Revolutionalising Philanthropy in Asia and the Pacific

Strengthening resources for feminist movements

Around 150 women, girls and trans* activists from 20 countries, speaking eight different languages converged in Bangkok from 25 – 27 September 2019 to examine the multifaceted reality of feminist funding in Asia and the Pacific region. Organised by eight women’s fund’s members[1] of the Asia and the Pacific chapter of Prospera – International Network of Women’s Funds, the convergence brought together grantee-partners, regional allies, and funders to talk about resources, power, and the processes through which they are negotiated.

The Fiji Women’s Fund was one of the eight co-conveners and with the support of the Australian Government, co-funded the attendance of Pacific grantee partners which include; Rise Beyond the Reef, Fiji Disabled People’s Federation, Pacific Rainbow Advocacy Network, Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, Medical Services Pacific, Pacific Young Women’s Leadership Alliance and Voice for Change, Voice for Change and the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement.


What are women’s funds?
Group shot of various women’s fund representatives. PC: Her Fund (Hong Kong)

Global Fund for Women succinctly defines a women’s fund as “a philanthropic organisation governed by women, whose primary purpose is to provide financial support to women-led organisations that advance the leadership and empowerment of women and girls. Women’s funds develop and expand local philanthropy for women’s rights and women’s organisations. Women’s funds are distinct from women’s organisations in that their primary purpose is to mobilise resources to distribute to women’s organisations and movements, rather than providing direct services or programmes.”[2]

Women’s funds are:

  • the fundraising arm of the feminist movements. Specifically, women’s funds mobilise and route the resources towards women, girls, and trans*rights work from a wide range of funders.
  • grant makers, who make efficient and effective use of resources through implementing an informed grant making strategy. By providing flexible and accessible funding especially to local women’s groups, grassroots communities and marginalised groups, women’s funds contribute to the feminist movement building. This, in turn, contributes to the strengthening of the capacities of the feminist movement so that they can keep pace with the changing environment and challenges
  • knowledge hubs, because of the investment of resources and time in undertaking and circulating critical research and studies which are beneficial to women’s rights groups and funders.

Why the Convergence?

The geopolitical context of the Asia and Pacific region is one of shrinking civic spaces, accompanied by the ever-shrinking of sustained funding for rights-based feminist work.  Money is power but power is not about money alone.[3] The resources that fuel women’s and feminist movements come in a myriad of forms such as skills, knowledge, time, labour and other non-financial sources.

However, when one examines who has access to the myriad of resources, the landscape is quite problematic. Often, small and unregistered women’s groups and collectives are unable to access any funds or resources because of the nature of their work, their composition or their perceived ability to absorb or utilise funds, and medium and larger feminist organisations are heavily dependent on a few funders which are mostly based in the Northern hemisphere. In addition, most of the funding is linked to projects which often have a time-frame leaving many medium and larger feminist organisations on the constant search for funding and at the same time implementing.

It is with this background that the Convergence was held to:

  • Facilitate a space for activists and funders to share learning, build solidarity, ownership as well as strengthening local, regional and global links
  • Develop an understanding of what transformative feminist funding for feminist movement building is for Asia and the Pacific
  • Foster deeper conversations between funders and grantees on women’s funds and their significance in the Asia and Pacific region
Facilitating a space for learning, building solidarity and strengthening of local, regional and global links

How does one facilitate a space that brings together over 150 women’s, girls’ and trans* activists from 20 countries, speaking eight different languages? Well, it is not an easy feat and one not for the faint-hearted but, facilitators Ishita Chaudhry from India and Koila Costello from Fiji were able to transform the language barrier by using a range of methodologies such as plenaries, group discussions, music, and art.

The beauty and strength of the feminist movement and women’s funds is the diversity of each of these entities and their vibrant lived experiences that they bring to any room or space. Over the course of the Convergence, activists were able to share and learn from each other and question and challenge each other.


Developing an understanding of transformative feminist funding for feminist movement building

A key discussion point at the Convergence was examining what was meant by the term “transformative feminist funding.” By bringing together grantee partners and regional allies, the convergence really brought to surface the different perspectives and opinions of those present in the room.

For the eight women’s funds members of the Asia and the Pacific chapter of Prospera – International Network of Women’s Funds, transformative feminist funding is funding that is driven towards dismantling and disrupting the patriarchal beliefs, systems, and institutions that oppress women, girls, trans*, intersex and non-binary people globally. The funding whether it be in the form of financial or non-financial, is a deliberate attempt to transform the systems of power that exist.


Fostering deeper conversations between funders and grantees on women’s funds and their significance

Women’s funds from Asia and the Pacific brought together the diverse grantee partners, funders and regional allies in one room for three days. It led to a space that facilitated learning, building, and strengthening of multiple and multi-faceted links. It also led to encouraging deeper conversations between funders and grantee partners on their experiences of working with women’s funds, exploring both the rewarding and challenging contexts and the significance of women’s funds in a region that is unique.

The first-ever regional convening of its kind for the eight women’s funds in Asia and Pacific, the Convergence is part of a series of conversations that will continue to revolutionalise philanthropy to strengthen resources for feminist movements.

For the Fiji Women’s Fund, being a member of the Asia and the Pacific chapter of Prospera – International Network of Women’s Funds, the event provided an opportunity to meet and bring together a diverse group of Pacific and Fiji grantee-partners, regional allies and funders along with its seven sister funds. The discussions that took place within the Convergence led to a shared space and building solidarity between local, regional and global spheres.

[1] Fiji Women’s Fund, Urgent Action Fund Asia & Pacific, Mongolian Women’s Fund, HER Fund, Women’s Fund Asia, TEWA, South Asia Women’s Foundation of India and Korean Foundation for Women.

[2] https://www.globalfundforwomen.org/our-approach/womens-funds/#targetText=A%20women’s%20fund%20is%20a,women’s%20rights%20and%20women’s%20organizations.

[3] Miller, K and Jones, R, 2019 p10 Toward A Feminist Funding Ecosystem, Association for Women’s Rights in Development

 

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