Funding women and girls – how are European foundations doing?

Filiz Bikmen Bugay

Filiz Bikmen Bugay

Having arrived on the 31st I was swept right into the first two of my four very diverse speaking engagements I have at the EFC this year – and had the chance to attend other sessions as a participant. I admit I spent some time thinking about how to connect it all for my very first entry to the Alliance Magazine blog which I was honoured to be invited to contribute to this year.

How can we make the case for more foundations to fund women and girls? What are the changes underway in the Turkish Foundation sector? What challenges face Turkey’s EU accession and what are the roles of foundations – both Turkish and European – in addressing them? And last but not least, how are foundations practicing diversity – are we really ‘walking the talk’? These are just some of the key questions participants and myself have been grappling with these past two days.

And now, for the ‘report back’.  I’m starting off with the topic of women and girls and how perhaps the foundation sector is ‘coming of age’ when it comes to funding more in this area. I’ll save topics on Turkey, EU and diversity- all very interrelated- for my next entry.

Have we discovered the magic formula to get more foundations funding women and girls? Sadly (and slightly disappointingly), no. Conversations were interesting of course but they still tend to focus more on what’s wrong rather than what works. But to say I haven’t heard any good ideas to apply to my own work so far would be unfair…so here are some:

In funding women and girls, the King Baudouin Foundation prefers the approach of mainstreaming gender into their overall grantmaking. And to facilitate this they developed a set of tools and a ‘gender help desk’ (with the help of Gender at Work) which all staff have access to in helping to ensure projects are designed with a gender ‘lens’ from start to end.  It sounded like a great tool (if you want to know how to get to it, please ask me).

I shared some examples about how the Sabanci Foundation (where I run Programs), has a program focused only on women, and in addition, integrates not only a gender lens, but a youth and disability lens in all grantmaking. The program is also designed to systematically work to ensure projects combine service delivery with the development of new approaches to share with the sector and eventually feed into advocacy efforts.  But that doesn’t mean there are no ‘failures’- such as grantees thinking that inviting 100 women to participate in a project addresses the ‘gender’ aspect (!). But we are leaning- together- and with good intention.

Oak Foundation told us that although they have a program focused mainly on women, they too have started the ‘mainstreaming’.  Grant recommendations from Program Staff don’t get far along unless they come with at least one paragraph which provides analysis about how gender is addressed in the grant.

The session participants did however eventually get all tied up in semantics at one point (no surprise for our seasoned conference-going readers). It was a valid but somewhat irresolvable conversation about the difference between funding ‘gender’ as opposed to funding ‘women and girls’. If Excel was a live person and in the session room, he would have jumped up and screamed ‘cannot resolve circular reference!!” (I’ve felt this in other sessions so far, but I digress and save that for later).

In the same session, the team from the Foundation Center which is running a project with Mama Cash (organizer of the session) shared some initial results about the research about how much European Foundations are funding women and girls. The view is not as bleak as I expected- with data collected thus far, 30% of the surveyed foundations (about 140) allocate between 1-10% of their annual budgets for programs concerning women and girls. Not great, but a start. Of these, 38% prioritize violence issues, followed by access to education and rights in general. And about one quarter of them specifically name women and girls in their mission statement /grant guidelines. The final results are due out in June, and plans are already in motion to make this a very visible issue at EFC 2011 in Portugal.

So all in all, it was a great start to Foundation week where I’m sensing a common theme is going to be about broadening our horizons and perspectives in grantmaking to include all aspects of diversity- including gender- when doing our work. Now I’m off to a morning of meetings with representatives of the EU Commissions Directorate of Enlargement to discuss the state of play of Turkey’s accession and what we as foundations are doing and can do more of to support it.

Coming in my next posting: A great quote from M.L King, how Green Party chair Cem Ozdemir (German of Turkish descent) sees diversity, why one speaker claims the French are ‘xenophobic but not racist’, and an Italian-Swedish MEP who claims that for women, it’s not all about climbing the ladder and gender balance on corporate boards.

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2 responses to “Funding women and girls – how are European foundations doing?

  1. Pingback: Funding for gender, women and girls: An AGA retrospective and launch of a new report by Mama Cash and Grantcraft | Latest from Alliance

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