“We focus on women at the grassroots, aligning our grant-making strategies and priorities to fit their needs,” says Chandra Alexandre, Global Fund for Women’s Vice-President of Development. The goal is to leverage local knowledge and expertise with donor funds to create system-level change for women in the Global South.
Global Fund for Women is headquartered in San Francisco, but five members of its 41-person staff are in New York, and four more work remotely from various locales. The organization was founded in 1987, and since then has invested in roughly 5,000 grassroots organizations in 175 countries. Its approach encompasses both advocacy and grant-making, with an emphasis on supporting, funding and partnering with women-led groups and movements. According to their website: “Our vision is that every woman and girl is strong, safe, powerful, and heard. No exceptions.”
Chandra Alexandre has been Development VP for over three years, and spoke to me by phone from her office in San Francisco. Alexandre, who is also an Adjunct Professor in the University of San Francisco’s Master of Nonprofit Administration program, has a wide-ranging background. Prior to assuming her position at Global Fund for Women, she was the lead fundraiser at Partners in School Innovation, and has worked in the banking sector and in the U.S. diplomatic corps. Alexandre earned an MBA at San Francisco’s Presidio Graduate School, which focuses on justice and sustainability, and a Ph.D. in Asian & Comparative Studies from the California Institute of Integral Studies.
Alexandre’s doctoral research took her to India, and she says that experience is paying dividends in her current work. “My knowledge gained from living, working, and being with women in India has definitely informed my world view and current position,” she says. “It helped me understand women’s issues globally, and women’s lived reality in the Global South.”
Much of Alexandre’s time is spent talking to people, and not just donors. “Sometimes it’s in-house experts, such as our grants-operation team who are in constant contact with our grantees, and sometimes it’s touching base with an activist board member,” she says. Alexandre also reads grantee reports, and on occasion will go right to the source. “After Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti in 2016, it was me picking up the phone and speaking with one of our grantee partners,” says Alexandre. “It was a statement of solidarity, but also checking on how they were doing. I was trying to see what was happening, and what was most needed.”
Alexandre’s communications with key Global Fund for Women players in the U.S. and overseas enables her to be a conduit of information and perspective about women’s lives in the Global South. “It’s about letting donors know how they can shift the tide in terms of making positive change in women’s lives,” she says.
Global Fund for Women invests in projects of various scales and durations, depending on local needs and conditions on the ground. A major recent initiative was a 2017 partnership focusing on garment workers, undertaken with the NoVo Foundation, C&A Foundation and Gender at Work. The effort is combating gender-based violence and improving working condition for women in major garment-producing countries including India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia.
The aim is to activate local women to become agents of change, with garment workers learning about their rights, acting on those rights, and creating systemic change. The initial round of grants to local organizations were awarded last summer.
Not surprisingly, as Development VP, Alexandre spends an important part of her time cultivating donors. She champions Global Fund for Women’s mission, but also listens to donors, seeing where their interests lie and how these match-up with Global Fund for Women’s programs. She says that some donors are interested in a specific region or country, but many are passionate about an issue like gender-based violence or reproductive health and rights. They want to contribute to change, and trust Global Fund for Women’s expertise and ability to forge relationships with partners and advisors abroad working in these areas.
Alexandre handles donations in the six and seven figures coming from individuals, institutions, and private and corporate foundations. She says that 84 percent of funds go directly to fund programs. Global Fund for Women has over 10,000 donors, so in addition to the major sums, there are many smaller one-time and recurring donations. Global Fund for Women also responds to emergencies, such as the earthquakes in Haiti in 2010 and Nepal in 2015. “We know that when humanitarian organizations respond to crises, the needs of women and girls are often last in line,” she says.
Global Fund for Women’s staff are always in motion, whether on the programming or donor side. “As a public foundation we’re constantly fund-raising. Unlike a private foundation, we don’t have a regular draw against an endowment to rely on to support the whole of our grant-making and advocacy efforts,” says Alexandre. Global Fund for Women’s operating budget is projected to hit $25 million annually by 2020, and in the 2017 fiscal year it awarded ten million dollars in grants, the most ever in the organization’s thirty-plus year history. Global Fund for Women funds new initiatives, but is also aware that past gains can disappear. “We are placing a real emphasis on resistance,” says Alexandre. “We don’t want to see a rollback on women’s gains in areas such as education or reproductive rights.”
Alexandre notes that Donald Trump’s election has spurred activism in the U.S. around women’s issues. While this is laudable, the downside is that mobilizing against the Trump agenda domestically may cause one to forget about the status of women outside the U.S. “Increasing awareness is key,” say Alexandre, suggesting that not just Global Fund for Women, but the women’s human rights sector overall needs more exposure and funding. “We need to support communities in the U.S.,” says Alexandre, “but we also need to look at global issues and stand in solidarity with our sisters in the Global South.”