What Can $20 Million Do For Women’s Funds Internationally?

Four private U.S. Foundations—Foundation for a Just Society, Open Society Foundations, Wellspring, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation Philanthropic Fund—have recently announced that they are joining forces to provide $20 million to women’s funds internationally.

BANGKOK, THAILAND: Neeramol Sutipannapong, a home-based worker, stitches a variety of hand bags and other products to help support her family. (Hewlett Foundation “Images of Empowerment.” Photo by Reportage by Getty Images.)

The $20 million investment was designed in consultation with women’s funds, and the five-year initiative will help the funds maximize their impact in promoting gender equity. “The resources of philanthropies have not always reached enough feminist activists, who we know are leading social change and driving gender equity. To solve this problem, we need to democratize philanthropy,” says Joy Chia, program officer with the Women’s Rights Program at Open Society Foundations. “This means putting more resources in the hands of women’s funds, who are well-placed to equip feminist movements, advocates, and innovators in the field with the tools to sustain change.”

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To get the ball rolling, Prospera International Network of Women’s Funds conducted a needs assessment with its members. They shared this knowledge with the collaborative of the Hewlett Foundation, Open Society, and Wellspring Philanthropic Advisors, which were soon joined by Foundation for a Just Society.

Alfonsina Peñaloza, program officer at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, says that in 2018 the Foundation had new funds available to help advance women’s economic equality in low- and middle-income countries, but wanted to strengthen the infrastructure and internal capacities of organizations working in this area, rather than funding already existing programs. Moreover, the Dutch and Canadian governments have also recently made grants to women’s organizations and movements internationally, and Peñaloza argues, “Addressing institutional issues will be critical to make the most of these new resources and ensure sustainability of the field as a whole.”

LIMA, PERU Hewlett Foundation “Images of Empowerment.” (Photo by Reportage by Getty Images.)

The $20 million is intended to have a long-term impact in the field of gender equity globally. While the funds will be used over the course of five years, the effects are expected to be felt for a decade or more. Hewlett Foundation program officer Alfonsina Peñaloza says that in ten years she sees the following potential outcomes:

• Individual women’s funds are stronger and better resourced to fund feminist movements nationally, regionally and globally;
• Women’s funds are better positioned collectively to attract more resources due to investments in institutional building;
• The world knows more and has more evidence about what women’s funds do, how and why they are so important to the movement for the rights of women, girls, and LGBTQI people;
• Private philanthropy increases funding towards women’s funds and adopts some of the feminist philanthropy practices from women’s funds.

The initiative’s fiscal sponsor is New Venture Fund, which will receive help from Arabella Advisors, a philanthropic consulting firm, in providing guidance and administrative support to the women’s funds.

“Women’s funds have been able to do so much already on limited budgets and restricted resources,” said Wellspring Philanthropic Fund program officer Betsy Hoody. “It’s exciting to think about what’s possible if they have the resources to invest in their own leaders and organizations.” Wellspring Philanthropic Fund (WPF) is a private grant-making foundation dedicated to advancing human rights and social and economic justice through domestic and international grant-making.

Similarly, Nicky McIntyre, CEO of Foundation for a Just Society (FJS), states, “We’re hopeful that the initiative will show the many ways women’s funds advance the rights of women, girls, and LGBTQI people in the communities where they work—and how much more they can do in the years ahead.” Foundation for a Just Society advances the rights of women, girls, and LGBTQI people and promotes gender and racial justice with an emphasis on Francophone West Africa, Mesoamerica, South and Southeast Asia, and the US Southeast.

THIES, SENEGAL: Women working at a millet factory as an income generating activity. (Hewlett Foundation “Images of Empowerment.” Photo by Jonathan Torgovnik/Reportage by Getty Images.)

Kavita N. Ramdas, Director of the Open Society Foundations’ Women’s Rights Program, sees her organization contribution as “part of an ambitious, multi-donor effort to build the resilience of feminist activism and movements around the world.” The Open Society Foundations are the world’s largest private funder of independent groups working for justice, democratic governance, and human rights, and support projects in over 120 countries.

William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (WFHF) program officer Alfonsina Peñaloza highlights the role of women’s funds in educating other philanthropic organizations. “I’m particularly excited that we—and other private foundations—will have the opportunity to learn from women’s funds about how we can adapt our own practices to better support their work and feminist movements.” The WFHF is a nonpartisan, private charitable foundation that for more than 50 years has supported advancing education for all, preserving the environment, improving lives and livelihoods in developing countries, promoting the health and economic well-being of women, and making the philanthropy sector more effective.

The first grants will be made in the first half of 2020 with the expectation that the initiative will continue through December 2024. At the end of five years, the donors will commission and publish a third-party evaluation of the initiative that will include recommendations for further action.

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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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