Today’s philanthropists are embracing several new approaches to giving, from liberatory philanthropy to participatory grantmaking.
Participatory grantmaking empowers the beneficiaries of giving to make key decisions as to how that money is used. It also gives individuals more power to direct community development.
One organization uses participatory grantmaking to empower young women and girls around the world, as they are often faced with unique challenges like exclusion from educational opportunities and forced marriage. This organization, the With and For Girls Collective (WFG), includes nine funders who work closely with teenage girls to choose the recipients of the grants, particularly girl-led and -centered grassroots initiatives.
A Closer Look at WFG’s Important, Global Work
Since 2014, WFG has awarded grants to more than 60 organizations in 41 different countries, with total giving close to $3 million. Hosted by the Stars Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Al-Dabbagh Group in Saudi Arabia, since its establishment, WFG recently transitioned to Purposeful, an organization based in Sierra Leone that focuses on building movements among young girls.
Other members of WFG include Nike Foundation, FRIDA the Young Feminist Fund, the Global Fund for Children, and Plan International, among others. WFG involves girls at virtually every level of operation, including advocacy, branding, grantmaking, research, and even choosing Purposeful as its new home.
Adolescent and young women largely get ignored when it comes to grantmaking. The World Bank estimates that less than 2 cents of each dollar spent on international aid is directed toward females between the ages of 10 and 24—despite the fact that this demographic’s global population exceeds 900 million. Human rights funding for girls and women totaled $561 million in 2015, which, despite an increase over $319 million in 2011, still only amounts to a fraction of the $2.4 billion in human rights funding each year.
In its focus on girls and young women, WFG works in five different regions of the world and makes about 20 grants each year. These grants total up to $50,000 and focus on small- or medium-sized grassroots organizations led by or centered on teen girls.
Providing Support, Encouragement, and Visibility to Young Women
WFG has built a global network of service providers, intermediaries, and funders that it uses to identify potential grant recipients. Then, previous grant recipients play a role in interviewing potential winners and training individuals on participatory grantmaking, which involves unrestricted funds. Some recent winners include Mujeres de Xochitl (El Salvador), Beautiful Hearts Against Sexual Violence (Mongolia), and Ponton Group of Sex Educators (Poland). While grantmaking is at the heart of WFG’s work, it is not the only thing the collective does. Another key part of its work is getting girls and young women involved in the international philanthropic community by participating in international events and conferences.
Last year, WFG sent a group of adolescent representatives to the Human Rights Funders meeting in Mexico City to lead the closing plenary. During the talk, they emphasized the intersectionality of girls’ issues and demonstrated how girls can become true agents of change when entrusted with grant money, urging attendees to see girls as key strategists, not gimmicks. This talk proved a key means of getting the voice of this group heard and showing funders what their money can do when they trust these individuals and listen to their specific needs.
WFG Plans Key Adaptations as It Continues to Evolve
Importantly, WFG is consistently looking to improve its operations. Recently, the organization commissioned an external evaluation of its programs, which has led to several recommendations the collaborative plans to enact in the coming years.
Even this evaluation process had girls at its core. Twelve young women from Kenya and Nepal teamed with experienced adult female researchers and consultants to lead parts of the study and interview past grant recipients. One of the key recommendations made relates to the current criteria for grant consideration. At present, WFG only supports organizations with a budget of $20,000 or greater, but based on feedback, the collective plans to institute a whole new category of awards that will focus on smaller groups.
Other changes being made based on the evaluation involve the ease of applying for a grant. WFG plans to make the application briefer so that it puts less of a burden on organizations. Also, the application is currently available in English, Arabic, French, Russian, and Spanish, but it will soon be expanded to include languages such as Portuguese and Hindi. These changes to the application will open the pool to more girls, and younger people, including indigenous and disabled girls who have long gone ignored. Furthermore, WFG plans to acknowledge that many girl-led organizations have decentralized and collective structures rather than hierarchical ones and adopt its operations accordingly, including securing compensation for the girls who contribute.
The future of WFG will likely align with Purposeful’s existing initiatives. This umbrella organization that serves as the new home for WFG provides support to young women in three critical ways. First, the organization empowers young women to conduct the research necessary for garnering key insights that can effect lasting change. Second, Purposeful helps individuals launch various media and communications campaigns to ensure that everyone is aware of new programs. Finally, the organization makes grants, including microgrants.