Shifting the power in a feminist funding ecosystem

Kellea Miller

Rhetoric supporting women and girls is all very well, but it needs to be matched by a corresponding increase in funding for feminist movements

Feminist movements are blazing a path towards justice and creating feminist realities in every part of the world. The resources supporting these movements should be as significant and transformative as their organising.

Funders must use their power to resource feminist organising and create a feminist funding ecosystem.

Latest figures from Candid show that while 5 per cent of foundation giving in 2016 ($4.3 billion) identified ‘women and girls’ as a target population, just $492 million went to ‘women’s rights’. This means that only 11 per cent of funding for ‘women and girls’ (and 0.6 per cent of overall grants) is reaching rights-based organising led for and by communities themselves.

This meagre proportion is consistent with other major funding sectors, where rhetoric for supporting women and girls is not matched by actual funding to feminist movements.

This needs to change. Funders must use their power to resource feminist organising and create a feminist funding ecosystem. 

Defining a feminist funding ecosystem
An ecosystem starts with the simple principle that we are all interconnected. A feminist funding ecosystem reveals a web of connectivity between movements, funders, and larger funding flows and makes a fundamental distinction between direct funding – money that reaches movements – and that which could but does not. Most importantly, it points to the power that different actors hold to contribute to a more balanced, thriving ecosystem where feminist movements are equal partners in defining resourcing priorities. Here, funders directly support feminist movements and use their power to shift their practices and the larger ecosystem.

The role of feminist philanthropy
Philanthropic giving is a key revenue source for feminist work.

Human rights funders granted over $2.8 billion in 2016 alone. According to a 2013 AWID report, foundations and women’s funds accounted for one-fifth of all income reported by women’s rights organisations (WROs), with feminist women’s funds playing an especially pivotal role reaching feminist groups across issues and regions. Individual donors also support feminist movements, providing nearly 10 per cent of WROs’ reported income in 2013.

However, there are contradictions that need to be resolved when it comes to philanthropic support for a feminist funding ecosystem.

First, the roots of philanthropy are tangled. Accumulated wealth exacerbates and benefits from inequalities, and favourable tax regimes allow money which might be public to be kept in private hands. In an ecosystem, this bigger picture cannot be ignored.

Second, funding is often done in silos, with money allocated to distinct issues that ignores the richness of modern movements’ cross-issue organising.

Finally, philanthropy is more than grants. According to a 2018 study of global philanthropy, private foundations’ assets exceed $1.5 trillion, of which just 10 per cent is paid out annually in the form of grants. These pools of unallocated resources are increasingly coming under scrutiny, especially around how to align endowments with grantmaking values.

Charting a path forward
While there is much to do, the following recommendations provide a snapshot of ways philanthropic funders can contribute to a truly transformative funding ecosystem:

  • provide core, flexible and multi-year support directly to feminist movements
  • find ways to fund the full range of feminist organising
  • learn from women’s funds’ feminist approaches and recognise women’s funds as key to reaching local, national and regional feminist movements, particularly in the Global South
  • bring on board peer funders that could support feminist movements but are not
  • align investment practices with grantmaking goals and values
  • be honest about philanthropic money. Explicitly support work to democratise and decentralise wealth, combat economic inequality, and move public money back to the public.

The author wishes to thank Rochelle Jones and Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah at AWID and Inga Ingulfsen at Candid for their contribution to this article. For an expanded discussion, see AWID’s report Toward a Feminist Funding Ecosystem at

Kellea Miller is manager for feminist resourcing, Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID).
Twitter: @AWID

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