Stand With Women. Stand With Us.
Tell us more about the mission and funding of the Global Fund for Women.
We are both a grant-maker and a global advocate for women’s rights. We invest in local courageous women and women-led organizations and create digital advocacy campaigns on critical global issues for women and girls. We make the greatest impact for women’s rights when we focus on the issues that make a vital difference for women and girls. When women and girls are free from the fear of violence—when they are empowered and when they control decisions about their own bodies—they soar.
How do you do your funding? Please describe your organization’s approach and process, explaining how it is different from conventional philanthropy.
We continue to defend and expand hard-won gains in women’s rights by focusing on three critical areas: zero violence, economic and political empowerment, and sexual and reproductive health and rights.
We rely on community-based decision making and focus on general operational support grants, which means that we’re trusting that women on the ground know best. It’s a more sustainable change model. The social change that we’re looking for happens when the solutions come from the community.
Global Fund uses technology, education, and leadership to achieve our mission. For instance, access to education gives women the ability to know their human rights and to enjoy full economic participation. Technology helps women organize and mobilize to change laws that will criminalize violence against women. Women’s leadership will advance women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights.
How did your organization come to practice philanthropy in this way?
The Global Fund for Women was founded in Palo Alto California by three bold women: Anne Firth Murray, Founding President, Frances Kissling, and Laura Lederer. The three were convinced that women’s human rights and dignity were essential to global social, economic and political change. Frustrated by traditional philanthropy’s lack of interest in funding women’s groups and human rights, they forged a new path, founding an organization that would fund women-led organizations directly, giving women the freedom and flexibility to determine their own needs.
Founding member Anne Firth Murray served as the Global Fund for Women Founding President from 1986 to 1996. The first grants in 1988 totaled $30,000. By 1996 grantmaking had grown to $1.2 million.
Kavita Ramdas became CEO in 1996, serving until 2010. Under Kavita’s leadership the Global Fund experienced unprecedented growth. Grantmaking surpassed $8 million. Musimbi Kanyoro joined the organization in 2011 – a pivotal time when we embarked on a new strategic direction to support women’s leadership and women-led solutions. In 2012 Global Fund surpassed the $100 million mark in grantmaking. In 2013, our 25th anniversary year, Global Fund added a stronger component of learning, monitoring and evaluation.
In March 2014, Global Fund for Women and the International Museum of Women – IMOW – merged to create a bold force for women’s human rights. The merger brings together IMOW’s skills in awareness raising, online advocacy and digital storytelling with Global Fund on-the-ground relationships and grant-making activities with women leaders and women’s rights organizations around the world.
After 25 years, the Global Fund has a helicopter view of women’s movements, seeing both the opportunities and the gaps. We use this unique perspective and our connections on the ground, including connections with organization we may have known for more than two decades, to make our funding decisions.
This collaborative approach, with our connections and in-house regional experts, allowed us to support women’s organizations in Egypt with general operations grants during the revolution, so they could continue to do their world-changing work.
Though the Global Fund has changed with the times, the philosophy of our founders has remained – that women are the best agents of change in their communities and giving them the resources to do their work can change the world.
Have you ever been met with resistance or criticism when using this type of funding? What specifically were the concerns, and how did you respond?
We are often asked “How do we know we’re making a difference?” We have developed a set of tools and processes that track our progress, capture impact and allow us to adapt. Our change matrix identifies four areas where change must occur in order for it to be transformative and lasting.In addition to sharing our impact evaluations, we can point to Global Fund grantees who have gone on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, be elected to parliament, overthrow oppressive regimes and end wars. We’ve shown that we are able to find, fund and collaborate with women-led groups who employ effective, creative and groundbreaking strategies to address challenges that women and girls face in their communities.
Describe the challenge you feel has the most lessons for other funders, and what those lessons were.
Our challenges relate to the reality of how long social change (like passing new laws or shifting traditional cultural practices) can take. Experience shows us that investment in social change via local women’s groups pays off, but it’s hard to show impact in one to two years. For example, we seeing women’s who may work on changing a domestic violence law for a decade of more, before they win the final victory they have been seeking..
How does your funding practice affect the overall impact you are able to achieve?
We give general funding for core support. What is general support? Giving general support means trusting grantee partners to make their own decisions about how to allocate funds. Whether it is used for paying the electricity bill or organizing a campaign against domestic violence, general support gives groups the freedom to respond to their own priorities. What we’ve learned in over 25 years of grantmaking is that general support has helped build a resilient global women’s movement. Our grantee partners are more agile, harnessing windows of opportunity that can lead to social revolutions. We help them build the infrastructure that makes their projects work.
What is the most important insight you gained specifically through funding in this way?
We’ve learned that general support is the gift of freedom and flexibility. An independent researcher found that our general support grants give organizations the freedom to be themselves. Research also found that groups use general support funds more carefully and efficiently. Grantee partners tell us they are more honest about their challenges and accomplishments than when reporting on restricted grants. A 2011 study on funding for medical research found general support yields higher impact results than restricted funding. Economists discovered that these grants lead to “higher-impact research.”
“The flexibility and significance of the general support grant from the Global Fund for Women cannot be overemphasized” – Leymah Gbowee, Global Fund grantee and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.