New US$1bn gender fund for NGOs

Regional networks and grassroots organisations will benefit from the fund that aims to support women’s leadership and correct harmful gender norms

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Global donor initiative, Co-Impact, has launched its $1bn Gender Fund, naming the first 15 organisations it will support. The 10-year initiative, which was first unveiled last year, is targeting women-focussed NGOs, with the aim of advancing gender equality and female leadership, and correcting harmful cultural norms across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. 

The first grantees include ARMMAN, an Indian nonprofit using technology to improve healthcare for pregnant women and mothers; the Kenya-based Partnership for Economic Policy (PEP), which will undertake a gender-sensitive policy analysis of the labour market in five countries to identify work barriers for women; and Breakthrough, an NGO seeking to transform social norms that perpetuate gender-based violence and discrimination against in India. 

Melinda French Gates, Mackenzie Scott, Roshni Nadar Malhotra and the Shiv Nadar Foundation, and Tsitsi Masiyiwa, Zimbabwean philanthropist and social entrepreneur, are among the primary donors to the fund, which has already received contributions of $320m.

“To make progress on gender equality, we need systemic change in the structures, laws, and policies and processes of government, in how markets function, and how social norms are shaped and enforced,” explained Olivia Leland, Founder and CEO of Co-Impact.

“The mission of the Gender Fund is to deliver on the ambition of a world where systems and societies are just and inclusive, and where all women have the opportunity to exercise power, agency, and leadership at all levels.” 

“This is our once-in-a-generation chance to rebuild our systems to finally work for women and girls.”

Melinda French Gates, co-founder, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Commenting on the grantee announcement, Melinda French Gates said: “We need change to happen at every level of society. And it starts with opening more doors for women to step into their power and craft policies that lift others up like them. "This is our once-in-a-generation chance to rebuild our systems to finally work for women and girls.”

A 10-member advisory board will oversee the Gender Fund’s grantmaking, which is targeting 100 million people over the next decade.

Members include: Vidya Shah, the executive chairperson at India’s EdelGive Foundation; Anita Zaidi, president of Gender Equality and director of Vaccine Development & Surveillance at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Liz Yee, executive vice president of The Rockefeller Foundation (which is also a donor); and Mabel van Oranje of Girls Not Brides.

Sohini Bhattacharya is CEO at grantee BreakThrough, an Indian NGO catalysing leadership in communities to address deep-rooted cultural norms that perpetuate gender-based discrimination and violence.

"The vulnerable girl from a poor background doesn't need to reach her full potential only because it will improve her country's economy, she needs to do so because it is her right,” she said.

“True change is one where opportunities given to girls in all their diversities flow hand-in-hand with a change in hearts and minds of people who create the ecosystem around them."

Over the next decade, Co-Impact aims to support initiatives in 13 focus countries: India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Brazil, Peru, and Mexico. Currently, no Middle Eastern countries are being targeted by the fund. 

A version of this article first appeared on Philanthropy Age.Photocredit: GMB Akash / Panos.

The first 15 grantees 

The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT-Delhi): strengthening the country’s academic and research pipeline for entry, retention, professional growth, and female leadership in STEM education, research, and professions.

Partnership for Economic Policy (PEP): undertaking a gender-sensitive policy analysis of the labour market in Sri Lanka, Philippines, Senegal, Kenya, Brazil, and Peru.

Nossa Cidades: using the solidarity network Mapa do Acolhimento to provide direct services to survivors of gender-based violence in Brazil.

Women’s Excellence in Law and Leadership (WELL): supporting and building the capacity of women in law in Ghana, Senegal, and South Africa.

The Clooney Foundation for Justice: raising awareness of the importance of women in leadership in the law and building capacity to deliver systemic change.

Equis Justicia para las Mujeres AC: addresssing gender discrimination in Mexico’s judicial system by targeting state institutions with training and capacity building.

GQUAL (sponsored by CEJIL): working to achieve gender parity in the composition of international tribunals and monitoring bodies across Latin America and the Caribbean.

The International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ): running programmes in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Mexico, and the Philippines to empower women on the bench and overcome gender bias in laws and their application.

The National Council of Applied Economic Research: establishing a gender data hub to engage scholars, activists, and policymakers to support gender-focused analyses of public policies in India’s economic, health, and education sectors.

Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN): mobilising women’s institutions, government, NGOs, and philanthropies to mainstream community-led water management models through Project AWARE (Access to Water for Rejuvenating Rural Economy) in India.

Red ALAS (Universidad Torcuato Di Tella): changing legal education in Brazil, Mexico, and Peru by encouraging women’s leadership and researching and teaching on law and gender.

International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW AP): understanding what drives the effectiveness of the recommendations made by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

ARMMAN: a nonprofit using technology to improve healthcare for pregnant women and mothers in India.

Breakthrough: building a more gender inclusive education system to transform social norms that perpetuate violence and discrimination against women and girls in India.

The Asia Justice Coalition (sponsored by BRAC): developing women’s leadership in law through a network of women legal practitioners spanning Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and India.