Alliance@PND

Through an agreement with UK-based Alliance magazine, PND is pleased to be able to offer a series of articles about global philanthropy.

Shifting the Power in a Feminist Funding Ecosystem

Shifting the Power in a Feminist Funding Ecosystem

Feminist movements are blazing a path toward justice and creating feminist realities in every part of the world. The resources supporting these movements should be as significant and transformative as their organizing.

Latest figures from Candid show that while 5 percent of foundation giving in 2016 ($4.3 billion) identified "women and girls" as a target population, just $492 million went to "women’s rights." This means that only 11 percent of funding for women and girls (and 0.6 percent of overall grants) is reaching rights-based organizing led for and by communities themselves.

This meagre proportion is consistent with other major funding sectors, where rhetoric for supporting women and girls is not matched by actual funding.

This needs to change. Funders must use their power to resource feminist organizing and create a feminist funding ecosystem. 

Defining a feminist funding ecosystem

An ecosystem starts with the simple principle that we are all interconnected. A feminist funding ecosystem reveals a web of connectivity between movements, funders, and larger funding flows and makes a fundamental distinction between direct funding — money that reaches movements — and money that could reach movements but does not. Most importantly, it points to the power that different actors hold to contribute to a more balanced, thriving ecosystem where feminist movements are equal partners in defining priorities. In such an ecosystem, funders directly support feminist movements and use their power to change their practices and the larger ecosystem.

The role of feminist philanthropy

Philanthropic giving is a key revenue source for feminist work.

Human rights funders granted more than $2.8 billion in 2016 alone. According to a 2013 AWID report, foundations and women's funds accounted for one-fifth of all income reported by women's rights organizations (WROs), with feminist women's funds playing an especially pivotal role reaching feminist groups across issues and regions. Individual donors also support feminist movements, providing nearly 10 percent of the income reported by WROs in 2013.

There are contradictions that need to be resolved, however, when it comes to philanthropic support for a feminist funding ecosystem.

First, the roots of philanthropy are tangled. Accumulated wealth benefits from and exacerbates inequality, and favorable tax regimes allow money that otherwise might go to the public fisc to remain in private hands. In an ecosystem, this bigger picture cannot be ignored.

Second, funding is often "siloed," with money allocated to specific issues that ignores the richness and efficacy of cross-issue organizing.

Lasty, philanthropy is more than grants. According to a 2018 study of global philanthropy, private foundations' assets exceed $1.5 trillion, of which just 10 percent is paid out annually in the form of grants. These pools of unallocated resources are increasingly coming under scrutiny, especially around how and whether they are aligned with the values espoused by institutions holding them.

Charting a path forward

While there is much to do, the following recommendations provide a snapshot of ways philanthropic funders can contribute to a truly transformative feminist funding ecosystem:

  • provide core, flexible, and multiyear support directly to feminist movements;
  • find ways to fund the full range of feminist organizing;
  • learn from women's funds' approaches and recognize women's funds as key to reaching local, national, and regional feminist movements, particularly in the Global South;
  • bring on board peer funders that could support feminist movements but currently are not;
  • align one's investment practices with one's organizational goals and values; and
  • explicitly support work to democratize and decentralize wealth, combat economic inequality, and move what should be public money back into the hands of the public.

Kellea Miller (kmiller@awid.org) is manager for feminist resourcing at the Association for Women's Rights in Development(AWID). The author wishes to thank Rochelle Jones and Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah at AWID and Inga Ingulfsen at Candid for their contribution to this article. For an extended discussion of the topic, see AWID's report Toward a Feminist Funding Ecosystem at https://tinyurl.com/AWID-report.