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Innovative Research Study on European Foundations Funding for Women and Girls is launched

FRIDAY FILE: Conversations about funding for women and girls were a focal point at this year’s Annual General Assembly of the European Foundation Centre (EFC) held from 26-28th May in Cascais, Portugal, thanks to the launch of strategic visionary research produced by Mama Cash and the Foundation Center (FC).

By Amanda Shaw and Veronica Vidal Degirogis

“Untapped Potential: European Foundation Funding for Women and Girls” is a bold new study exploring a previously under-researched subject – namely, what, why, and how European foundations fund.

With approximately 110,000 foundations currently operating in Europe and annual expenditures totaling €100 billion, European foundations represent a blossoming sector. At the same time, surprisingly little is known about the nature of their work, their funding priorities or where funds are allocated.

In order to understand the scope, distribution and diversity of European-based funding for women and girls, Mama Cash, the oldest international women’s fund, commissioned research by the FC and Weisblatt & associés in cooperation with the EFC. In addition to the unique focus on women and girls, “Untapped Potential” also represents the most comprehensive study to date on the philanthropic activities of European foundations more generally.

In total, 145 (mostly independent or private) foundations from 19 countries and representing diverse missions and sizes participated in the research. The aim of the study was to understand the extent to which foundations are funding women and girls; which issues related to women and girls foundations are most interested in funding; and the different approaches being taken in this work.

European Foundation Giving

In terms of broader patterns of European foundation giving, “Untapped Potential” reports education as being the most active area of funding (73%). Other fields receiving significant European foundation funding include health, (with half of those surveyed reporting giving in this area), community development (46%) and arts and culture (49%). Foundations were less active in funding religion (8%), public affairs (9%), and peace (11%). In line with the focus on education, children and youth represent the top beneficiary population of the foundations surveyed (74% reported working with youth), while the economically disadvantaged and people with disabilities were also key constituencies (50% and 48%, respectively). With such a strong focus on youth and education, the study underscores the importance of using a gender lens across programs to ensure that girls receive their fair share of the funding pie.

In relation to foundations’ giving specifically to women and girls, “Untapped Potential” exposes the large gap between European foundations’ interest and their actual funding. The study found that 90% of the foundations participating in the research expressed some interest in supporting programs benefiting women and girls. There were high levels of interest in funding work addressing violence against women (74%), poverty among women and/or girls (73%), and women and/or girls’ access to education (71%). However, only 37% of Foundations surveyed intentionally focused at least some of their work on women and girls. In fact, just 4.8% of foundation spending went explicitly to women’s and girls’ programs, with only one fifth of these grants focusing on human rights. These findings suggest that there is large potential for European Foundations to increase their support for women’s human rights work.

Worryingly, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender populations were the least likely to be the beneficiaries of foundation activities (9%), followed by people with HIV/AIDS (12%). In fact, when foundations were asked about their interest in engaging with issues affecting women and girls, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights generated the least amount of interest among foundations surveyed. Thirty percent expressed interest in funding work in this area, compared to 74% expressing interest in funding work on violence against women, for example. This lack of interest in funding lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights illustrates the important challenges facing sexual minorities and other marginalized communities seeking to finance their work and highlights the difficulties in funding more transformative social justice and rights agendas.

European Foundations Approaches to Funding for Women and Girls

The approaches used by European foundations in their support to women and girls also differs widely, with some foundations engaged at the mission level or through specific women and girls programs while others reported using gender perspectives across their work. Of the foundations surveyed, 19% indicated a mission-level commitment to women and girls, while 18% intentionally funded women and girls issues as a way of furthering their primary goals. Foundations working specifically on women and girls are significantly more likely than other foundations to be involved in human rights and social justice-oriented grantmaking.

AWID’s research on Where is the Money for Women’s Rights has long highlighted the importance of channeling resources directly to women’s rights organizations and movements working at all levels to challenge and transform power dynamics and structures. Yet many donors continue to prefer funding service delivery over transformative rights work. Indeed, by examining grants from 42 foundations, “Untapped Potential” shows that almost half of the grants identified as benefiting women and girls were in the area of human services (45%) while 21% were dedicated to human rights. While the importance of funding human services is undoubted, there is also the need to go beyond traditional methods of advancing women’s empowerment and rights such as micro-credit, gender mainstreaming, and quota systems, to name a few, as these approaches tend to view the individual as the driver of change. Funding innovative and transformative approaches means recognizing that individual problems are related to systemic ones and that collective action is needed to realize broader economic, social and political rights.[1]

What Next for Foundation Giving to Women and Girls?

To spark the conversation and forge alliances in the field, some of the foundations surveyed identified strategies to engage on women and girls’ rights issues:

  1. Developing strong board and executive staff leadership who understand the importance of giving to women and girls;

  2. Providing ongoing professional development for staff to build organizational capacity related to women and girls;

  3. Creating foundation practices, policies, and strategies that are flexible and adapted to fit the unique needs of organizations serving women and girls, and;

  4. Paying close attention to the importance of data and impact.

Moreover, foundations with successful women and girls funding programs should help stimulate and promote interest from other foundations new to this area. Grantees under women and girls’ programs could also partner with foundations to showcase the impact foundation support has had on their work and on women’s rights agendas.

Recognizing that the task ahead is to cover foundations’ interest in funding women and girls into action, the study suggests several next steps:

  1. Develop a “How To” primer for European foundations to implement programming for women and girls.

  2. Develop a peer training program for grantmakers on how to integrate a gender lens to their work.

  3. Create an interest group on gender within the European Foundation Centre to develop messages and strategies aimed at encouraging gender-sensitive grantmaking.

  4. Develop a charter within the European Foundation Centre and beyond to encourage foundations to sign on to a minimum level of awareness and commitment to funding with gender in mind, be it a stand-alone charter or under the broader umbrella of “diversity.”

Indeed, the EFC itself could play a key role in promoting interest in funding for women and girls and in implementing these suggestions. The launch of the study at the EFC Assembly in Portugal highlighted the level of foundation interest in learning more about funding for women and girls and demonstrated the potential for discussing funding for women and girls in these types of spaces.

The organizations that commissioned and produced the research hope that the study will promote discussion on foundation support for women and girls given that there is strong interest by foundations to do more. As expressed by the Executive Director of Mama Cash Nicky McIntyre and Gerry Salole, Chief Executive Director of the European Foundation Center in the forward to the study: “Ultimately, we want to stimulate more giving so that women and girls, and particularly women’s rights organisations, can have the power and resources they need to participate fully and equally in creating a peaceful, just, and sustainable world.”

AWID welcomes this study, which highlights the potential for private foundations to do more to support funding for women’s and girls’ rights organizations and movements. At the same time, the study highlights some key gaps between European foundation policies that promote women and girls on the one hand, and low expenditures on the other. Such gaps resonate with the research produced by AWID’s Where is the Money for Women’s Rights Initiative, which has highlighted the difficult funding realities faced by many women’s organizations worldwide.[2] Moreover, the report also exposes the troubling lack of interest in funding lesbian, bisexual or transgender issues, in spite of the fact that LGBTQI rights face threats in a variety of contexts.

Looking ahead, AWID is collaborating with Mama Cash and the Foundation Center to take the report to donors across Europe and congratulates Mama Cash and the FC on this important contribution to answering the question “where is the money for women’s rights?”

Read the full report

[1]Arutyunova, Angelika, The Gender Factor: How women’s organizations further sustainable social change, Effect Magazine, European Foundation Center, Vol.5, Issue 1, Spring 2011.

[2]AWID (2006) Clark, Cindy et al, Assessing resources and the role of donors in the promotion of women’s rights and the support of women’s organizations; AWID (2007) Kerr, Joanna, The Second Fundher Report: Financial Sustainability for Women’s Movements Worldwide and AWID (2008) Hopenhaym, Fernanda et al, FundHer Brief 2008. Money Watch for Women’s Rights Movements and Organizations.