Girls and young feminists bring incredible organising power, creativity, and courage to their activism, working tirelessly to create change in every corner of the world. They are often doing this at great risk to their safety, health, and well-being, and with minimal resourcing (less than 1 per cent of global funding). Recently we’ve seen this with the girls and young feminists who are leading protests in response to the death of Mahsa Amina in Iran, those fighting the impact that racism, poverty, and colonialism is having on the planet (their resistance has already resulted in cutting emissions from some of the largest contributors to Climate Crisis: US and Canada), and girls resisting genital cutting in Sierra Leone.
As funders, it’s taken us mighty long to recognise and honour the ways girls and young feminists organise and to show up for them in ways that are authentic and less donor-driven. As the With and For Girls Collective, we have been learning to show up with the same organising power, creativity, and courage in the ways in which we move resources to their activism and advocate with our funder colleagues to do the same.
It is in that spirit that the With and For Girls Collective (WFG — Collective) recently launched its first learning and advocacy agenda, with the intention to make our own institutions more accountable in our funding to girls and young feminists and reorganise power to drive more and better resources to their politicized work. The agenda challenges us to deepen our own learning and internal accountability practices and mechanisms, forcing us to first focus inward on what we can do to centre girls and young feminists in decision-making to meet their needs and support their dreams. From our own institutional commitments and transformation, we are then able to turn outward, sharing our learning and inspiring others to step up to the challenge and be part of the movements that are remaking a better world for us all.
Going deeper by centring girl and young feminist activists
Developing this agenda came at a critical moment in the history of the WFG-Collective, which both reflects its legacy and the global moment we are in. The Collective was launched in 2014, established as an awards program for girl-led and centred organizations at a time when there were very few funders centring girls, especially organizations led by girls and women from the communities where they work. In its first five years, it played an important role in recognizing and giving awards to girl-centred organizations for their brilliant work and demonstrating the power of their activism and efforts on public stages and spaces. Five years later, we knew it was time to go deeper, both in our ability to reach girl-led and centred organizations and in our commitment to shifting the philanthropic sector.
Looking at our own funding history, we recognised that we had moved a lot of resources in the name of girls, but not always into the critical ways girls lead work in their communities. While organisations were receiving resources, girls were not necessarily in control of those resources and adult allies leading this work often went unrecognised in the process. In order to reach girl-led organisations, we needed to build a more robust infrastructure that could meet the ways in which they are working. By separating the activities of the With and For Girls Fund and the With and For Girls Collective, we have moved with a deep intentionality to fund work that girls and young feminists truly lead, with flexible, multi-year commitments and in ways that can reach the informal and formal work girl and young feminist activists are doing, as well as continuing to recognise and fund critical intergenerational work.
We also wanted to change the ways in which we approached the spaces we had created in the name of girls and young feminists to be more accountable to them, their work, and ways of organising. Through deepening our commitment to philanthropic advocacy and organising as a Collective, we have created an opportunity for members to learn together how to transform our own practices and use our influence and power in philanthropy to organise and transform the sector so that it is more accountable to girls and young feminists.
Our strength comes in the diversity of entry points that bring us to funding girls and young feminists, from children’s rights to women’s rights to feminist philanthropy to youth rights and beyond. Girls and young feminists unite our work because they show up across every sector and movement. In other words, no matter what sector or issue or population a funder focuses on, girls and young feminists are relevant to their strategies and work because of the intersectional and cross-movement ways in which girls and young feminists organize, strategize, and power social transformation. Regardless of how the members arrive at the decision to fund this work, we all bring a common commitment and accountability to moving resources to girls and young feminists. Because, we all know that if we do not use our power, we will not be able to achieve sustainable systemic change. As Audre Lorde’s wisdom reminds us: ’Power that is not used is dangerous because power is never quiescent; it’s never neutral. If I do not use my power, however relative it is; if I do not find out what it is and learn how to use it, someone else is using it. The power you do not use is being used against us, against me, against our children, against our world.’
Transforming the philanthropic sector through collective learning, advocacy and organising
The philanthropic sector exists because of inequality and exploitation fueled by a colonial legacy which is clearly noticeable when we take a look at the largest and most powerful philanthropic institutions in the world. It is also visible when we look at the way in which funding is not reaching communities that have and continue to be marginalized and experience multiple forms of oppression. Recognising that the systemic change needed in the sector is only possible through collective organising efforts, as a Collective, we have been working together in creative, vulnerable, and community-centred ways with girls and young feminists. As Sandile Ndelu, Advocacy Manager at FRIDA | Young Feminist Fund — a WFGC member, reflects: ’Donor organising enables feminist funds to build power through pooling resources, building knowledge, sharing experiences, leveraging relationships and collectivising action for the benefit of the feminist ecosystem. When funds are organised, not only are they able to move more and better resources to the movement faster and more effectively, but they are also able to act as a formidable counterweight against the regressive forces that are threatening the movement’s gains.’
Donor organising has been essential in breaking silos and rooting our efforts in ways that are generative for the ecosystem and transform our common interests into concrete action. It also allows us to move money beyond our own organizational priorities as we know that people’s lives and needs — in a rapidly and constantly changing world- do not follow neat logic models Coco Jervis from Mama Cash -a WFGC member- reflects: ’Throughout all our work we are dedicated to forging strong partnerships based on respect, trust and solidarity as well as building knowledge and networks to strengthen movements and inspire donors to deepen their support of feminist movements. This is why we were excited to help shape the With and For Girls Collective from the start, taking what was just an idea at the time and collaborating with peer funders to channel our shared interest into concrete action and more accessible resources for girls organising around the world. This type of donor organising, when done well and aligned with the priorities of movements themselves, enables us as donors to move beyond our organisational silos and advance a common agenda to — hopefully — bring about more just and joyful communities and futures for us all.’
Our role and responsibility is to ensure we are working in ways that are relevant to the needs and context of girls and young feminists. This requires us, as funders, to be constantly learning from and with each other, and girls and young activists, and to be vulnerable about our own limitations and the challenges we face in philanthropy. Based on the history of philanthropy and the ways in which it is exclusionary and often built on a culture of perfection and performance, funders aren’t often vulnerable together and certainly not externally or with partners. Therefore, there are few spaces where funders can truly learn together and transform their practices. As a Collective, we’ve set out to create a space where funders can be vulnerable and learn from each other’s experiences. We are also intentional about cultivating opportunities for funders and activists to be in dialogue with each other. We know this is easier said than done but we have found commitment and camaraderie in the Collective partners and a willingness to experiment and learn together.
Learning together, sharing risks, holding ourselves accountable to girls and young feminists, and experimenting outside of the Collective has already transformed Collective members’ funding practices of accountability mechanisms. As our Collective member, Global Fund For Children, shares ’When we know that other funders are creatively experimenting to eliminate barriers to getting funding to young people and opening space for them to influence the sector, each of us is encouraged to go further. During our time as a member of the Collective, we were inspired to form a youth advisory council, carry out a participatory evaluation with young women, hold space for an adolescent girls’ summit, start funding unregistered groups, and launch the Spark Fund, a youth-led participatory grantmaking fund. When we intentionally organize as donors, we open the door for ourselves and others to examine our practices, let go of control, and center girls and youth as actors in movements with their own visions and dreams to bring to life.’
Most importantly, donor organising has unlocked resources for girls and young feminists. The Global Resilience Fund is an example of the power of donor organising in the midst of crisis — bringing together many members of the WFG Collective as well as other funders across the ecosystem to resource girl and young feminists at the forefront of COVID-19 response efforts. Fueled by the Global Resilience Fund (GRF) and With and For Girls Fund members, we have moved over $5M to more than 500 girls and young feminist grassroot groups — both registered and unregistered- in the past 5 years. This also provides more evidence of how combining our resources results in further reaching girls and young feminists. For some, this is about sharing risk and an infrastructure that is built around the needs of girls and young feminists. Many funders are not able to fund unregistered groups or lower other barriers such as due diligence, application processes, and reporting requirements, which are necessary for funding most girl and young feminist-led groups. For others, girls and/or young feminist may not be an institutional priority, but the With and For Girls Fund becomes a place where Collective members can move resources to girls and young feminists and learn about their work. By pooling our resources and sharing risk, more resources can flow in ways that are critical, not only to the work led by girls and young feminist, but their whole communities.
‘While we are currently developing our own philanthropic advocacy strategy and are constantly on a learning journey, we have heard a clear call from our partners, including the With and For Girls Collective, that it is our responsibility as a funder to share our intersectional, feminist grantmaking principles with the sector to unlock more and better resources for feminist movements including girls, gender expansive youths, and young feminists. We believe in donor organizing and influencing that truly centres, uplifts, is accountable to movements every step of the way, and has the potential to strengthen the feminist funding ecosystem (at every level — local, regional, global). Donor organizing is also an opportunity for us at FJS to examine our own positionality as private donors within the philanthropic system, learn from other feminist donors, and evolve our own practices and thinking to be more feminist, just, intersectional, and inclusive. So much more becomes possible when we collectively challenge each other to be better. This means deeply listening, learning, and taking action in community which is what the Collective is about and why FJS is committed to engaging and contributing across teams and alongside its members and allies’ — Juliana Velez, Rophiat Bello, Rebecca Reeve, Foundation for a Just Society
‘One of the core values that guides Global Fund for Women’s work is collaboration. As a feminist fund, we believe that we make progress together, not alone. For donors, building trust, solidarity, and partnership for gender justice is crucial and enables us to work collectively toward a similar agenda and to advocate for deeper investment in the field. Organizing is a way to ensure quality funding reaches those most affected by injustice. By coming together, we have the unique opportunity to influence, fundraise, and increase our potential impact so that more and better funding is directed towards girls (cis, transgender, and gender nonconforming, intersex), young people and intergenerational groups and movements. I believe that sharing our reflections, learnings and evaluations with other donors will help us better track our individual and collective work and be truly responsive to the priorities and needs of grassroots organizations and social movements. Global Fund for Women is involved in a range of learning partnerships and donor collaboratives, including the Women’s Funds Learning Cohort, GEF Feminist Accountability, and the Advocacy and Learning working Group of the With and For Girls Collective.’ — Aissata Sall, Global Fund For Women
As an ecosystem, we acknowledge that it’s not just funding girls or nothing; there are many ways of being in community with girls and young feminists that extend beyond funding and are supporting for them to receive other resources and access they need. We hold a strong responsibility to facilitate other forms of nurturing and holding spaces that allow girls and young feminists to be seen, heard, and funded to thrive. We commit ourselves to learn with and from girls and young feminists, questioning our norms in order to truly be in community with them.
We are building on the legacy of feminists supporting girls and young feminists in their communities for centuries, often without resources. We can no longer continue to benefit and celebrate how ‘little’ it takes to do girls’ work. We must be willing to show up for them in generous ways that break cycles of scarcity. As Dr. Ramatu Bangura rightly says, ‘we must fund girls and young feminists like we want them to win’.
Jody Myrum works across movements, organizations and philanthropy to centre girls and young feminists and to move resources and power to those working to build their collective power. Purity Kagwiria is a feminist activist and a storyteller based in Nairobi, Kenya, as well as the Director of the With and For Girls Fund and Collective.
This article was first published by Purposeful on 10 October 2022. It is being re-shared in Alliance with permission.