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Women’s Funding: Talk is Easy. Access – Not So Much

The funding landscape for women-oriented programs appears to be getting curiouser and curiouser.

I read lots of declarations about forming strategic partnerships, but find little understanding of the non-linear and often lengthy process of producing actual “outcomes” and “impact.” Development work in poor countries – and even in poor neighborhoods of rich countries – encounters a minefield of incompatible attitudes between intended beneficiaries and donors.  From the former: The internalized inferiority that is the sticky legacy of colonialism and slavery, the sense of entitlement related to welfare’ systems, and the destructive mindset of long-term poverty.  From the latter: A persistent delusion about the capacity for sustainable improvements when too little short-term money is brought to the table.

Where’s the Money?

Buttefly made of moneyWomen’s funding networks grow by gathering lots of moneyed individuals and organizations as members.  Try finding a way to access that money – or at least begin a discussion about it – and you’ll find that many network members pointedly note: “We do not accept uninvited proposals.”  It begs the question: “How does one get invited?” An online gallery where organizations could post information for interested funders would be a huge step forward in making critical connections.

While  networks crow about teaming up to amass money for women’s and girls’ programs, less is said or done to help implementing partners access that growing wealth. Much could be accomplished by streamlining, perhaps standardizing, the application procedures. Response time – often four to eight months – or no response at all simply betrays any stated commitment to the importance of the work.

Corporations often have social responsibility departments or foundations; seldom do they have a clear line of communication to those in charge. Seeking connection involves running a gauntlet of product sales pitches.

Foundations each have specific focus areas. Most of the time, their funding is project-based rather than for operating support. Generally they limit or even disallow overhead costs in a budget, as if important work can be accomplished without office space, connectivity, or administrative support.

Which Women’s Movement?

In an excellent article “Philanthropy for the Women’s Movement, Not Just ‘Empowerment’” in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Francoise Girard states: “ The philanthropic community’s preoccupation with impact and the short-term projects that deliver measurable outcomes can distract us from what really works. Abundant data shows that the most effective way for philanthropists to advance women’s rights worldwide is to directly invest in the women’s movement.”

I believe there are many and diverse Women’s Movements. My personal experience working with impoverished women through Women’s Center International, a Movement on the rise, argues that large groups of women surviving on the margins seldom are inclined to take to the streets in protest of patriarchal oppression. Their priority is to find the tools that will enable them to feed, shelter, and educate themselves and their children.

Ms. Girard further states:  “By investing in the individual, the burden remains on women to lift themselves and their children out of poverty, while leaving in place the systems of oppression that cause or contribute to this poverty in this first place.“

Indeed, each individual has to lift herself.  The traumas of poverty present a considerable burden that each woman can learn to unload as she acquires the tools to improve her life.  Providing those tools ultimately prepares her for activism – but only after the long journey to confidence and an ability to sustain herself. Advocacy movements need to be grounded in a solid connection with women working their way to self-empowerment. The goals are not mutually exclusive.

Ms. Girard also says: “[Philanthropic investment] means the provision of long-term, general operating support to women’s rights organizations that work collaboratively to transform social, legal, and political systems of patriarchal oppression.”

Amen to long-term, general operating support!  This must to be directed both to the grassroots organizations helping individuals lift themselves, and to those already equipped to fight for rights within the systems that oppress them.

Small organizations working at the community level are important elements of a vast women’s movement. They can achieve enormous progress. Their major limiting factor will always be money. To achieve durable results, funders have to be in for the long haul. They must work for a clearer understanding of how much is at stake – for both the individual woman and for the wider movements to achieve full human rights for all women. And they must respond with all the clarity and speed they require of their grantees. It’s business, and women’s lives hang in the balance.

Susan Burgess-Lent, Executive Director   www.WomensCentersIntl.org

Speaker and Author   www.SusanBurgessLent.com

Taking the Cutoff

dusty trail
On the track in North Darfur

The Donner Party’s fiasco in the Sierras grew from two bad decisions. One was to take an new untested ‘cutoff’ from the main trail. The other was getting a late start over forbidding mountains where an early and brutal winter awaited.  When asked about lessons learned, one surviving Donner party member offered: “Don’t take no cutoffs and hurry right along.”

Points taken. Nonetheless, I’ve traversed an uncharted cutoff and it’s proven worthy. I’m now in the process of hurrying right along – with a fierce will to be of service to women who need a hand up.

Despite a total reach of over 2,000 women since the Centers were opened, I seldom believe enough has been accomplished. Millions more women would benefit from a local Women’s Center. WCI has not been blessed – yet – with the financial resources to see just how national and global it can grow.

Donations to WCI tanked this year.  Baraka Center in Nairobi struggles to keep the doors open.   So, I’m creating two new revenue ssources to continue the work. The first is Speaking.  I’ve much to share, as I’ve enjoyed a career of ceaseless wonders working with women during way-off-the-beaten-path travels.  See my speaker info sheet HERE  https://wp.me/P28mxV-1e

The second is Consulting. Larger aid organizations finally may be realizing the importance, in their mix of aid, of a tested Model for a women’s center.  Over thirteen years of intensively studying and coordinating the operation four Women’s Centers, I’ve amassed a LOT of wisdom.  All of it has been complied in the Women’s Centers Guide. This and my strategic thinking skills I will happily share (for a fee).

The Women’s Center Model, birthed during Darfur’s darkest times, is especially effective where women are displaced and poverty endemic – including urban U.S. It’s how we advance women, a community’s best game changers, out of poverty.

Evidence Pileup

I felt slammed by an article this week.   It radicalized – even further – my belief that too many women in the US are laboring under the illusion that we don’t need to fight for basic rights.

The article, An Epidemic of Disbelief by Barbara Bradley Hagerty in the August 2019 issue of The Atlantic, opens with a riveting description of this discovery: in a broken-down warehouse in Detroit,  more than 11,000 rape kits that had not been sent for testing. Their dates extended back thirty years. Each one bore evidence of the most horrific event in a woman’s life. Image rape kit

A scandal it was, this breathtakingly negligent warehousing – but not an isolated case.  Estimates are that more than 200,000 untested rape kits now languish in police evidence lockers in cities throughout US.

In many rape cases, police don’t even begin investigating; a prevalent belief is that most women lie about being raped. One detective stated: “Out of ten cases, eight are false reports.”

Most prosecutors won’t take a case to court without a “righteous victim” – a woman who didn’t know the assailant, fought back, had a clean record, hadn’t been drinking, and didn’t offer sex for money or drugs. Essentially, the victim on trial.  If prosecutors predict a jury won’t convict, they won’t prosecute.

This ‘blame the victim” mindset in the criminal  justice system allows women to be raped with impunity. Journalist Bradley Hagerty captured it succinctly:  “Rape is by far the easiest violent crime to get away with.”

After six millennia, the only right women share worldwide is the right to vote.

In this country, as in many,  we’re still up against The Big Three Wrongs that try to “keep women in their place.”

We are paid less that men.

Our reproductive decisions are legislated by governments.

We are physically not safe; we will likely see no justice if we, or someone we know, is raped. And rape is epidemic in our world. Statistics forcable-rape-rate-in-the-us-by-state-2017

These ugly truths tend to invite depression,  a  predictable malaise too common among women, along with real fear of stepping beyond the restrictive definitions of ’woman’ so well embedded and defended in our culture.

In many countries,  women are in pervasive jeopardy, suffering transgression that even our broken systems might find actionable.  Women walking eight hours a day to collect water. Young girls married off to old men.  Clitorises removed. Wife-beating an accepted practice. And, diabolically, so much more pain-inflicting behavior.

The warriors among us have to come up with solutions.

Nine years ago, an amazing Darfuri woman revealed my warrior purpose to me, I have been immersed in thinking about how Women’s Centers work and grow and change.  I know, from creating four Women’s Centers, that women find what they need there.

Think:  base camps for the movement of advancing women’s lives.

Think:  safe places where women learn new skills, changing their life trajectory.

Think:  women experiencing the support of a sisterhood, learning that the petty stuff undercuts the enormous strength women find in unity.

That’s what Women’s Centers do. They equip women to become strong and resourceful – as they must be to build a better life. And their transformation ripples through the community.

I have witnessed the joyful engagement of the women at Baraka Center.  I know they come, sometimes a great distance, because they find acceptance and wisdom and support.

Meanwhile, to my utter bafflement, I have yet to convince enough monied allies of the urgent utility of Women’s Centers.  We’ve paid big dues; it’s time for big movement.

Women of means – even small means – must  step up for the sisters in dire situations – refugee camps and slums. There you find the women whose unique gifts can and will transform our world.

Women’s Centers are the most elemental way to advance the power of women. We need all the help we can get.

 

 

 

Kenya on my mind

Reflections on my time here in Kenya:

Nairobi on the cheap is less than fun but tolerable.  The city is all noise and hard surfaces; dust constantly swept and wiped, glass seldom clear, lighting never kind, no trash cans (which explains the mess on the streets), and drivers executing terrifying maneuvers. This is the part I’ve experienced. Outside city center, the lush amazing Kenya asserts itself.  For better or worse, Kenyans seem to adore and emulate things American.  T-shirts emblazoned with logos from Michigan State, Detroit, Arizona, etc. Rap music. I’ve seen vegan items on menus! Giant commercial vibrating signs a la Times Square.

Since my arrival, I’ve fretted about Baraka Women’s Center’s future.  It serves a large population of women who really need a safe place to learn and grow. Too many women – increasingly the younger ones – are lost and alone until they find Baraka Center. Mary, an older woman who joined seven years ago, came to see me.  She reminded me that had learned to read at the Center.  Over recent years, she’d lost her husband and two children.  She stays with a sister who recently had back surgery, making Mary somewhat of a caretaker.  She told me feels alone and troubled – except when she’s at Baraka Center. She wept when I gave her the equivalent of $5 to afford regular matatu fares to keep coming to the Center.

A recent dearth of funding has severely limited BWC’s ability to fully deploy programs. A mere $2,900 would completely equip the entire vocational training program and the computer lab, which SO needs a new printer and at least three new computers. Lucky for us, a potential new partner has arrived.

I flew to Kisumu yesterday with Peter Ndier, Founder and Chairman of SOWO, an NGO with programs similar to those of Baraka Center.  Kisumu is a mid-sized town northwest of Nairobi on stunning Lake Victoria.  An open, human-scale country town much less frantic than Nairobi.  We visited SOWO’s projects in Kogelo and Siaya.  A soap-making enterprise branded LASH, for which the new county governor provided a pricey mixing machine. Nearby,  a tidy compound with  a large meeting room, an immaculate well-equipped office, two large classrooms, one for tailoring and one for hair and beauty skills training.  And a row of dukas (small shops) where women display and sell their crafts.

There we saw what Baraka Center aspires to be and could become – if not constrained by the realities of the big city, with its indifferent politicians and slum-lord property management style. A beautiful place of its own.

Susan Jane with Mama Sarah
Me with Jane K and Mama Sarah Obama in Siaya, Kenya

SOWO’s guiding light is Mama Sarah Obama, the 97-year-old matriarch of the clan that produced our former President.  Barak is her grandson.  Mama Sarah is a gracious lady with a ready sense of humor; she’s nurtured by extended family who reside in a peaceful compound with fruit trees and a half-dozen cows grazing the well-tended grounds. She charmed me.

SOWO is interested in partnering with WCI and BWC in creating more Women’s Centers in Kenya. (Our vision for some time now!) The exact mechanism is yet to be worked out, but a great opportunity has been presented.  We’ve also made new connections with USAID Kenya and UN Women.  BWC has three new well-connected members who are passionate about the mission.

On balance, my work here of reviewing and connecting has been a success – with much follow-up to be done. Wheels up in about  eight hours for the 20-hour flights home.

Support Women’s Centers International!

 

Baraka SoS

How to convey the oeuvre of Nairobi? The fulminating heap of humans tumbling through their dusty days, industrious as army ants. NBO JamSpeed bumps and pedestrians crossings on freeways. Gridlocked traffic into town all day. I’ve developed an aversion to traveling anywhere in a vehicle, knowing that I will sit in the heat and exhaust for up to 45 minutes, no matter the ‘real’ time of a journey. So I walk a lot.

We are making steady progress in reviewing and refining all the systems at Baraka Women’s Center, as well as making new connections with potential funders. I am ever humbled by the power of relatively small amounts of money here. One woman to whom I gave the equivalent of ten dollars tearfully launched into a lengthy prayer of gratitude.  Baraka indeed gathers in the lost and the hopeless; the energy of inclusion in this community is a miracle to behold. To belong is to have new power, new hope, even joy. A safe gathering place matters, and that’s what the Center provides.

Yesterday, twenty-five women gathered to mark the seventh anniversary of the Center, as well as to celebrate the graduation of the vocational program trainees.  Our food offering was peanut butter sandwiches (would have been plain bread had I not brought peanut butter) and cake.

BWC Staff and trainers
BWC Staff and trainers

This and other daily events painfully remind me that I came mostly empty handed. No month can pass without an infusion of cash; BWC has not located its August infusion. Shifting BWC into ‘thrive’ mode takes money. It means reallocating  some of our wealth to women with the greatest needs, to those who can set things right in the long haul.

$10 transforms a woman’s life for a week.

Add zeros and the prospects for the sisterhood grow exponentially.

What will move you to contribute what you can?