Investing for the future of African women

Joana Foster and Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi

Launched in June 2000 to respond to the sustainability needs of the African women’s movement, African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) is an Africa-wide fundraising, grantmaking and communication initiative. In 2003, three years after its establishment, AWDF plans to launch a major endowment campaign to raise at least US$15 million.

AWDF will in fact be fundraising for the endowment earlier than three years, mainly from the African Diaspora and from individuals within Africa, but we feel we need credibility as a grantmaker before launching a campaign on a large scale. In three years’ time we expect to have a sum which will act as leverage for accessing the big money.

In the meantime AWDF has receive grants for institutional support. The argument we put to donors is that a well-organized set-up that is properly capitalized will lead to better
accountability and transparency, and we will not fall into the trap of having to raise money to keep the institution going as well as funds for grants. These initial grants give us space to plan properly for building the endowment.

Why establish an endowment?

If properly managed, an endowment guarantees you security. As an organization setting out to fund other organizations and ensure their sustainability, it makes sense for us to be sure that we will ourselves be around for the long haul, because that is what working to promote and protect women’s rights in Africa entails. An endowment will provide us with greater independence, control over our programmes, and choices both for ourselves and for the organizations we support.

Launching an endowment campaign when the time is right will enable us to create a wide network of individuals and institutions willing to work with us to address some of Africa’s problems. It could become a focus for Africans living within and outside Africa.

Many development initiatives in Africa have failed in part because of the lack of long-term perspectives on the part of donors, governments and practitioners. Endowments provide the ability to plan for the long term and to address the needs of constituents. The autonomy, courage and self-worth that come with owning resources cannot be overstated. Endowments also enhance an organization’s ability to leverage additional resources, using the endowment funds as evidence of being a viable institution worth investing in.

We are confident that we can raise part of our endowment within Africa. We already have a culture of giving in Africa, albeit limited to families, churches and communal one-off efforts such as Harambees. There is, however, a need to persuade people to give to strategic activities.

What will it achieve?

An endowment to support the women’s movement in Africa will:

  • strengthen women’s activism and voices in their communities;
  • strengthen organizations by providing long-term core funding, which is usually difficult to get;
  • help some key African women’s organizations to raise their own endowments;
  • support difficult agendas;
  • build on the gains made by the women’s movement in the last two decades;
  • complement other donor initiatives within the region.

There are obvious criticisms of endowments. These include the feeling that funds are limited and should not be set aside for future use when there are such pressing needs.  But AWDF is not building an endowment at the expense of responding to immediate needs. Its strategic plan includes both raising funds for immediate needs and building an endowment in the long term. In AWDF’s view, establishing an endowment will give it the autonomy and independence to enable it to support organizations that are taking risks and proceeding in the face of great odds.

Joana Foster is Chair and co-founder, AWDF. They can be contacted by email at

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is Executive Director, AWDF. She can be contacted by email at

For more information about AWDF, visit the website at

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