3 ways INGOs can support young feminist movements

FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund is the first women’s fund dedicated to resourcing young feminist organisers around the world, using a participatory approach that gives applicants the chance to vote on which proposals are awarded funding.

We recently teamed up with Bond to hold a webinar to explore how UK INGOs can support young feminist movements and organisations.

In our previous roles as co-executive directors of FRIDA and now in our current work, we have collaborated with NGOs to navigate how they can move their institutions to work in different ways with activists and young feminist organisations (YFOs). The report, No Straight Lines, is a culmination of years of learning and reflection on how INGOs and funders can best engage and support young feminist organisations and groups.

The report involved many people who supported in collecting and analysing data, and shared their expertise and experience, including funders, INGOs and young feminist collectives.

This resource is an opportunity to start a conversation within the sector and learn with each other, as no one has all the answers. Here are three valuable ways INGOs can work with young feminist organisers.

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Relationships start with mutual respect. Always intend to impact.

When interacting with large INGO partners, a lot of YFOs said that check ins can feel like surveillance. Even if INGOs say they get caught up in up-ward donor accountability.

Young feminist groups feel pressure to respond to emails immediately. Six out of 12 respondents felt that there was no clear mechanism to report misconduct or give feedback.

Relationships with donors and INGOs rely on individual relationships rather than institutional mechanisms, so if there is staff turnover then the relationship can suffer.

Our recommendations:

  • Invest in starting off right, which means working to cultivate relationships that go beyond the transaction of the grant or project. Seek to support young feminist organisers to connect with other activists and create collective spaces for this exchange. Building trust takes time and requires intentionality and care.
  • Co-develop ways of working and accountability mechanisms: offer clear and consistent mechanisms for people to give you feedback, ask people how they want to receive and share feedback, be honest about power dynamics as a way to work towards integrity, humility and self awareness.
  • Prioritise communication and transparency. This means being honest and upfront about your limitations and realities.

Flexibility matters.

Bending is better than breaking when it comes to supporting social movements. Young feminist organisers said that many groups are not registered or do not necessarily want to be. Working directly with/in communities, requires them to be adaptable and responsive, which is where their strength lies. Flexibility allows creative and cutting edge intervention, which makes these FYOs so effective.

INGOs said that bureaucracy in large organisations makes flexibility really difficult and systems aren’t set up to partner with grassroots movements.

Our recommendations:

  • Find creative ways of working and “hacking” the system to transform it over time. This is a cultural shift, so figure out ways of being flexible and bringing leadership along.
  • Be open to different models of leadership, including consensus-based decision making practices and co-leadership models. Accommodate for this flexibility in your engagement with young feminist groups, allow time for people to feedback and consult their constituencies.
  • Offer alternative ways of transferring funding. This is especially important for finance staff to investigate and be sensitised to the difficulty for young activists to access funds in their contexts. Be open and explore how to do transfers to individuals in an accountable way via memorandums of understanding, and consider how to borrow practices from cash transfers programmes in other development work, so groups that do not have organisational bank accounts can receive funds. When you work through fiscal sponsors, ensure you talk through power dynamics and access to resources. And create space for caring and honest conversations that consider security and relationships in that context.

Allocate core resources and make money make change.

What young feminist organisers are saying: where there are resources, young feminists often have limited decision making power in how these are distributed and used. Also, they experience limited access to funding due to legal restrictions and requirements that prevent access.

What INGOs are saying: internally, funding availability for young feminist groups is limited and they struggle to secure sustainable funding for this work. With the pandemic, funding has shifted temporarily away from this area.

Our recommendations:

  • Make sure to allocate sufficient funding for core costs of YFOs.
  • Work with and use existing mechanisms like women’s funds and donor collaboratives.
  • Find ways to develop flexible funding mechanisms and participatory models whereby young people are part of this work and decisions. Compensate them for their time and recognise their expertise and contributions.

For more information, please get in touch with FRIDA or Bond. Or follow us on Twitter @devi_lo and @RubyAmeliaj.