FRIDA enters into dialogue with current and prospective grantee partner groups from a place of friendliness and approachability.
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.
“FRIDA is one of the few funds that truly uses all the feedback received and in the next year it is already considered.”
“FRIDA is also quite responsive; they are always available to answer our queries.”
“We also felt that the communication is very personal and cared for, which we appreciate a lot.”
FRIDA places more attention on the well-being of the group itself than on what they deliver.
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:
“We want to grow to create a solid ground for our organisation. (…) This is to ensure the rights of the people we’re working with and to make sure that the values that we’re trying to demonstrate to the world are demonstrated within our organisation. So (FRIDA’s capacity development grant) is also helping us expand”.
“Throughout the years we sort of became stronger as an organisation, and FRIDA really helped us to strengthen our capacities. We used the grant we received in the last 5 years to have better procedures in the organisation, to consider having help from consultants, in strengthening organisational structure.”
FRIDA effectively accompanies grantee partners in their organisational development journey. In doing so, it becomes an important dance partner as groups discover their internal culture, self-visioning and direction.
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 with managing small funds and understanding the grant cycle makes it more possible for grantee partners to apply to 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.”
FRIDA supports unregistered groups.
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.
FRIDA provides greater flexibility – as a principle, flexibility contributes to improving philanthropic culture overall.
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.
“I think that many donors, they end up asking for very close (pre-established and inflexible) projects, and stuff that they believe are the stuff that young feminists should do. And I think that having freedom to choose your own priorities and to choose what you will work with and in which way you will work, how you will make your stuff, is very important to keep our movements independent.”
“Do you know that anxiety that you get when you get funding? And then you’re worried about how you’re going to utilise it, are you going to do the right thing? Are you getting in trouble? I didn’t feel that with FRIDA, honestly. Especially because of the voting process.”
“I don’t ever recall a complicated thing as part of our relationship with FRIDA. To be honest, I don’t know if that is because it’s a small grant. In general, regardless of the amount of the fund, the relationship with FRIDA was so horizontal. It was never a vertical donor-partner or donor- grantee type of relationship. Rather than that, it’s a good and horizontal relationship with a partner. The process is usually easy.”
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.”
Grantee partners feel trusted in their interactions with FRIDA.
The data conveys grantees’ overall excitement towards 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:
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 b 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 support for the well-being of the collective is a transactional connection. 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.