Girl Power: Helping Empower Teen Girls in Grantmaking

Girls participate in the WFG-funded Unearth storytelling project. (Image credit: BRAVE)

“Too few girls have the chance to make decisions about any aspect of their lives – whether they can stay in school, whether and what they can study, when or who they marry, accessing health care, and if and where they can see friends,” Swatee Deepak, director of With and For Girls (WFG) says. WFG is a funding collaborative that seeks to shift the scales of power in teen girls’ favor. It gives financial support to girl-led and -centered groups around the world and engages young women in participatory grantmaking panels. This means, every year, former winning organizations train teen girls to choose the next prize recipients. As we’ve pointed out, girls and young women ages 10 to 24 make up 12.5% of the world’s population — around 900 million people total. But, less than 2 cents of every international aid dollar goes to campaigns directed toward girls in this age group.

Deepak says working with girls to address this gap is a worthwhile endeavor for funders. “Though meaningfully engaging girls in decision-making takes time, the learning, insights and benefits for us as well-known funders have been incomparable to other forms of grantmaking. Observing the critical analysis and contextualization of issues and approaches amongst 16-year-olds in the girls’ grantmaking panels blows you away.”

Putting Girls in the Grantmaking Seat

WFG awards grants in five regions; Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, the American continent and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa. It gives out flexible annual awards ranging from $5,000 to $50,000, depending on the budgets of winning organizations, along with other grants and supports. So far, it has awarded close to $3 million to 60 girl-led and girl-centered groups in 41 countries.

In October 2019, panels of adolescent girls between the ages of 14 and 18 from each of the served regions will meet to interview shortlisted organizations for the annual WFG award. The panels will choose up to 25 new winning groups.

WFG’s members are EMpower, FRIDA, Mama Cash, NoVo Foundation, Plan International UK, Comic Relief, Stars Foundation, the Global Fund for Children, Nike Foundation, Purposeful (the Collective’s current convening partner) and, as of July 2019, the Global Fund for Women.

Purposeful is a grassroots-based organization and movement building hub for teen girls headquartered in Freetown, Sierra Leone. As previously reported on Inside Philanthropy, Purposeful carries out research, convening, participatory grantmaking for girls, and media campaigns. Before moving to Purposeful in 2018, WFG was housed at the private Stars Foundation since it launched in 2014. We asked Deepak how the transition to Purposeful was going. She says it’s “been an incredible journey so far.”

“WFG and Purposeful have such aligned missions and new ways of doing things; collaborative, participatory decision-making, amplifying girls’ voices and, with Purposeful’s unique Global South-led and locally rooted approach, I see so much opportunity for continuing to carve a bold new path that our sector is so desperately looking for,” she says.

New Grants in the WFG Pipeline

WFG is launching three new grants this year. The first is the Visibility Fund, which will pay for current award winners’ travels to global events, peer spaces and conferences. Deepak says this fund aims to ensure “grassroots girl leaders have the space, opportunity and platform” to share stories, access resources and find new connections and partners.

The second new fund is the Collaborative Action Fund. It provides opportunities for winners to engage in cross-sector and cross-border partnerships. Deepak says it is “a game-changer, and I want every funder to give their grantees information and contact details of other grantees, and funding to collaborate!”

One example of a team effort this fund already supports is the Unearth Project by BRAVE in South Africa, GlobalGirl Media in the U.S. and the Samburu Girls Foundations in Kenya. These organizations are using $15,000 from WFG to find, train and support Kenyan girls in becoming storytellers and advocates, both on behalf of their teen communities and for African wildlife. Participating girls will create multimedia narratives centering on issues like child marriage, education, female genital mutilation (FGM), sexual violence and reproductive health care.

“Since joining Unearth in late April, I have united with my sisters from across Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania in fighting against early marriage, [FGM] and beading,” Lekaasia, a 17-year-old Unearth participant, says. And, in partnership with Save the Elephants, the young women will receive education and training related to anti-poaching efforts, conflicts between wildlife and humans, and conservation practices. Lekaasia has learned about “access to clean water for both girls and wildlife, and employing more women in conservation jobs like rangers, researchers, even conservancy owners and managers.”

The third new grant is an opportunity for a secondary round of financial support. With girls again positioned as decision makers, previous winners will be chosen to receive additional flexible funding.

Ramatu Bangura, NoVo program officer, explains the benefits and importance of backing participatory grantmaking for teen girls. “We need girls’ perspectives if we are to dismantle all that comes with patriarchy, and we cannot do that until they have the freedom and power to make decisions that matter to us all. We are a member of [WFG] because we want to be in better practice of listening to and learning from girls. We want to support a philanthropic sector that does the same.”

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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.    

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Author: Julia Travers

I often cover innovations in science, the arts and social justice. Find my work with NPR, Discover Magazine, APR and Earth Island Journal, among other publications. My portfolio is at jtravers.journoportfolio.com.

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