It’s worth it: Local resource mobilization in the Global South and East

Lucia Carrasco Scherer and Christen Dobson

Despite increasingly restrictive fiscal and legal policies, high levels of income inequality, and charity-focused cultures of philanthropy, women’s funds are mobilizing support for women’s rights from various local actors in places like Mongolia, Argentina, South Africa and Serbia. Indeed, in many cases they are the only source of funding for women’s rights groups. It’s not just the money, though. The funds are also building a culture of local support for women’s rights which is potentially even more important.[1]

The story is told in a report Collective Change: The Value of Mobilizing Local Resources for Women’s Rights in the Global South and East containing ten case studies compiled by the International Network of Women’s Funds (INWF), Mama Cash, and the International Human Rights Funders Group.

The majority of INWF member funds don’t have an endowment to secure their operations: they need to constantly fundraise from local and international sources to get money to the grassroots groups they support. The 39 members of the INWF have worked in the Global South and East since the early 1990s.  Altogether, members of the Network mobilize $61.2 million annually to advance women’s and girls’ rights globally. Global South and East members raise 33 per cent of this amount.

Financial and non-financial gains
However, the amount that is raised locally is, in most cases, relatively modest. What does it take for a small fund to invest in local fundraising? Is it worth it when the monetary gains are comparatively small?

In 2014, the ten women’s funds featured in the study raised $800,000 in local funds, not enough to bring about the level of social change they and their grantees are working to achieve, but an indication of both the potential of local support and the need to further invest to sustain women’s rights work.

Semillas in Mexico and Fondo Alquimia in Chile have invested in developing individual donor networks with, in the case of the former, 350 individual donors giving $88,302 and in the case of the latter, 250 donors giving $45,787 in 2013. A cost-benefit analysis revealed that financially, the networks are only marginally worth the resource investment as revenue only slightly exceeds the funds and staff time invested. However, these networks significantly contribute to other objectives:

  • building lasting local support for collective action to advance women’s rights
  • strengthening local philanthropy and shifting the primary focus from direct services to systemic change
  • expanding the access of women-led groups to support and increasing the sustainability of local and regional women’s rights movements.

Both funds determined their individual donor networks should not only aim for a specific fundraising goal, but should also work to strengthen the cultures of philanthropy in Mexico and Chile.

Building a culture of philanthropy
Undeniably, the absence of progressive philanthropic cultures in the Global South and East is one of the biggest challenges women’s funds face. Their collective approach combats this by changing the way philanthropy is done and seen in their societies. There are a number of elements to this collective approach:

  • promoting equity in relationships among grantees and donors. Grantees and applicants for funding often participate in decision-making. In addition, women’s funds create much-needed spaces for exchange and engagement.
  • responding to local needs in a timely manner, especially when they can access unrestricted funds
  • promoting ownership by the local population of the projects they support; local donors witness changes they support.

Trends favouring local fundraising
In addition to building individual donor networks, the funds host events, mount income generation activities and participate in crowdfunding and engagement with companies. A number of recent trends have given impetus to their fundraising.

The growth of a middle class
Economic growth in Latin America, Africa and Asia is contributing to a growing middle class and an increase in the number of high-net worth individuals. Fondo de Mujeres del Sur (FMS) is currently exploring a ‘direct dialogue’ strategy aimed at engaging this growing middle class and testing the perception that individuals in Latin America only donate to charity, not social change. Since December 2014, FMS street fundraisers have raised $300 per month from discussing women’s rights with people in the streets.[2]

Changes in corporate mindsets
After ten years’ work with companies, the Mongolian Women’s Fund (MONES) has finally seen results. In 2014, 24 companies and 15 organizations supported MONES with both in-kind and cash donations totalling $9,000. The African Women’s Development Fund has also spent ten years developing relationships with businesses and recently earned $30,000 from providing training to a company forming its own foundation.

Awareness of strategic communications
Eight funds cited funding and training for communications and marketing as a top need for local resource mobilization. In South Africa, WHEAT Trust partners with Saatchi & Saatchi, an international advertising company that donates services valued at more than $38,000. WHEAT based a newspaper ad campaign on the majority African National Congress party’s slogan: ‘together we can move South Africa forward’. The WHEAT ad read: ‘together, led by men, we can move South Africa forward. Over 51 per cent of the population are women. We deserve more than one female premier.’ The ad prompted ANC to publicly express its support for women.

Opportunities from conflict situations
The Ukrainian Women’s Fund initially anticipated that local fundraising would not be possible during the conflict. After the Maidan demonstrations, however, individuals and businesses began providing financial support for internally displaced persons and other victims of war and investing in the future of their country.

Developing new partnerships
Semillas is currently working with another Mexican funder, Fondo de Accion Solidaria (FASOL), to raise local resources to support women’s climate change work. They have already secured $153,000 from two Mexican foundations and expect to raise additional resources as they expand awareness of women and the environment.

Scaling up
Two of the ten funds included in the case studies, WHEAT Trust and Her Fund, raise more than 60 per cent of their revenue from local sources. While the other funds get less than 17 per cent of their budgets from local sources, most of this income is unrestricted, allowing women’s funds to respond quickly to opportunities and support core operations.

Based on the experiences of these ten funds, women’s funds in the Global South and East are well positioned to scale up their local resource mobilization efforts. Donors in the Global North can support these efforts by providing resources to women’s funds to develop innovative strategies, seize funding opportunities as they arise, develop compelling communications strategies, access coaching services, exchange lessons or engage in research.

Lucía Carrasco Scherer is the director of programs for the International Network of Women’s Fund Email

Christen Dobson is program director for research and policy at the International Human Rights Funders Group Email


  1. ^ Participating funds include both local and regional funds from four continents: African Women’s Development Fund (pan-African, based in Ghana); Fondo Alquimia (Chile); Fondo de Mujeres del Sur (based in Argentina and also funds in Paraguay and Uruguay); HER Fund (Hong Kong); Mongolian Women’s Fund (Mongolia); Reconstruction Women’s Fund (Serbia); South Asia Women’s Fund (based in Sri Lanka and also funds in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan); Semillas (Mexico); Ukrainian Women’s Fund (based in Ukraine and also funds in Belarus and Moldova); and WHEAT Trust (South Africa).
  2. ^ The 2013 Human Development Report (UN) affirms that ‘the middle class in the South is growing rapidly in size, income and expectations’ p 2-3.

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