Activists, Donors Strategize for Better Funding for Feminist Movements

 The Count me IN! Consortium brought together 100 diverse activists and donors from around the world at a “Money and Movements” convening on 11-13 April 2018 in Naivasha, Kenya to discuss how, together, we can “create a future where feminist movements are strong, resilient and thriving”. Following our advocacy work related to funding for women’s organizing and the rather innovative approach of the Kosovo Women’s Fund, Nicole Farnsworth, Program Director and Lead Researcher at the Kosovo Women’s Network (KWN), was invited to attend.

The first day we “Got Oriented”, discussing expectations, as well as several challenges facing the feminist movement and individual activists, related to:
  • The human body: mental health for activists and activist burnout; autonomy over our own bodies, particularly for Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, and Transgender, and Intersex persons; access for women with disabilities; physical safety for activists facing security threats.
  • Power and government, amid structural adjustment policies, deregulation of big business, growing influence of private actors on the State, and religious extremism – leading some governments and providing “justification” for the “war on terror” (and its subjective definitions) for other governments – contributing to increased spending on “security” and surveillance (including of activists).
  • People and demography, including in the context of migration.
  • Technology, which can be utilized to support, but also to undermine feminist organizing.
  • Planet, including how the accumulation of wealth contributes to inequality and how the current economic model involving extractive industries irreversibly harms the earth as well as communities.
The second day we “Got Disoriented”, entering three creatively crafted scenarios of what the world could look like in the year 2035, based on research related to real, current trends. In one scenario, we entered a room in which the planet was in crisis with oceans filled with plastic, cities submerged in water, and all government funding channeled to rebuilding infrastructure following one environmental emergency after another. What was the role of feminist activists amid such environmental catastrophe, and what is our role now in preventing such a scenario from happening?
In a second scenario, we entered a dark room, with Star Wars-like print running on the wall. It informed us that globalized technology and “The Company” owning it had taken over the world, replacing nation-states. Feminist activists could only organize an underground, primarily at the community level. They involved feminist hackers in using “acupuncture activism”: inserting activists into The Company, towards undoing the system. The scenario raised questions, such as how can small, localized organizing undo huge power hierarchies and hold global companies accountable? What do activists need to do now to prepare themselves for the changes that technology is bringing, including ever-growing surveillance? How can we use technology to support our cause?
In the third scenario, we entered a party scene: feminism had entered the UN system and pop culture with magnificent marketing, fancy award ceremonies, and parties to rally crowd funding for different feminist initiatives. Funding feminism was hip, and it seemed the most ideal potential scenario of the three. Yet, activists still competed for resources, and we knew nothing of the existing power structures in place. Also, who was in the room with their pocket books full of money, and where did they get their resources? How do we avoid grotesque competition for funds and/or the commodification of feminist organizing?
The third day, we “Got Creative and Committed”. AWID presented an initial model for a “Feminist Funding Ecosystem”, which would seek to reach diverse forms of feminist organizing and movement building, towards transformative feminist changes, both locally and globally. Such a model would include a holistic approach; interconnectedness among actors; reflectiveness of context and environment; complexity, reaching diverse actors; and be movement-driven. Then, funders entered one room while activists convened in another, strategizing and identifying concrete commitments for the future.
“We call upon donors to commit to tackling the power imbalances that exist in financing: shifting from resourcing that involves competition that divides feminist movements, to resourcing that supports solidarity that contributes to justice,” stated the call to action made by the activist group on “Influencing Donors” that KWN joined. Moreover, activists requested:
  • Political support from donors in advocating to other donors: 1) that feminist movements bring about real change; 2) for long-term grants that support activists’ own strategies; 3) for institutional support; and 4) for less time-consuming application and reporting procedures, as these draw time away from activism.
  • Support for continuous networking that links local, national, regional, and global feminist organizing (ensuring that its inclusive, bottom-up, not elitist), including support for spaces like this convening where feminist activists can develop a clearer strategy for organizing and identify allies.
  • Avoid knowledge extraction from activists (e.g., in programming, consultations), without compensation for their time and proper recognition of their expertise.
  • Support research and evidence to “Make the Case” for funding feminist movements, including a healthy ecosystem of different types of funding that reach diverse forms of feminist organizing.
The group also discussed what activists can do: undertake solidarity-based fundraising: supporting each other to access resources (rather than compete with each other), including through advocacy. Other activist working groups discussed integrating attention to activists’ health, including activist burnout, within funding mechanisms; and modalities for self-financing, among other themes.
Donors discussed:
  • How can they improve internal policy coherence, ensuring that their funding sources are not undermining feminist causes, and that they support the aims of feminist organizing in political and policy dialogues?
  • How can they influence other donors to fund feminist movements?
  • How can they prevent larger international organizations from taking over feminist activists’ space (and resources) for organizing?
  • How can they collaborate to use evidence to debunk myths that funding feminist activism is “too risky”?
  • How can they come together to jointly fund feminist movements in a better way?
Participants jotted down their commitments on postcards to be reminded, months later, of the commitments made.
Overall, the convening was an energizing and empowering experience. Organizers succeeded in deconstructing the power relations that often exist between donors and activists, providing a space to think and strategize together about future funding for feminist movements, as well as to build diverse allies for shared aims.
The Count Me IN! Coalition that organized the event includes MamaCash, CREA, the Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), Urgent Action Fund Africa, the Red Umbrella Fund, Urgent Action Fund Latin American & the Caribbean and Just Associates (JASS).