Elas Fund of Social Investment Women strengthening women
One of the best ways to describe the Elas Fund of Social Investment (Elas Fund) would be women trying to advance women’s rights.
When the Fund started in 2001, social investment in women’s rights in Brazil was rare and not widely covered; the first events to approach the topic, under the auspices of diversity, were held in 2002 in partnership with GIFE. After building awareness for 12 years, the Elas Fund now supports 256 women’s groups and organizations in Brazil, and has incorporated the importance of investing in women’s empowerment into business debates and practices. The Elas Fund was born out of movements on women’s rights, to grant resources to women and advance their empowerment. In face of the vulnerability of the increasingly overburdened women in Brazil and the exit of international cooperation from the country, resources available were far from sufficient. And so began the work of the Fund: to raise resources to donate to initiatives and organizations aimed to strengthen women.
Since its inception, the Elas Fund supports women’s informal organizations and groups, investing in health (prevention of diseases), and financial empowerment (income generation) as well. Beneficiaries are women that do a lot with few resources. Many of them get acquainted to their rights and start fighting for these, while others consolidate their existing purpose. Some end up by becoming businesswomen with a business plan and the goal of reaching their economic independence.
Another program of this women’s fund involves women’s organizations with 20 or 30 years of experience that are performing more sophisticated work. These institutions are being trained to disseminate their work to the public at large, which lacks information and suffers prejudice. The purpose is to introduce to people – notably women – the women’s cause, making them understand that the movement’s past work enables rights in the present, and to encourage them to become donors.
The Elas Fund-supported projects bear objectives of social transformation and innovation. Transformation may take place both by expanding women-oriented public policies (or oriented to women’s social control) or by strengthening their links in the community and recovering their self-esteem. Innovation could mean the involvement of new actors or partners in an initiative, or the employment of new approaches or roles. For example, a group of clown women in Rio – a role typically played by men – uses comedy to teach people about the Maria da Penha Law which, since 2006, has significantly advanced legal protection to women against domestic violence and discrimination.
The Elas Fund selects grantees through contests held once or more times a year. In 2011, for example, the contest was focused on the institutional development of black female youngsters and women in the Northeast region. In 2012, the topic was communications as strategic tool to promote sustainability and strengthen women’s movements, in addition to actions on resources management and mobilization. Three contests were held in 2013: one to domestic workers trade unions, another addressing HIV/AIDS, and the third one, in partnership with the Avon Institute and UN Women, devoted to fighting domestic violence focusing mainly on its origins.
Each project is blindly evaluated to avoid personal advantages (other independent funds have also expressed their will to learn this methodology). Moreover, every grant is followed by training courses responsive to the beneficiaries' needs: women's rights, business plan, feasibility studies, conflicts settlement, communications, and financial management, among others.
Regarding raising resources, the Elas Fund has always had strong links with international cooperation funding organizations: initial funds were granted by the Global Fund for Women and the Ford Foundation, which remain partners. Ashoka, Levi Strauss Foundation, Mama Cash, and Hivos have also contributed in subsequent years. More recently, the Kellogg Foundation, Oak Foundation, Sigrid Rausing Trust, and UN Women have also joined the Fund’s work. Moreover, the Fund has received contributions by individual grantmakers and started working with enterprises; it has partnered with MAC and Avon, and renders services to and exchanges knowledge with Chevron. From 2014 on, the Fund expects to receive resources from Inter-American Foundation, the European Union, Gerdau, and the Brazilian Ministry of Culture.
Sometimes organizations come to Elas Fund seeking its knowledge and experience. For example, when the Ford Foundation decided to develop its program on sexual and reproductive rights in Brazil, it asked the Elas Fund to take on the work in this field.
The Kellogg Foundation has also involved Elas Fund in its country exit strategy (to take place until 2016) and developed links that go beyond funding. The legacy the Foundation will leave to Brazil is the strengthening of the independent funding sector, notably through the creation of another Brazilian civil society fund: the Baobá Fund for racial equality. As a related strategy, it supports other funds, and the women’s fund’s executive coordinator is member of the Baobá Board. Thanks to this link, the Elas Fund interweaves the issues of gender and race, brings its experience in maintaining an independent fund to reduce inequalities and, as a leader in the sector, mobilizes other independent funds to participate in the Independent Network of Funds and Community Foundations (also funded by the Kellogg Foundation). The specific support of the women’s fund targeted several projects of gender and race in the Brazilian Northeast region. The Foundation has now adopted similar approaches in the remainder Latin-American regions where it works, once again resting on the Elas Fund's knowledge.
The Elas Fund bears bold goals: in the next 10 years, it intends to reach $10 million, preferably $70 million, in endowment. Other goals include having its own building and expanding staff, besides the creation of an area of evaluation and systematization. Regarding the women’s cause, future actions to be undertaken by the Fund include financial and technical support to organizations (including promotion of their self-sustainability) and to support women-oriented public policies and the social control on those policies.
Moreover, the Elas Fund supports (and will continue supporting) women’s movements networks and independent funds, notably the Independent Network of Funds and Community Foundations. The strengthening of each fund or foundation benefits the entire network: little by little it is changing the Brazilian culture of grantmaking. The Fund Executive Coordinator, Amália E. Fischer P., perceives good qualities in the current Brazilian philanthropy, but warns for the need of keeping pace with social transformations in the country under the risk of remaining in the logic of charity. “Philanthropy will be of transformation and social justice when it understands the importance of investing in the others’ rights, in diversity,” she says.