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Where’s the money for girls?

By Josh Kaplan

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the world to change dramatically, presenting new challenges in addressing gender equality. Young people, and especially girls and young women, have been among the worst affected. And yet, they are showing up in this moment of crisis to organize and advocate for their local communities. To support these young female activists, the Global Resilience Fund emerged with the support of a diverse coalition of 25 donors and foundations, including Plan International. Since May 2020, the Global Resilience Fund has distributed more than $1 million in flexible grants to 234 grassroots youth-led groups in 91 countries. Every organization is led by women, trans or non-binary people under the age of 30. The Global Resilience Fund demonstrates the power of philanthropy in moments of crisis, laying the groundwork for a new model of supporting feminist movements.

The founding and findings of the Global Resilience Fund built the foundation of the 2021 Weathering the Storm report, which details the challenges young female activists have faced during the pandemic and the success of cross-sector collaboration in mobilizing resources at speed and scale to reach the communities that need them most. This report was the topic of discussion during Plan International USA’s International Youth Day Event, “Where is the money for girls? Funding girl-led movements in a pandemic,” hosted on August 11.

Tessie San Martin and Youth Advisory Board member Rose were joined by keynote speaker Mike McCabe, Senior Advisor on Youth at USAID, as well as panelists Jody Myrum, who co-leads the Global Resilience Fund and co-authored the Weathering the Storm Report; Judy Diers, Program Director of International Programs at the Ford Foundation; and Esther, the executive secretary of Necessary Aid Alliance in Ghana and a participant of Plan’s Youth Challenge Fund.

In case you missed the event, here are three key learnings from the discussion about the Weathering the Storm report:

1. Young people, especially girls and female activists, are leading the charge in community development efforts during the pandemic.

As Esther noted, “This decade is a youth decade, and now is the time for young people to take action.” These powerful words underpin the Weathering the Storm report and our panel discussion. Both globally and in the U.S., girls in all their diversity have experienced the greatest impacts from COVID-19, with disruptions to education and employment, increased exposure to gender-based violence and limited access to sexual and reproductive health services, to name a few. At the same time, girls and young women have demonstrated their resilience by organizing for community change. In doing so, they are both meeting the immediate needs of their communities and challenging systemic barriers to progress.

The Global Resilience Fund plays a vital role in directing resources to young female activists, as funding is a critical enabler for innovation in communities on the margins. Young people want and need funding that is longer-term and channeled directly to them, rather than through intermediaries, which poses a number of significant challenges for female-led organizations that are not registered or don’t have bank accounts, as Esther described. Building sustainable organizations and movements requires centering the needs of young feminist activists who are leading grassroots advocacy efforts.

2. Development organizations have made tremendous strides in supporting young female activists, but there is still more work to be done.

Large organizations face what Mike McCabe described as the “big bureaucracy challenge,” where procedures, compliance and accountability often slow down the important work of directing funds to communities on the margins. The Global Resilience Fund demonstrates the importance of cross-sector collaboration, where government agencies, civil society and the private sector can quickly mobilize resources to respond to humanitarian emergencies like COVID-19. The Weathering the Storm report highlights the need for a thriving funding ecosystem, with funders from across regions, sectors, movements and issues, united by a collective purpose to resource girls and young women’s organizing.

This ecosystem brings together diverse donor types, including public, private and multilateral funders, as well as INGOs, to complement skill sets and competencies. For example, as Mike detailed, USAID has done a tremendous job training staff members on positive youth development and directing investments towards cross-sectoral youth development programming, but young people are often not part of longer-term country and program strategies due to structural barriers. Responding to this gap requires public and private funding for youth advocacy and support in rethinking the way development organizations approach partnerships around youth issues.

3. The future of philanthropy looks more participatory and intersectional than ever before.

The pandemic affords a new opportunity to upend top-town development approaches by investing directly in young feminists, who understand the needs of their communities the most and are best equipped to enact change. The Global Resilience Fund demonstrates how to mobilize resources quickly, inclusively and with purpose. Young feminists were a critical part of the grant review process, from the design of the grant application to the selection of grantees. By engaging young people in the development and implementation of the Global Resilience Fund, resources were better directed to the communities and young leaders who need them most. As Mike mentioned, young peoples’ roles need to shift from “strategy takers” to “strategy makers.”

With a sharp focus on mobilizing resources at speed, the Global Resilience Fund examined how to streamline the application process. Jody spoke about funders assuming most of the burden around legal compliance and due diligence, asking young feminist activists only the most relevant and necessary questions during the process. Barriers to entry raised by the young female activists engaged in the application design process, such as bank accounts or reporting requirements, were eliminated, and replaced instead by creative funding options and collaborative learning calls with grantees. Such practices should become a mainstay in philanthropy.

Indeed, the Global Resilience Fund is a proof of concept that investing in girls in all their diversity has exponential benefits for the communities of which they are part. The Weathering the Storm report describes bringing an intersectional lens to the grant-making process, enabling funding to reach girls, feminists and non-binary young people who are often excluded from traditional funding opportunities. Intersectional approaches that consider gender, race, disability and age not only ensure activists on the margins are supported but allow for more inclusive youth-directed advocacy efforts.


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