‘We know the system is broken – if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be here.’


Amy McGoldrick


The Equality Fund (EF) announced itself in London recently as a ‘ground-breaking collaboration’ delivering momentum for women’s movements, while driving the cultural, economic and political changes required to make global gender equality a reality. 

The Equality Fund, PAWHR (Philanthropy Advancing Women’s Human Rights), CFC (Community Foundations of Canada) and AWDF (African Women’s Development Fund) stood proudly as partners within this consortium that is part of the development of the EF.

EF started back in May 2018, when the Canadian government were looking to make a 300 million CAD investment on gender equality. They were ‘looking to create a permanent funding structure for women. No parameters,’ spoke Bonnie Shepherd, chief development officer of EF.

After a gruelling eight month process – which included a 1,000 page proposal – EF were officially offered the investment. EF reacted with urgency, spending three months in federal negotiations to ensure that this agreement was signed ahead of the Canadian elections in October 2019. Now this has been completed, and EF are ‘licensed to design and build’, working to bring everything together under ‘one house’. Shepherd explained that they are currently designing an investment arm which is 100 per cent gender lens invested. The entire investment from the government will be within this arm, continuing to return investment until the EF reaches its planned goal to become a 1 billion dollar fund.

The grantees process is under way, and the EF are in deep consultation. Shaping what this will look like, Shepherd announced their three P’s – peace, power and planet. ‘We have one chance to build this, and do it right.’ Shepherd continued that the EF is making the effort to be as open and transparent as possible for input and feedback – ‘which is what the world needs’. Hope was also expressed that these designs would be ultimately scalable, and provide a de-risk model for other countries. ‘Our work is cut out for us, but we’re excited to do it.’

Jessica Horn, director of programmes at AWDF and contributor to Alliance magazine’s issue on Feminist Philanthropy, spoke next of her excitement to be ‘part of this momentum’. AWDF, Horn explained, was ‘created 20 years ago at a moment where all resourcing decisions around Africa and gender equality was happening outside of the continent’. Proper resources are needed around women’s rights, and the idea around shifting the power balance has allowed for ‘informed decision-making to ensure what is funded, and that African women were making those decisions’. Horn referenced the ‘sheer scale’ of the Equality Fund as something she was excited about – ‘equality is a problem for all humanity, even though only felt by half. The sums of money are by no means proportionate to the problem. We’re finally getting to the stage of acknowledging we need far more investment into this work.’

Annie Hillar, co-director of PAWHR, was next to speak. Hillar remarked that foundations were ‘coming together to strengthen their own grant making’ and also ‘encouraging other donors into the feminist ecosystem’. Hillar acknowledged that ‘real, meaningful and equal partnerships aren’t easy’, and that their membership is trying to prioritise the movements that fall  outside of mainstream mechanisms.

Hillar also wanted to recognise that ‘the role of philanthropy is to support and compliment what has been done’, and to be flexible, to de-risk and be a vehicle for testing out and incubating ideas. Through using their collective voice and leverage, members have already committed 25 million dollars to get this off the ground, and to where it needs to go. ‘We know the system is broken – if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be here.’

Andrea Dicks, chief operating officer at Community Foundations of Canada (CFC), finished EF’s presentation. Dicks spoke about CFC as ‘an ally in disguise… how can we as an organisation, a movement, be part of this?’ CFC’s partnership in this was ‘viewed as unlikely, because we haven’t been as vocal in shifting the system, and considering our position as a catalyst for systems change, and as potential perpetuators of inequality.’

Describing the EF as ‘the most incredible thing I’ve ever been a part of,’ Dicks explained how a perfect storm of opportunities led to CFC making the decision to join. ‘Could we use our position without expectation that things will come back to us? …While power can be shifted, it can also be shared.’

For the CFC, said Dicks, when they were thinking about what the Equality Fund could create, they were asking themselves to be courageous, brave and part of systems change. ‘Those intangibles became tangible. A reckoning and a recognition that we don’t have it perfect in Canada. There is now an additional investment that has come to community foundations because we thought it was the right thing to do, and people started to listen. Thank you for being curious.’

To learn more about the Equality Fund, click here.

Amy McGoldrick is Marketing, Advertising & Events Officer at Alliance magazine

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