What are the main trends in financing women’s rights organizations in the Global South?

While there is growing attention for advancing women’s rights and gender justice among funders globally, this does not always translate into funding for women’s rights organisations (WROs). Because WROs are involved in some of the most cutting edge and transformative work, they tend to challenge the status quo, and it takes a special kind of funder to support this work. But there are several other dynamics at play.

Over the past 10 years, roughly 70 countries have instituted restrictive laws on civil society organisations (CSOs), and in one-third of those we’re seeing more restrictions on receiving foreign funding. Activism is being criminalised in a growing number of countries. This puts increased pressure on human rights defenders and their security and safety needs. And in so-called middle-income countries, international funders have reduced levels of funding on the assumption that a growing economy will lead to more equality, including gender justice and women’s rights, and that national-level resources will be sufficient to support this work. I think the AWID website is a great resource on the ever-changing funding landscape from the perspective of women’s human rights.

Overall, WROs are operating in a funding environment in which foreign grants are increasingly hard to secure. Such high dependency on a relatively small group of sources represents a significant risk. In response, organisations are starting to diversify income and revenue generation away from grants. There are WROs building a local support base of individual donors in South Africa, Brazil, Mexico and India. And women’s funds, such as Semillas in Mexico and Elas in Brazil, are real pioneers in this area. Crowdfunding is also becoming more widespread, as well as engagement strategies with corporations. For example, the newly created win-win coalition is all about building cross-sector engagement for the advancement of women’s rights.

We are also seeing a growing emphasis on developing capital assets, such as organisational reserves, real estate, or land to create more financial stability and additional ways of generating income.

Another trend is the creation of so-called hybrid models where there’s a blurring of lines between “doing good” and “making money”. This is reflected in terms like “social enterprise” and “impact investing”. While it is not always possible to monetise women’s rights work, it is important to keep an open mind. Success in this environment requires big strategic thinking and a good dose of creativity and I believe it is possible to come up with models where “social” comes first while at the same time healthy income streams are generated. A growing number of WROs are establishing a corporate entity alongside their original non-profit entity in order to tap into commercial revenue streams.

While grants from a relatively small group of Global North based foundations and governments still represent the vast majority of combined revenues for WROs in the Global South, this is starting to shift. If you want to build real financial strength, you have to look beyond grants.