Co-impact and the Equality Fund have two bold strategies to jointly create a historic opportunity for progress on a worldwide scale.
Every day, the headlines bring news of interconnected challenges – from rising inequality and conflict to climate change and humanitarian crises. And in all of these crises, women and girls experience the most adverse consequences. But behind the headlines is a largely untold story of immense and interconnected opportunity: two bold new initiatives – the Equality Fund and Co-Impact’s Gender Fund – that are seeking to advance gender equality on a global scale. We believe they offer a historic opening for philanthropists and governments to make a dramatic leap forward and support groups working on the frontlines. If we move quickly – and together.
Both our organizations were created to jumpstart change to mobilize and move resources to groups that can drive significant and lasting impact to meet the scale of the challenges. The Equality Fund was created in 2019 to catalyze government, investment, and philanthropic capital together to sustainably shift resources and power to global feminist movements. Building on the experience gained from the Foundational Fund over 5 years, Co-Impact’s Gender Fund was launched in 2022 to bring together philanthropists, foundations, and private sector partners to pool resources and invest in locally-rooted and predominantly women-led organizations working to tackle root causes of inequities in health, education, and economic systems, and advance women’s leadership.
Together, the approaches offer a pathway for transformational progress on two essential levers for gender equality meaningfully and sustainably: building collective power among women, girls, and trans people and shifting the systems that shape our daily lives.
A common vision: From scarcity to abundance
With both our funds committed to mobilizing and activating $1 billion for gender equality respectively, we are poised for a breakthrough moment the world has been waiting for, precisely because we bring diverse and complementary strategies that can strengthen our ecosystem as a whole.
Yet let’s be honest: all too often in philanthropy, funds like ours end up pitted against each other in a race for resources and influence. Rooted in a scarcity mindset, this approach is preventing progress on many issues across our sector. And we’ve all seen the results: siloed impact, lost opportunities for shared learning, and limited potential for shared gains right from the start.
So we’re committing to a better way. The work of gender equality is far too important for the zero-sum thinking of the past. As our work grows, we believe there is value in calling out this harmful dynamic directly – and pledging to work against it. As we lean into our respective strengths – and pursue diverse approaches – we also commit to learning alongside each other and building toward a common vision of lasting change. After all, it is what the world’s greatest challenges, like gender inequality, demand from us who have the same vision and ambitions. We need to ask how we come to these challenges from a place of abundance – of our abilities, our leadership, our voices, and the resources across the systems.
Addressing gender inequality at its roots
Like so many entrenched social issues, reducing gender inequality is a complex challenge that requires deep and sustained progress across multiple levers at once. From deep-seated norms and beliefs to systems change and institutional leadership, these levers are more than intersecting. They are interdependent. In turn, meaningful progress depends on a strong tapestry of diverse funding models that fund and champion these levers simultaneously.
That’s where our approaches complement. The Equality Fund is focused on the essential role of feminist activists and movements in holding powerful institutions accountable, building collective power, and shifting policies and norms that prevent women, girls, and trans people from realizing that collective power on a massive, global scale. Co-Impact’s Gender Fund has a resolute focus on making government and market systems work for everyone, especially those most marginalized. We recognize this is only possible when we address gender bias and discrimination, when women and girls have more power and agency, and when we advance women’s leadership at all levels – from the household and communities to the highest national levels.
Look at any issue and it is clear that both approaches are fundamental and complementary. Making economic systems work for everyone, for example, begins with building the collective power of women to advocate for economic rights on their own behalf. It means addressing discriminatory norms that put the burden of unpaid care on women. It also means holding governments accountable for creating enabling policies and benefits for informal workers who are predominantly women. And it means more women at the table – being heard and making decisions, and it means a safer society and workplace for women to participate fully and productively.
And marshalling resources at scale
The same lesson applies to resource mobilization. Progress at this scale requires buy-in and unprecedented commitment from all sectors at once, including private philanthropy and government. Here too, our diverse strengths can complement each other – and contribute to an abundance of resources for gender equality work globally.
While we both partner with funders and donors of all kinds, we each bring an opportunity for unique leverage. By leveraging the catalytic power of the Canadian government’s investment, for example, the Equality Fund creates a space where other governments, donors, and funders can all come together to multiply shared impact and fund feminist movements at scale. In turn, Co-Impact is showing what’s possible when philanthropists pool resources for collaborative impact, generating momentum that brings many other individuals and institutions to come together and do more, as well as leveraging the significant resources within public and private systems.
By leaning into these areas of opportunity for maximum impact, we and others who share our ideals can elevate funding for our ecosystem overall. Together our organizations and community of partners and allies can both build on collective progress and catalyze public and philanthropic investment in gender equality on a global scale.
Moving together to meet the moment
What will it take to make gender equality a reality everywhere? It’s a question that keeps us up at night. And the answer is clear: it’s going to take every lever we have. The good news is that momentum is generative, and we’re in this together. By sharing learning and progress, leaning into collaboration rather than competition, and championing a common vision of a gender-equal future, we can double our progress toward the just future we all deserve.
Jess Tomlin and Jess Houssian, Co-CEOs of the Equality Fund, lead a team of feminists committed to unlocking new capital and shifting power to women’s rights organizations and movements globally. Olivia Leland is the Founder and CEO of Co-Impact, a global philanthropic collaborative focused on improving the lives of millions of people through just and inclusive systems.