A giant breakthrough has happened for women’s funds and feminist approaches to social change. The Women’s Funding Network, the world’s largest network of foundations investing in women and girls, has announced receiving $1.69 million in grant funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This funding will be used to establish “a cohort of ten women’s foundations whose collaborative efforts will be harnessed to increase women’s economic mobility in their communities,” according to a press release announcing the new funding.
This funding could not have come at a more auspicious time. Women’s funds and gender lens grantmaking are a tiny but fast-expanding segment of philanthropy, and this historically large grant will put the peddle to the metal for accelerating feminist approaches to social change.
“We are delighted to partner with the foundation on this important initiative which gives us the opportunity to support and evaluate the strategies, partnerships, and programs that move women out of poverty and into prosperity,” said Women’s Funding Network President and CEO Cynthia Nimmo. “Our experience in creating and leading cohorts of women’s foundations to share insight over the course of a long-term project has proven to increase the effectiveness of all involved. This grant enables us to take our impact to the next level by working across ten states and testing a multi-layered approach for economic mobility.”
For those of us following the upward trajectory of feminist giving, this funding is further proof of the added value that women’s funds and foundations provide in the philanthropy realm. As powerful stakeholders in community organizing, women’s funds are often key conveners, bringing together business, nonprofit, and government stakeholders to create social change. Women’s funds also take an intersectional approach, and engage the community with participatory practices. “For decades, [women’s funds] have invested in women-led solutions to improve communities with a deep focus on economic security,” said Nimmo, when discussing the value-added approach that women’s funds take.
This new funding from the Gates Foundation will take place over a two-year period. During that time, WFN and the foundation will “work closely” with the ten women’s funds identified as the cohort for this project.
While Melinda Gates has branched out on her own to do $1 billion worth of work on gender lens investing and grantmaking over the next decade, this funding from the Gates Foundation is in addition that work, and adds significantly to the amount of funding for gender equality coming from the Gates’s as a couple. This new funding for WFN shows how the Gates Foundation is taking a more systemic approach to addressing gender disparities, particularly in the U.S. It also suggests that, along with Melinda Gates’s independent work, the Gates’s as a couple are being more heavily influenced by her interest in expanding gender lens work.