More than nothing, but not enough: UK funding to LGBTI communities in the Global South and East


David Sampson


This year has been one of celebration and commiseration for global LGBTI communities.  The Cook Islands and Mauritius have decriminalised same sex relations, there was an important court victory for civil society organizing in Kenya and uncounted moments of LGBTI people standing together in solidarity with one another.

For many, these points of light have been overshadowed by a rollback of rights in Uganda and across the region.  And these attacks continue with speed and brutality. LGBTI civil society around the world, but particularly outside the Global North, confronts these realities day to day.  And they do this with almost no resources.

Funding for LGBTI issues in the Global South and East has increased slowly since 2013 to an average of $92 million per year in 2019 and 2020.  For many local LGBTI organisations, even these limited resources will never reach them.  A global survey of LBQ organisations found that 40 percent of identified groups operated on incomes of less than $5,000.

New research released this week in advance of the UK’s first LGBTQI Giving Summit is a new initiative to track UK funding for LGBTI issues in the Global South and East.  It is not filled with good news.  Average annual funding from the UK was £13.4 million in 2019 and 2020 from funders of all kinds.  Government spending accounted for only 23 percent of this total, with 64 percent coming from trusts and foundations.

It may be heartening to see that trusts and foundations play an important role in UK funding for LGBTI issues in the Global South and East.  Unfortunately, the average annual commitment of £8.6 million was equivalent to only 26p in every £100 of UK trust and foundation spending.

Importantly, the report identifies a small group of public, private and corporate foundations who operate focused, long term funding programmes supporting international LGBTI rights.  They do this through a focus on HIV – the Elton John Aids Foundation and ViiV Healthcare; sexual and reproductive health and rights – Amplify Change; and human rights – the Sigrid Rausing Trust.

This is a welcome community of practice in a field where,  the research suggests, many perceive barriers to giving.   This includes the perception that funding international LGBTI rights is too complex and potentially reputationally and operationally risky to support.  However, there are also valid questions on how these programmes can be operated through the lens of anti-racism and anti colonialism, particularly among UK funders whose histories are inextricably linked to our colonial past (you can read more on the Baring Foundation’s exploration of these issues here).

However, networks and philanthropic infrastructure are playing an important part in dismantling these barriers and providing the data and evidence to make the case for more and better giving.  The work of the Global Philanthropy Project is particularly important in this field and its Global Resources Report informs both this new research and similar initiatives around the world.

Like much philanthropy, intermediaries also have a critical role to play in bridging strategic, operational and ideological divides.  The Baring Foundation has been proud to support UHAI, Initiative Sankofa D’Afrique de l’Ouest and The Other Foundation for a sustained period – grantmakers led by and for local LGBTI communities in East, West and Southern Africa, guided by principles of participatory grantmaking and grantmaking at scale to LGBTI communities.  Community foundations like GiveOut in the UK are also building vital pathways between individual giving and these global movements.

As UK funders come together to reflect on these critical issues at the Summit on 22 November, I remain optimistic that the fundamentals are in place for giving to LGBTI issues in the Global South and East to grow rapidly from UK sources.  The reality is that the need for new funders and more resources is more urgent than ever.

David Sampson is the Deputy Director of the Baring Foundation.

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