Gender Takes Center Stage in New Round of Systems Change Grants

Co-Impact—a philanthropic collaborative supporting health, education, and economic development in the Global South—currently has an “Open Call for Systems Change Grants.” Submissions are open until March 31, 2020, and this round of grants will place particular emphasis on gender equity.

A participant in the Young Women Leadership Program explains the parts of the Central Processing Unit in Bihar, India.
(Photo Credit: Paula Bronstein/The Verbatim Agency/Getty Images)

The “Co” in Co-Impact’s name points to its belief in collaboration and cooperation between funders and program partners including local communities, nonprofits, governments, and businesses. Co-Impact aims to enable sustained macro-level change, and it identifies and supports “a portfolio of pathbreaking systems change opportunities, investing over the long-term to help address obstacles and limitations in unjust systems that hamper human progress.” Co-Impact is dedicated to building a network, rather than a portfolio of discrete, single-donor funded projects:

According to Co-Impact:

Each grant we make creates an opportunity for others to co-invest, and we work to build a wider community of additional funders and partners to learn and work along with us. By collaborating, and creating a platform for others to join, Co-Impact and its partners seek to achieve far more together than any one actor could do alone.

Co-Impact was founded in 2017, and is a collaborative partnership by Olivia Leland, founding director of The Giving Pledge, and partners including Richard Chandler, Bill and Melinda Gates, Jeff Skoll, The Rockefeller Foundation, and Rohini and Nandan Nilekani. Co-Impact has offices in New York, London and Zurich, and is a fiscally sponsored project of New Venture Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(3) public charity supporting “innovative and effective public interest projects.”

Co-Impact’s latest round of grantmaking will place special emphasis on gender and systems change. (Image Credit: Co-Impact)

Co-Impact does not try to duplicate direct-service work being done by particular NGOs, nor does it try to be all things to all people; instead, it emphasizes “one aspect that is both critical to achieving shared outcomes and can exert a powerful leverage or fulcrum effect on other parts of the system.” As such, Co-Impact supports a limited number of organizations and coalitions “with proven ideas that are already benefiting tens of thousands of people.” In its handbook, Co-Impact outlines the importance of listening: to differing views, to peers in the philanthropic field, to data and evidence, to program and government partners, and, most importantly, to program beneficiaries.

Co-Impact’s new round of systems change initiatives highlights women-led organizations. Under its Round 3 Open Call for Concepts, each systems change grant will be worth approximately $10-25 million over 5 years, plus an initial $500,000 design grant “to develop a rigorous strategy for systems change.” Co-Impact will also provide support for learning, adaptation, and organizational strengthening.

In early 2019, Co-Impact made its first round of grants, with $80 million to improve the lives of nine million people in Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. The second-round grantees will be announced in early 2021. The third (and current) round of design grants will be selected by the end of 2020, and systems change grants will be announced in early 2022.

In its new round of grants, Co-Impact is stressing the importance of gender equity, inclusion and intersectionality, and states, “We look to uphold the rights of women and girls in how we partner with and support program partners – in areas such as understanding problems, setting strategies, governance, assessing progress, recruiting and strengthening leadership, and incorporating feedback.” According to Sara Husseini, Ph.D., Manager of Communications and External Affairs in Co-Impact’s London office, “This round, we have an even more resolute focus on gender equity and women’s leadership, including a goal to ensure that at least 50% of the initiatives we support are substantively led by women (and also that 100% are rooted in the Global South regions, countries and systems they seek to transform).”

The grants must explicitly address gender discrimination and the barriers girls and women face in being heard, setting agendas and making choices. Specifically, program partners will need to address the role of gender in problem analysis, program design, outcomes definition, and measurement. To this end, grantees will need to address gender discrimination at a fundamental level and incorporate it into project goals and design, and how outcomes are understood and measured. Other key points include the gender composition of program leadership and how the organization can be strengthened, notably by incorporating a gender lens.


Philanthropy Women covers funding for gender equity in all sectors of society. We want to significantly shift public discourse, particularly in philanthropy, toward increased action for gender equality. You can support our work and access unlimited and premium content with one of our subscriptions.

In The News

Author: Tim Lehnert

Tim Lehnert is a writer and editor who lives in Cranston, Rhode Island. His articles and essays have appeared in the Boston Globe, the Providence Journal, Rhode Island Monthly, the Boston Herald, the Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere. He is the author of the book Rhode Island 101, and has published short fiction for kids and adults in a number of literary journals and magazines. He received an M.A. in Political Science from McGill University, and an M.A. in English from California State University, Northridge.

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