Transformation Partnerships and Participatory Grant-Making

This is the third in a series of blogs by Scott Osborne, long-time member of Together Women Rise’s Grant Selection Committe

In my last blog, I talked about systems change and why this focus is so important for Together Women Rise’s Transformation Partnerships. You may recall that a systems change approach means taking a fresh look at what we fund; it means channeling more resources toward the root causes of gender inequality.

There is another way we can have a greater impact on gender equality, however, and this focuses not on what we fund, but on how. We will fund our Transformation Partnerships through “participatory grant-making”.

At its core, participatory grant-making (PGM) is simple: change grant-making procedures to involve program participants directly and consistently in decision-making. PGM means involving affected communities far more in the design and direction of programs and monitoring and reporting requirements. Historically, many grantors have determined funding criteria, selected grantees, created reporting requirements, and so on, without significant involvement of the very people most involved in the program. PGM shifts this.

You might wonder why? Won’t it be harder to achieve impact if we have less control? In fact, it’s precisely the opposite. PGM brings the people most knowledgeable about a problem into the decision-making! It empowers those directly affected by a problem, so they have a greater say in solving it. This leads to more thoughtful and informed projects and can encourage new initiatives, plus it helps build the trust and collaboration so necessary for long-term effectiveness.

How will this work? PGM is not a quick paperwork change or a one-stop shop. It involves shifting our approach as well as our procedures. While there is a wide variety in how grantors implement PGM, it typically involves simplified application and reporting requirements, flexibility in funding with local control over implementation decisions, and full transparency.

Moreover, the actual PGM process itself furthers a vital goal. Just by shifting more decision-making to local communities, by recognizing and encouraging their knowledge, we help build leadership, agency, and power in the very women we want to strengthen.

And moving our Transformation Partnerships to a more participatory model should not be a stretch for us: Together Women Rise is already a highly collaborative, participatory organization, after all! In fact, we had a taste of this just recently. In 2020, our Featured Grantees were invited to make changes in their projects to respond to COVID. Many grantees were able to continue projects as designed, or just pause them, while others needed some funds to keep staff on the payroll or provide food for those suddenly without incomes. Those decisions needed to come from our grantees, not from us.

Taken together, systems change, which focuses on changing the real root causes of women’s inequality, and participatory grant-making, which empowers local women to make more of their own project decisions, are two powerful ways to foster gender equality. Help us get there, and stay tuned for updates!