Peace and Security Funding Index An Analysis of Global Foundation Grantmaking

From the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen to the refugee crisis, we live in a world that is seemingly rife with violence and instability. What we don’t see, read, or hear often enough is another truth: today’s world is also filled with incredible stories of resilience and trends of peace and security that arc toward a more peaceful and stable world. The updated Peace & Security Funding Index: An Analysis of Global Foundation Grantmaking by The Peace and Security Funders Group and Foundation Center showcases the grantmaking institutions dedicated to building a more peaceful global future and analyzes funding for peace and security by issue, region served, strategy, and population. In 2014, the latest year in which complete data is available, 290 foundations supported over 1,800 organizations with $357 million.

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Open Innovation: A New Operating System for the Social Sector

Five years ago, I was part of a team that applied the resources and ambition of Google to global problems. I’m proud of what we achieved through building technology that engaged millions of Google users. But it also became clear to me that no matter how deep our pockets were or how ubiquitous our technology was, truly moving the needle on the world’s biggest problems required not just new apps, but a whole new operating system.

Today, I lead OpenIDEO, an open innovation platform that uses design thinking and collaboration to develop solutions for the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges with a global community. Together with our partners, we’re exploring how to build global ecosystems that can address long-term threats such as climate change, as well as extreme shocks, like the zika epidemic.

We believe that a key to a new operating system for the social sector is to change how innovation is surfaced and supported. RFPs that flood funders with applications behind a firewall concentrate knowledge in silos. Both funders and recipients can benefit from making grant giving more collaborative, transparent, and iterative.

Currently, we’re in the early stages of the BridgeBuilder Challenge, a collaboration with GHR Foundation in which we’re looking for solutions for global challenges at the intersection of peace, prosperity and planet. There is a deep need for dialogue and collaboration across these issue areas, and our challenge platform provides a space for that. The BridgeBuilder Challenge is therefore not organized as a traditional challenge with winners and losers, but as a quick and inviting way to build an impactful community.

Already over 190 solutions have been submitted, ranging from Pioneer Valley Renewables, that  makes underwater turbines to improve electricity access in rural communities, to BanQu, a software technology that connects refugees and the world’s poorest to the global economy through digital identity.

Unlike traditional RFPs, these initial submissions were published openly online. Initially, they are very rudimental, often no longer than one or two pages. In the coming months, the applicants will go through a process in which they refine their ideas in collaboration with a global community, which includes the other participants, experts from GHR foundation and IDEO, and leading experts in their own fields. Through this process, we encourage participants to collaborate from an early stage, allowing for iterations and interactions, which often lead to long-term collaboration after the challenge. 

The prize for the top ideas thus goes beyond the financial reward of a share of $1M in funding and a partnership with GHR, but participants also gain visibility, learn about design thinking for social innovation, and collaborate with others—important assets necessary to tackle complex, global challenges.

The process is beneficial to funders too. It allows them to quickly source diverse perspectives and map the innovation landscape on a topic. They’ll get to know prospective grantees better than through an RFP, by seeing how applicants incorporate feedback and iterate, in real-time. The process also enables other funders to connect with the participating organizations, and potentially fund ideas that are outside the scope of GHR Foundation. Rather than be hidden on the hard drives of a single grantmaker, the knowledge gathered through the challenge process will remain open and accessible for other funders to access at any time.

In the case of the BridgeBuilder Challenge, our objective is not just to find and foster the best ideas, but also to advance the mindset of the participants. In the words of GHR Foundation CEO Amy Goldman: “This open challenge allows us to find solutions we’d otherwise never discover, and aims to inspire more organizations to innovate by developing bridge building concepts.”

In the past six years OpenIDEO has learned a lot about bringing open innovation to the grant giving process, but our quest to reinvent the social sector’s operating system is far from over. We’re currently exploring how the ecosystems we build can be nurtured for the long term, and how to better unlock and share the power of what is learned in the process.

And we don’t want to do that in isolation! We hope you’ll join us:

  • Submit an idea or help spread word of the BridgeBuilder Challenge (deadline is April 14!).
  • If you’re a funder, sign up here for a behind-the-scenes call to hear our insights from the Challenge.
  • Share your insights on a new operating system for the social sector in the comments below!

About the author(s)

Managing Director

Seeking an Inclusive Europe: Foundation Grantmaking for Countering Ethnic and Religious Bias and Xenophobia

Seeking an Inclusive Europe: Foundation Grantmaking for Countering Ethnic and Religious Bias and Xenophobia is the first-ever study of the philanthropic community’s response to ongoing discrimination and increasing violence and the need for greater cultural understanding, inclusion, and equity. It enables foundations active in addressing bias and promoting social change and rights across Europe to understand their grantmaking priorities in the context of the larger funder community. For foundations that want to become active, it offers numerous examples of approaches funders are taking to address these issues.


Steven Lawrence



Through IssueLab, the Foundation Center is working to more effectively gather, index, and share the collective intelligence of the social sector by providing free access to thousands of case studies, evaluations, white papers, and issue briefs.


This Manual was developed by HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation together with the Centre for Peacebuilding (KOFF) at swisspeace.It aims at providing hands on guidance to ield-based staff of development organisations that are working in fragile and conlict affected situations





Through IssueLab, the Foundation Center is working to more effectively gather, index, and share the collective intelligence of the social sector by providing free access to thousands of case studies, evaluations, white papers, and issue briefs.

Listening for Change How Community Foundation for Northern Ireland is changing conflict dynamics from the bottom up

In a region where political and social divides run deep, the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland (CFNI) has occupied neutral territory, devoting time and resources to supporting grassroots reconciliation work with a particular social justice focus.

Northern Ireland’s history is complex, with tensions between Protestant Unionist Loyalists and the Catholic Nationalist Republicans stretching back for centuries. The Good Friday Agreement, signed in 1998, effectively ended the Troubles--the most recent period of violent conflict--yet separation and division between these two groups remain. It is in this environment that CFNI seeks to bridge differences in order to strengthen communities across Northern Ireland and contribute to lasting peace. The foundation began as the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust in 1979 and since then has given out thousands of grants to local community groups and spearheaded programs of its own that foster dialogue and relationship building among all people. Its approach is community oriented and places community voices, trust building, and neutral spaces for dialogue at the forefront of its practices.

CFNI is deeply committed to engaging all voices. Andrew McCracken, chief executive of the foundation, says that CFNI is dedicated to “making sure everyone’s voice is heard around the table when we are deciding how money should be given out--even people whose voices are unpopular or who society wants to keep on the outside.” These voices, he says, are important, because “no matter what others may think, they are leaders in their community, and there should be a way for their voices to be heard.” And, as leaders, they have a unique understanding of what their community needs--information critical to the success of CFNI’s programs and grantmaking.                                                                           

Monica McWilliams (far right) and colleagues, pictured with a copy of the Women and Peacebuilding Toolkit, a product of CFNI programs. Photo from CFNI website.

“It wasn’t easy to convince people that combatants needed to be included,” recalled Monica McWilliams, a Good Friday Agreement signatory and former Human Rights Commissioner and Legislative Assembly member in Northern Ireland. “It was a process on which we worked quite hard on and I was impressed at how hard the [CFNI program] worked to include the ex-combatants,” she said.

To ensure that truly each person’s needs are being voiced, CFNI first gathers information on the communities it thinks need support, then travels to those places to better understand what the needs of the community are from residents themselves. “We don’t provide answers, we provide facilities and resources so that people can come up with their own answers,” says Ciaran de Baroid, a former member of CFNI’s staff. This mentality has been present since the outset of the foundation. Avila Kilmurray, former president of CFNI, says that the foundation CFNI strives to “look at how you could actually root the peace process within those communities rather than have them at the macro-political level.” Relying solely on the information that community organizations provide can lead to misinformation, as not all organizations are representative of the lived needs of a community. So CFNI digs deep: “We just don’t accept what people tell us, and we’re brave enough to challenge that,” says Michael Hughes, coordinator of the foundation’s Space and Place Program.

The staff at CFNI openly discusses problems, expresses concerns, and works closely with the engaged community so as to best understand which organizations should be grant recipients. CFNI acknowledges that given Northern Ireland’s history, the trust needed for these kinds of conversations is difficult to establish, so it prioritizes the trust-building aspect of its work. As Andrew says, “building relationships and trust gives you permission to challenge and to say difficult things so that the grantmaking work can be collaborative and benefit the most people possible.” This partnership doesn’t end once they have the needed information--it often continues through the grantmaking process. CFNI thinks that “expensive grantmaking” -- grantmaking that requires foundation investment of time, energy, and resources -- is crucial in some cases, because without it, says Andrew, “you’ll end up making really efficient grants that won’t get to the most difficult issues.” In the case of the village of Stoneyford, tensions were high and community leadership felt they hadn’t been heard by other partnerships. CFNI spent “quite a bit of time just focusing on building relationships,” remembers Orla Black, grants and donor care manager. She says that being authentic and listening to the village’s needs were critical components to moving forward and fostering a partnership.

Establishing trust with and an understanding of different communities starts for CFNI with its staff, whose . The skillsets and variety of personal experiences reflect those in the community. “From the beginning, the staff had similar backgrounds to the people that they were working with on the ground, so they could personally relate to the struggles that a community was facing,” shares Orla. This type of connection, along with the ability of the staff to “set aside their own religious and political differences, and to be honest brokers,” adds Michael, has been crucial to the success of CFNI’s work in the divided religious and political climate of Northern Ireland. “We were inside enough to know who to talk to, but outside enough to keep the lines of communication open,” remembers Avila.

Many of the foundation’s initiatives center around providing a neutral space for dialogue and connection across conflict lines, while with CFNI acting as an objective facilitator between participants. In the past, CFNI’s Women in Peacebuilding Program hosted discussion sessions for women from varying party affiliations across Northern Ireland to meet and share their lived experiences. These sessions led to an increased understanding of similarities and connections between women of all backgrounds resulted from this experience. This form of peacebuilding is not only a tactic that has proven effective in Northern Ireland, but is also an important element of community strengthening globally. However, there are challenges to a conversation-based approach, too--most visibly the backlash participants can receive from members of their own communities simply for engaging. CFNI’s reputation as a community leader and neutral party helps mitigate this challenge. “There’s a need for organizations who can create private safe spaces where people can come together and have that conversation. A lot of what we do now is about choreographing those conversations,” says Andrew. In one case, two organizations located just two kilometers away were performing similar roles in the community, but as Michael explains, “because of the conflict hadn’t shared anything for over 50 years.” CFNI noticed this and “took the opportunity to bring them into a space to have a conversation about how they could move forward,” Michael recalls. This facilitated dialogue allowed for collaboration to blossom between the two groups, who now jointly participate in a program worth over one million pounds.                                                                        

Political graffiti in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) are a loyalist paramilitary group. Photo from CFNI website.

Funding the programs a community deems most critical to peacebuilding means that sometimes CFNI takes risks with their grantmaking. Not all of the organizations it funds are fully established and stable ones, but the foundation believes these organizations are doing good work in the community. Andrew mentions that CFNI embraces this mindset and lets grantees know, “we trust you, we expect you to take risks, we expect that sometimes not to work and that’s all in the benefit of having greater impact.” Risk has always been important to the foundation: Avila would bring food across the barricades during the Troubles and as director encouraged the staff to “take risks for peace,” as Michael describes it. As a result, the foundation has taken on daring projects, in some cases bringing cross-conflict paramilitaries into the same room to discuss solutions, hand out grants and see the humanity of each other. This integration of risk has empowered CFNI staff to consider and fund creative, out-of-the-box, and community generated solutions. Backed by the director of the organization, sensible risk taking is part of the foundation’s philosophy, and if something does happen “that wasn’t meant to happen” Michael explains, then the response is “‘why’ and ‘how do we learn’ rather than ‘why did you do that?’”

The network of trust between each link in the grantmaking process, from director to staff to grantee and community member, allows for more effective solutions. “Supportive grantmaking,” as Orla calls CFNI’s practices, “is crucial to the success of a social justice grantmaking approach, where the community needs are at the forefront of the decision making process.”

CFNI works in a specific place with a specific context, but its approach to changing the conflict resolution paradigm offers valuable insight more universally. Trust between parties, inclusion of all voices, risk taking, “expensive grantmaking”--these are what allow for the underlying causes of conflict to rise to the surface and for CFNI to be able to address them head on. 

This case study was developed as one of five companion pieces to stories shared through the Pittsburgh Philanthropy Project. The Pittsburgh Philanthropy Project, in association with the University of Pittsburgh, showcases the rich and varied narratives of giving in the region through comprehensive storytelling techniques, giving insight to the philanthropy landscape and approach for residents, researchers, and practitioners. Please visit to explore further.

About the author(s)

Former Knowledge Services Fellow
Foundation Center

When the Wall Turned Bright Pink

It is not every day that the iconic ‘Free Derry Corner’ landmark turns bright pink. But this is what happened as a result of a small £3,000 grant awarded by the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland (CFNI) to the Rainbow Project, which works in Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland. The pink wall, and the social change that accompanied it, show the difference a small grant can make in challenging accepted attitudes.  Additional mentorship and support by a foundation can significantly augment the impact of the money awarded. In this case, the work of the Rainbow Project’s LGBT activists sparked both visible and systemic accomplishments, laying the groundwork for greater inclusivity throughout Northern Ireland.

While Northern Ireland was shifting politically in the 1990s as the 30 years of violent political conflict known as The Troubles came to an end, social attitudes showed little sign of change. Homosexuality was not decriminalized in Northern Ireland until 1982, and extreme homophobic violence continued into the 1990s, with insufficient police response to address the problem. The Rainbow Project was established in Derry in 1994 to promote the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people. The Rainbow activists continually faced discrimination, prejudice, and abuse. When a study showed that young Irish gay men were 30 times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterparts, apathy was no longer an option for philanthropy.

The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement of 1998 had promised a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. At CFNI, we established the Bill of Rights Fund with the help of Atlantic Philanthropies to encourage local groups and communities that had faced marginalization to play a key part in framing the fund. The fund had two components: a small grants program (up to £10,000) for groups to carry out their own initiatives around the Bill of Rights, and a training and support program which provided mentorship for groups to help with self-reflection and action plan development. The Rainbow Project received a grant from the CFNI Bill of Rights Fund in 2006.

The Rainbow Project used its program grant to re-establish the Foyle Pride Festival in 2007. They successfully negotiated to paint the famous ‘Free Derry Wall’ bright pink to celebrate the occasion. This caught local media attention, with the BBC reporting, “Free Derry is pink with pride’’. I had experience in bringing marginalized groups of people together, and so the peer exchange element of the program was a powerful opportunity for the Rainbow Project to build relationships with diverse groups, including political ex-prisoners, people with disabilities, minority ethnic communities, and largely single-identity Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist neighborhoods. Stereotypes were challenged and prejudice confronted. The discussions led to the development of an inclusive approach to the proposed Northern Ireland Bill of Rights that specifically addressed the rights of the LGBT community. Finally, internal reflection encouraged by the CFNI mentor led the Rainbow activists to identify and respond to power imbalances within their own organization, such as a lack of representation of the lesbian community.

The Rainbow Project continues to expand its work, focusing on issues like homophobia in schools. CFNI still funds local initiatives with a human rights focus and has developed a Power Analysis toolkit to accompany its grantmaking in this field. Homophobia has not been eliminated in Northern Ireland, but improvements have been made to increase awareness of the issue. When the annual Foyle Pride Festival takes place in Derry/Londonderry these days, even the city council Guildhall clock is blushed with a pink light in recognition of the local LGBT community. This is the legacy foundations have the power to leave with small, thoughtful investments in marginalized communities.

The Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace and GrantCraft, a service of Foundation Center, are releasing a series of 11 blog posts authored by grantmakers around the world. The posts are derived from the recently published Effective Philanthropy: Another Take, a collection of stories describing a philanthropic intervention against some form of injustice (socioeconomic and/or political) at a local, national or global scale. Each story addresses key questions grantmakers wrestle with in order to effect systemic social change, and the blog posts in this series highlight certain details that feed into the bigger story. Through this series, the partners hope to raise awareness of some of the most effective examples from philanthropy in tackling injustice and achieving lasting structural change. By sharing knowledge in philanthropy and being willing to learn from one another’s experiences and perspectives, we can improve our practice together.

This is the fifth post in this series, which will roll out over the next three months; it focuses on how a small grant by a foundation can make a big difference with the help of training and support. 

About the author(s)

Former Knowledge Services Fellow
Foundation Center

Independent Consultant
Social Change Initiative

Philanthropy and Government Join Forces to Overcome Authoritarian Past

Philanthropy for social justice is not always about opposing the government; it’s sometimes about working with government in order to access the rights due to its citizens. Through our work with community organizers trying to reclaim land in a small village in Indonesia, Indonesia for Humanity (Indonesia untuk Kemanusiaan or IKA) has found that connecting activists with government officials and other community members while eliminating communication barriers can be the most effective way to create change with small grants.

For nearly 20 years, Indonesia has been working to transform itself after an abusive, authoritarian past under a military regime. Sidomukti, a village located inside a palm oil plantation, is one community trying to secure government recognition of its people’s land and rightful status as a self-standing village. After hundreds of villagers were evicted from the land 45 years ago, a group of farmers’ rights activists succeeded in reclaiming about 800,000 square meters of land in recent years. However, this process has resulted in increasing frustration and violence between villagers, the palm oil plantation, and the local government.

IKA is an activist-initiated grantmaking foundation that supports pro-democracy activism and human rights advocacy. Through small grants, we have supported social movements working to eliminate violence and structural injustices. In 2014, we decided to improve our reach by joining a national coalition of 50 civil society organizations and victim groups, the National Coalition for Justice and Truth. Through this coalition, we were introduced to several victim communities in Indonesian villages and towns. We accessed a government programme called Peduli, which engages civil society groups to advance inclusive development. The government’s agreement to assign Peduli resources to the victim communities was a milestone achievement in itself. It marked the first time the Indonesian government gave recognition to this group of people who had been systematically discriminated against by the state and society for decades.

IKA works on the assumption that the goals of social justice and lasting peace require long-term work at many levels, from empowering local communities to influencing national policy-making and enforcing the rule of law and human rights. Our participation in the Peduli program has enabled us to make grants to organizations working at the local, district, and national levels in a synchronized way and participate in a national movement to honor the rights of victims of past human rights violations.

In the one year of IKA’s involvement in the Peduli programme, it has made a range of grants to support Sidomukti. Locally, grants were made to the victims’ association to fund activities to increase victims’ access to public services, develop the community’s economic assets, support community life, and advance societal acceptance of the community. As someone who has worked with marginalized communities in Indonesia for years, I knew the importance of improving access to resources. The association itself received direct support to strengthen its governance system and to build its technical capacities. By accessing the government’s Peduli programme, IKA has integrated the Sidomukti community into the work of Indonesia’s largest civil society alliance advocating for victims’ rights. This new approach is a post-authoritarian transition justice initiative, citizen-led from the bottom up, and working to link victims’ civil political rights to their economic, social, and cultural rights. The collaboration and opening of communication between villagers and local service workers and government officials has led to many tangible benefits, such as increased access to government-sponsored health care for villagers in Sidomukti. For us, funding opens access, but our presence in the larger movement also strengthens connections to the Sidomukti population for other actors.

The National Coalition for Justice and Truth sees local community organizing as complementary to the legal advocacy efforts for the fulfilment of victims’ rights. The grants made by IKA this year have effectively brought together groups that work on community development and legal advocacy, ending a decades-long segregation of these two pathways for change. At IKA, we believe that working with the government to achieve justice has been a hugely effective tactic for advocating for oppressed citizens like the villagers of Sidomukti. In a post-conflict area, working for social justice must involve close collaboration with a variety of stakeholders—in this case it was villagers, government officials, public servants, and private sector actors—to hold each other accountable for creating a more just society.

The Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace and GrantCraft, a service of Foundation Center, are releasing a series of 11 blog posts authored by grantmakers around the world. The posts are derived from the recently published Effective Philanthropy: Another Take, a collection of stories describing a philanthropic intervention against some form of injustice (socioeconomic and/or political) at a local, national or global scale. Each story addresses key questions grantmakers wrestle with in order to effect systemic social change, and the blog posts in this series highlight certain details that feed into the bigger story. Through this series, the partners hope to raise awareness of some of the most effective examples from philanthropy in tackling injustice and achieving lasting structural change. By sharing knowledge in philanthropy and being willing to learn from one another’s experiences and perspectives, we can improve our practice together. This post is the first in this series, which will roll out over the next three months; it focuses on effectively collaborating with key stakeholders to create social change through philanthropy.

About the author(s)

Former Knowledge Services Fellow
Foundation Center

Chair of the Board
Indonesia for Humanity

From Global Goals to Local Impact: How Philanthropy Can Help Achieve the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals in the U.S.

The universal nature of the SDGs reflects the unprecedented political and moral consensus behind them—not just among member states, but within and across them. For its part, the United States played an essential, active role in developing the SDGs, as did the philanthropic community. Nearly 80,000 Americans completed the MyWorld survey, many doing so after learning about the portal participating in a local meeting organized by the U.N. Foundation in partnership with UNA-USA.


Council on Foundations, SDG Philanthropy Platform

Through IssueLab, the Foundation Center is working to more effectively gather, index, and share the collective intelligence of the social sector by providing free access to thousands of case studies, evaluations, white papers, and issue briefs.

Philanthropic Strategies for Difficult Times

Envision this – your foundation’s seemingly straightforward mission to work on ‘education for the girl child’ brings you face to face with the mammoth, deep-seated, millennial old problems of caste discrimination and misogyny in India. What do you do? How do you frame and conceptualise your grantmaking programme around such a complex issue? What are the challenges and how do you manage them? And the big question – how do you know you are succeeding, i.e. how do you evaluate?

A new study published by the Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace, Grantmaking For Social Justice And Peace: Approaches Drawn From Shared Practice, by Avila Kilmurray and Barry Knight draws on the experience of a breed of funders and philanthropic programming that supports civil society activism and community-led innovation and addresses the root causes and structural mechanisms of inequality, injustice, conflict, and poverty. The study shares the lessons these funders have learned in addressing some of the most persistent injustices and human rights issues of our times, such as the hypothetical example above.

To describe my main takeaway from this study, I am going to lean on the words of one of the authors of the study, Avila Kilmurray, from the Ray Murphy Lecture in 2012 (European Foundation Centre Conference, Belfast).

“Einstein is quoted on many issues but there are two that I feel have always said something to philanthropy. One, ‘you can’t solve your problems with the thinking that caused them in the first place’…and two ‘imagination is more important than or certainly as important as knowledge’. So combining these two insights there is an emphasis on a need to be self-critical, to be prepared to take risks in posing the counterintuitive and often the naïve questions, to value the power and connectivity of interdiciplinary lateral thinking, and to respect thinking that refuses to be categorised and burnished by terminology that’s perhaps more suited to the markets. In short, I would argue that effective philanthropy is more of an art rather than a science and that while measurement of effectiveness is critical, if often difficult, even more important are the questions that we pose to ourselves and others alongside the answers that we are prepared to entertain.”

It’s no secret, the world’s problems are not going away, they are getting worse. Poverty persists while growing income inequality is increasingly bringing with it xenophobia and widespread disillusionment with political leadership; threats against human rights and gender equality are worsening, and long-term conflicts are escalating. All of this continues while we remain determined in our unwillingness to face up to climate change. The need for philanthropy to be more effective in the ecosystem of finding and supporting permanent solutions to these problems is ever more necessary. In sharing lessons, strategies, and approaches that have worked, the study forces us to reflect on our own parctice and takes us one step closer to fulfilling philanthropy’s potential to innovate, lead, and support cutting-edge work.

About the author(s)

Network Coordinator
Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace

Money as a Tool for Social Change Mama Cash Promotes Flexible Funding to Strengthen Women's Movement

Protests and violent demonstrations erupted in Burundi after President Nkurunziza announced on April 25, 2015 that he plans to run for a third term, a decision deemed unconstitutional by his opposition and one that is feared to reignite ethnic hostilities. As the 2015 crisis in Burundi unfolded, Mama Cash remained in constant communication with one grantee in country to prepare for the worst-case scenario. Association des Mamans Célibataires pour la Paix et le Développement (AMC) is a civil society coalition with a very vocal and visible leader, and so it needed to brainstorm ways to continue its work while keeping security paramount in case of civil unrest and widespread violence. “As a funder, we need to figure out how we can provide funding to groups so they can use it to respond to situations quickly,” explains Mama Cash senior program officer Happy Mwende Kinyili.

Mama Cash, an international women’s fund, started funding AMC in 2012. “We build a relationship with an organization first, and then we fund them. Mama Cash provides flexible core long-term support, meaning we fund a group, and then they alone decide how they want to spend it,” shares Happy. “It is paramount for Mama Cash that if something shifts— if a grantee sees an opportunity or faces a challenge—that our funding provide the flexibility for them to undertake whatever efforts make sense at the time.” Shifts are not always as drastic as a coup d’état, as even the day-to-day can be crisis-filled for a coalition of single mothers fighting to change social norms.

AMC was founded in 2005 by a group of students who became single mothers while attending university in the Burundian capital Bujumbura. Women who exercise sexual agency are stigmatized, and single mothers are ostracized by mainstream Burundian society. AMC struggled for integration and support from civil society movements, including prevailing women’s rights organizations. This appealed to Mama Cash, which prioritizes supporting issues that are most contested and least addressed by other funders and organizations. The Amsterdambased Mama Cash funds groups, organizations, and networks led by and working for the rights of women, girls, and trans* people.

AMC challenges norms and policies that discriminate against and exclude pregnant students and single mothers from their families and communities, in education, and in the labor market. In 2014, AMC attended a meeting of the provincial education board to advocate for improved policies. Happy recounts, “This left such an impression. The pervading theory in the room was that student pregnancy was tied to poverty and both knowledge about and access to reproductive health, not education policy. AMC engaged high-level policymakers to understand that forcing girls out of school only exacerbates the cycle of poverty, and contested that changing policies to be more supportive by keeping girls in school, instead of punishing them, is the only way to break that cycle.” AMC also intervenes on a case-by-case basis to allow a young pregnant girl to keep pursuing her studies. Its mobile clinic travels to secondary schools to provide young girls with information on sexual and reproductive health to help them make healthy, informed choices.

For girls kicked out of school, there are limited options for entering the labor market, and so this can lead to a life of economic oppression. AMC works to influence social norms about a single mother as a legitimate and reliable employee. For example, AMC organizes fairs where single mothers can exhibit and sell products. The fairs also become a platform to engage community leaders and members on women’s rights, and how to promote and protect them.

Several women’s rights organizations that were not connected with AMC initially, because of its contentious ideas and work, have since reached out to collaborate on awareness-building campaigns, including sexual and reproductive rights. AMC has seen an increase in media coverage of this issue leading to conversations across Burundian society. “It may not be a change in policy yet, but it is a conversation that was not being discussed prior to AMC’s work, so change is happening. That makes us excited and shows the relevance of our work,” shares Happy. “We trust our partners, and they can leverage our funds to create social change. It’s exhilarating to see our approach working.”

Funders who recognize that their funding decisions can directly drive change must also be conscious of how that power should support and complement rather than disrupt the knowledge and vision of a
grantee. “It is important to remember that the ways in which we at Mama Cash understand the world, as a foundation based in the global North, are going to be different from how a group in Burundi is thinking about the work.” This has pushed the fund to reflect on how it engages groups to ensure that its grantmaking is responsive and supportive of existing movements on the ground.

Mama Cash intentionally supports grantees with more than money, through a process called accompaniment. This process involves capacity and relationship building. Mama Cash strives to connect grantees with one another and with other funders. To provide more targeted support to grantees, Mama Cash establishes advisor networks in each region where itworks. Advisors provide face-to-face support, and at times capacity-building support, to grantees when Mama Cash cannot, which helps Mama Cash to stay connected and informed.

“We do get to meet our grantees, we just get creative about when and how,” explains Happy. For example, in 2014, Mama Cash attended the Asia Pacific Feminist Forum in Thailand. Mama Cash supported the attendance of several grantees to meet face-to-face, while providing them with an opportunity to network, share with, and learn from peers. “Opportunities like these are possible because of our flexible funding model.” Mama Cash is proud to see how flexible funding enables grassroots women’s organizations to tackle difficult issues, to adapt to changing circumstances, and to build women’s rights movements.

This case study was developed for Foundation Center's Equal Footing project.

About the author(s)

Independent Consultant