with the funds. FRIDA needs to ensure that these groups receive support when applying. FRIDA should also pay attention to how the voting process is organised to allow these groups to be voted on to receive funding. Both emerging groups and those that are more established have a lot to contribute to their communities and to the feminist movement as a whole; it is important to ensure they are both getting fair chances to receive support.

Some groups also expressed that they would appreciate more support and guidance from FRIDA on the selection and voting process itself, beyond the voting guidelines that they received from FRIDA. For new applicants, the review and voting process is exciting, but many expressed also feeling nervous because they wanted to make sure they did their best and were fair with those groups whose proposals they were reviewing. Most took this responsibility very seriously and felt accountable to those groups, to FRIDA, and to the movement. Thus, providing extra support to those pre-selected groups participating in the voting process, especially those participating for the first time, would be very valuable. Videos, webinars, guides, test voting processes, examples, etc. would all help groups understand the process better and feel more empowered to participate.

Most of the groups that participated in the evaluation agreed that FRIDA’s PGM process sought to be truly participatory and aimed to meaningfully engage them. Groups enjoyed being able to review the applications of other groups and valued being evaluated and selected by other activists in their region. Even though many felt that they were informed in a timely manner about procedures, timelines, and any changes in the process, some groups wished for more clarity on the Peer Review Panel’s role in decision-making.

FRIDA shared with applicants a description of the participatory decision-making stages of their model, yet many groups needed more information about the involvement and role of advisors and FRIDA staff. They wanted to understand how FRIDA manages gaps and supports groups with less access. They recognized that some information might be omitted for security and safety issues – in such cases, FRIDA could develop a clear communication mechanism to ensure transparency.

Young people, and especially those engaged in activism or other social impact work, are often stretched thin with numerous responsibilities and activities and have very limited free time to dedicate to processes like FRIDA’s PGM. Yet, a participatory decision-making process in which young feminists have the opportunity to reclaim their power inevitably requires time, effort and resources. Recognizing this at all levels is crucial. Even though the majority of groups shared that time allocated for the voting process was enough, it might still be a challenge for some.

The meaningful engagement of young feminists in the grantmaking process should ensure that no extra burden is put on them, as this may significantly restrict the ability of some groups to participate. FRIDA incorporates into their regular practices monetary recognitions for the time and effort of young feminists that participate in their processes (i.e., the Peer Review Panel members receive compensation for their time). However, engaging in the participatory grantmaking process and in the review of other proposals, for example, represented for some groups an expense both in time and money.

Taking part in the review process requires internet costs. For some groups, having access to a laptop and to internet access requires significant effort and financial investment. While many groups already have reliable internet connections in their offices or homes, others don’t – accessing the internet can be a significant burden for some. FRIDA advisors also highlighted the limited internet access that some groups have as a potential challenge.

Many groups also found their transportation costs to be a burden. Groups with only one laptop available, for example, opted to meet face-to-face to conduct the process together – this involved travel costs. Although several groups expressed that they tried to take advantage of regular and/or scheduled activities for which they already had allocated a budget, for some this was not an option.

Thus, FRIDA might consider providing financial support for data packages and transportation costs to ensure that groups in hard-to-reach areas are able to fully and meaningfully participate in the process.

Participating groups expressed that one of the aspects that they most valued about FRIDA’s PGM was the possibility to learn more about and engage with other groups. They found reviewing applications inspiring, and felt reassured knowing that other groups recognized their work. Young feminists very much valued the opportunity to connect and engage with other organisations beyond the PGM. As part of the voting process, groups can share if they would like to be connected with any of the other groups. Most of the groups request the opportunity to engage with other feminist groups. It might be interesting to create an online community to facilitate collaboration, exchange, and movement building. This could include not only FRIDA grantee partners but also, with their consent, those applicants that are not selected.

It is often the case that groups may be working on similar issues. Some advisors and applicants alike also proposed the idea that groups working on similar or complementary issues could collaborate on grant applications or initiatives. Finally, interviewees expressed that it was also important for groups that FRIDA supports them in connecting with other donors who may be interested in funding their work.

FRIDA’s grantmaking model in many ways responds to the participatory values that young feminists collectives express in their work and organizing. At the same time, many groups have shared that after learning about FRIDA’s participatory decision-making model they established similar practices within their organization across different decision-making processes including sub-granting. One of the advisors interviewed shared that based on FRIDA’s grantmaking model they found a way to their own participatory grantmaking practice and co-created a participatory feminist fund in their region.

Many advisors and grantee partners have also taken part in participatory grantmaking processes managed by other funders where they got to contribute with their knowledge and experience acquired through FRIDA’s grantmaking process and influence their participatory processes. There is an opportunity for FRIDA to reflect on these practices together with the young feminist community that has been part of its participatory grantmaking process and track the impact of this model within and beyond the context of philanthropy. FRIDA’s model has inspired many to move towards more participatory and collaborative approaches in their work and it is something that FRIDA could engage more thoughtfully with and learn from.

In the evaluation survey, we asked grantee partners whether they were interested in being involved in shaping donors’ funding and advocacy strategies. The answer was a resounding ‘Yes!’ Yet, many grantee partners expressed that they feel too overwhelmed to take part in donors’ conversations and participatory grantmaking practices. Because of limited resources and capacities, they miss opportunities to engage with donors’ processes and are often excluded from participation. Donors interested in meaningfully engaging grassroots groups should invest in building the structures, timelines, and capacity-strengthening opportunities that are needed for communities to take part in these processes.

The feedback about FRIDA’s grantmaking model and grantee support during collective journeys with FRIDA has been overwhelmingly positive. Young feminist collectives, grantee partners, and applicants valued the care and intention that FRIDA dedicates to building relationships with young feminist organizieres and prioritizing the well-being of collectives over outcomes and results. FRIDA’s participatory grantmaking model has been facilitated and a part of the role of one staff member. Since the moment we’ve started this evaluation process, FRIDA has grown in staff, advisory, and grantee partner community and has a stronger structure to commit the time needed to implement this complex funding process. However, with a lack of capacity, the grantmaking staff might not be able to hold all the important pieces of the participatory process and can face burnout and overwhelm. FRIDA needs to think strategically about the capacities needed for the sustainability of their models of support, and evaluate what systems and practices need to be in place to support the staff members in their work and the sustainable transition of knowledge.