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Open Society Foundations Join Group Initiative to Support Women's Funds

NEW YORK—Open Society Foundations have joined with three private U.S. foundations to provide at least $20 million in a combined effort to strengthen women’s funds—organizations that provide financial and other support to advance the human rights and opportunities of women, girls, and LGBTI people around the world.

Women’s funds have a long track record of knowing where and how to support organizations working to achieve gender equality in their communities, countries, and regions. Today, they are leading women’s rights movements in some of the most challenging contexts and informing philanthropic donors in supporting those efforts.

The initiative will help women’s funds invest in their own organizations—strengthening infrastructure, leadership, communications, fundraising, learning, and other efforts—to help them maximize their impact and achieve their goals.

Foundation for a Just Society, Open Society, the Wellspring Philanthropic Fund, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation have designed the five-year initiative in consultation with women’s funds.

“We at Prospera International Network of Women’s Funds see this initiative as a great opportunity for ensuring a healthy and vibrant ecosystem for funding women’s rights and gender justice throughout the world. By strengthening the capacity of women’s funds to better operate and respond to a rapidly changing world, these funders will be able to better support feminist movements at the forefront of social change,” said Emilienne de León, executive director of Prospera International Network of Women’s Funds. 

New Venture Fund has been selected by the four foundations through a competitive process as the initiative’s fiscal sponsor and will provide guidance and administrative support to the initiative. The Fund will in turn be supported by Arabella Advisors, a philanthropic consulting firm.

Women’s funds have received significant new resources from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Global Affairs Canada, and several private foundations in recent years. However, the vast majority of these resources are used to support grassroots organizations rather than the development of women’s funds. This gap in funding reflects the limitations of women’s funds to grow, and improve their support of grassroots movements.

This initiative is designed to build women’s funds own organizational capacity—by using the resources to invest in areas such as communications; resource mobilization; leadership; information technology; and monitoring, evaluation, and learning, among others.

“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.”

“At Foundation for a Just Society, we’re proud of the ongoing, intentional effort to make sure women’s funds help design and shape the way these resources will be used,” said Nicky McIntyre, chief executive of Foundation for a Just Society. “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.”

In addition to helping women’s funds strengthen their own organizational capacity, the donors aim to make women’s funds more visible to other funders and supporters of women’s and LGBTI rights. The money will also support efforts to help women’s funds learn from one another, and for philanthropic organizations to learn from them as well.

“This is an unprecedented opportunity for Open Society Foundations to be part of an ambitious, multi-donor effort to build the resilience of feminist activism and movements around the world,” said Kavita N. Ramdas, director of the Open Society Women’s Rights Program. “We also seek to diversify and democratize philanthropy so that nontraditional actors like women’s funds are able to control and mobilize their own resources.”

“Women’s funds are essential to feminist movement building and we need to share and fund the incredible work that they do to advance the rights of women, girls, and LGBTQI people,” said William and Flora Hewlett Foundation Program Officer Alfonsina Peñaloza“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 fund is being designed with input from a breadth of stakeholders—including women’s funds—with a focus on equity, transparency, and inclusion. 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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