The impact of MacKenzie Scott’s resourcing of women’s funds


Leila Hessini


MacKenzie Scott’s commitment to give away all her wealth is particularly important in a context where philanthropic institutions are eradicating programs – such as reproductive justice and gender-based violence – that are key to feminist struggles.

Several core funders are reducing budgets going to feminist movements, while anti-rights movements are amply resourced. Scott’s contributions to women’s funds, which are often the backbone of funding feminist movements are especially important. Women’s funds are led by activists who come from the movements they serve and offer flexible, core, rapid response, and multiyear grants to feminists who are most impacted by systemic discrimination.

Between 2020 -2022,  Scott gifted $170 million to Prospera and 17 of the 47 women’s funds that are part of the Prospera International Network of Women’s Funds. I interviewed 15 of the 17 Prospera International Network members who received Scott funding to better understand the experience of applying to and receiving funds.  While these gifts have been extraordinary and undoubtedly useful given these funds’ financial shortfalls, Scott’s prioritizing of US and Latin American-based funds has also created inequity within the women’s funds movements.

Grantmaking to those most impacted

Most women’s funds are redistributing significant percentages of Scott’s donations, and often in ways similar to those in which they were received.  This has translated into some funds instituting ‘gift’ policies that are more flexible than grants, and others streamlining their own proposal and reporting process.  Some funds created or refined feminist funding principles and increased both the size and duration of their grants. This has included new types of grants that in some cases support individual activists for the first time, offering sabbatical grants for strategy development and healing purposes, and uplifting the critical work of feminist writers and artists.

While some funds decided to move the bulk of Scott’s giving to grantmaking and programmatic work, others were concerned that it would be difficult to substantially increase grantmaking in a way that could be sustained over time, given that the Scott gift is a one-time allocation.  In some cases, funds made the strategic decision to park the money with a neutral intermediary or to register in a different country until there were safer mechanisms in place to move the money locally.

Strengthening Infrastructure, capacity, and sustainability

Grants often do not adequately cover the overhead, living wages, institutional capacity, and systems support needed to create and sustain a viable organization.  Most funds are therefore investing a percentage of Scott’s giving in institutional strengthening and infrastructure support. This includes strengthening staff salaries and benefits, creating holistic safety and security protocols, creating more robust learning and evaluation databases, and financial tracking systems.   Some funds are considering purchasing buildings that can be used as an investment for their own office space and/or for community activities. For example, UAF-Africa used some of its gift money to purchase land to build a feminist conference space and a healing justice farm for women human rights defenders.

Building a feminist philanthropic system grounded in feminist ideology and praxis

Women’s funds are creating new visions of a feminist philanthropic movement that collectively supports intersectional feminist movements across the globe.   At the centre of this work are new narratives grounded in a political feminist framework that uplifts the experiences of the global majority while combating the domination of northern philanthropic institutions from defining what constitutes philanthropic action.  While Scott has moved money differently from mainstream philanthropists, her efforts reinforce a narrative of philanthropy as wealth that is concentrated in the global north and then allocated to others.   This leads to foundations shifting priorities regularly and allocating funds in ways that are not aligned with the needs and realities of movement actors.   Several global south initiatives, co-led by women’s funds, are proposing alternatives to the current discourse, policies and practices of Northern funders.  These alternatives focus on the long, rich and substantive contributions of global south and east giving systems and stress the importance of a global solidarity agenda.

Creating a gift’ fund to solve for inequities in the system

Different mechanisms are needed to address the huge gaps and blind spots that exist in the philanthropic sector. For example, only 8 percent of the entire funding Prospera INWF network members received over the past 5 years was given to women’s and feminist funds in the global south and east. Entire regions, such as the Sahel, the Middle East and North Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific, are often underfunded.  Northern funders are inherently risk-averse and certain identities and populations, like sex workers, queer activists, Black, brown and indigenous communities, and people with disabilities often do not receive funding.   In addition, traditional philanthropic institutions are oftentimes averse to supporting key elements of political organizing and collective strategizing, in which feminist funds invest.

While Scott’s commitment to donating her wealth is important, it is not enough. We need more funders to follow her path and to critique more deeply the provenance of their wealth and their role in supporting feminist movements on their own terms.

Scott’s giving to the Prospera Network focused primarily on global north and LAC-based funds with a few resources going to regional and national funds in Africa and Asia. To address these inequities and fill these gaps, Prospera INWF is using a portion of Scott’s gift to create a pooled funding mechanism with the purpose of redistributing resources, and creating more equity and sustainability across the network. This mechanism will only support women’s funds who did not receive gifts from Scott and have yearly budgets of $3 million or less, and which are primarily national and local funds based in the global south and east. Through collective fundraising, this giving fund will provide flexible, unrestricted, and non-competitive resources to women’s funds ensuring feminist, women, girls, and trans movements from these regions and countries have increased access to resources in the long term.

A drop in the bucket

While Scott’s commitment to donating her wealth is important, it is not enough. We need more funders to follow her path and to critique more deeply the provenance of their wealth and their role in supporting feminist movements on their own terms.  Scott could also do more to use her power in the philanthropic space to demonstrate the impact of flexible giving and to use her influence to bring new and different funders to the table.   This would build on the important work that Prospera INWF members are doing to build new mechanisms and approaches to defining and moving resources, and resourcing movements in ways that will lead to sustainable, impactful progressive change collectively.  Scott’s giving is a step in the right direction. Women’s funds and the movements they serve deserve more, better, and different resources and a commitment to systemic change from a broad range of existing and new philanthropic actors.

Leila Hessini is a global strategist who works with feminist funds, movements, coalitions, and philanthropists to build a more just world

Tagged in: Funding practice

Comments (0)


Is this Mackenzie Bezos?

Christina Campbell

Ms. Mackenzie, There is a major crisis in homelessness and funding for urgent Need of funds to assist verge of homelessness in the south riverside county area in Temecula CA. I hope you consider funding in this area for emergency funding to those in urgent need. Thank you,

Belen Asidao

Peace to men and women of goodwill! MacKenzie Scott has the heart of gold! She is send to us mankind| womankind to partake on her wealth for the service of the people. God bless her soul! Thank you for her outpouring support . My group needs help and little funding could get far for he nourishment of the children , mind and physical and spiritual. We are interconnected by Love, Belen Asidao

Mackenzie Andersen

I am new to this conversation, so I don't know who Mackenzie Scott is or where to find the 17 women's funds, Links would be helpful. I clicked on the first link to the response to the anti-gender movement and saw the phrase "sophisticated and coordinated systems", which is something I just encountered to find myself systemically discriminated from funding by the Maine Community Foundation, not because I am a woman, but because I am an individual, a fiscally sponsored individual project manager. The Foundation rules say one has to have a board, I say if they are supervising many, if not all non-profit funding sources in Maine and their missions use such phrases as "bringing people together", and they make such a rule, then it should be their responsibility to make sure that when they distribute funding to organizations, especially economic development organizations, that it includes helping "people" find boards. I would love to have a board but I haven't been able to find one, and from my perspective, if I could start with a legal counsel to help with structuring certain relationships, having that in place might make it easier to attract a board. My community support groups in Maine are very exclusive and I am not allowed into the community, not because I am a woman, but because I am a small entrepreneur with no interest in becoming a conglomerate corporation.. Only recently did I find a way to have a voice, by commenting in my newspaper located in a small rural community, and it turns out -I've got the power- some even said I was influential in swaying a major vote. I wrote about my recent encounter with being exiled by the Community Foundation in my Substack newsletter, The Individual vs the Empire. In part, I am also a potential funder but not a financial funder because I have other assets that I have to place which also need to start with the legal council.

Shawn Johnson

If you could help, I promise to give back to your organization?!?! This story could be an “awesome” testament for me & your company?!?! This is “no scam”?!?! I’m the typist?!?! I’ve tried to contact several organizations, by E:mail or phone, to no avail?!?! “Please help” if you can?!?! This will be an “behemoth” of a project, not to expensive and to have a phenomenal impact throughout the local community; maybe other area’s as well?!?! This will be “such a beautiful story”?!?! I guarantee this?!?! Give me a call 225-329-9690. Shawn Johnson (No Scam)?!?!

Shawn Johnson

Is there any way possible, you could help me acquire one of these Grants from McKenzie Scott? I could really use her help? I’m trying to erect an Astronomy Complex & Cycle Service Center, here within Vicksburg, Ms. (USA)? This center will help & guide , impact and educate my community “greatly”, once funded? Give me a call: 225-329-9690, leave a text, if no answer? Let me know? I do have a local business, but I need help bringing my project to life? It will be “awesome”?!?! I could provide more info. later? It only takes, one chance encounter or opportunity?!?! Shawn Johnson

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