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The ONSIDE Fund is committed to actively curating spaces for global knowledge exchange and learning. As part of this commitment, we bring together a variety of different stakeholders from across the gender justice sector including; ONSIDE grantees, funders, women's funds and sport for development organisations. 

In order to capture the valuable insights that emerge in these spaces, the ONSIDE Fund is excited to launch the 'ONSIDE Fund Thought Piece Series', a series of short articles, each written by different ONSIDE stakeholders, who share their unique perspectives after participating in these conversations. 

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Written by Jaya Tiwari, Senior Programmes Manager at Maitrayana and OAC member, and Smita Sen, Founder and Executive Director of Rupantaran

We had the opportunity to participate in a Funders Dialogue session on 16th November 2023 and here are some of our reflections on the conversation. 

One of the most relevant topics discussed within the small, vibrant group of ONSIDE funders, grantees, Advisory Committee members and Women Win was the sustainability of grassroots initiatives. During the conversation, several questions were raised to dissect the topic of flexible funding for sustainability: Should funders provide sustainable funding that is multi-year and unlimited or focus on funding sustainable change and long-term systemic impact? What does flexibility in funding entail, and how do we understand it?

This dialogue was specifically pertinent because this is the final grant cycle of many ONSIDE grantees who have received unrestricted funding for three years for initiating, implementing, and sustaining gender equality movements through sports with girls, women, and non-binary people from underrepresented groups and communities.

Illustration by Sagrario capturing key highlights from the conversation

Grantees across Asia-Pacific, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas, and Europe echoed the need for flexible funding that is fully unrestricted. Restricted funding opportunities are often limited to registered, stable, and established organisations. New initiatives, particularly those amplifying women and girls’ voices and challenging existing norms, struggle to access such funding.

Most restricted funding is project-based and fails to consider the individual needs of organisations, including supplies, physical spaces, learning and capacity building, and leadership development. Moreover, women who do not conform to stereotypes are often perceived as incompetent to lead any movement or cause.

In contrast, the flexible funding provided by ONSIDE has reached 99 groups across 55 countries, including startups with innovative ideas and the courage to challenge gender norms and expectations.

Within ONSIDE, flexibility is not solely about budgetary flexibility and line items, it is about recognising the needs of the community and where and how funds are required to advance the movement. It was also acknowledged that individuals in positions of power influence the concept of flexible funding. On the one hand, individuals can make funding more meaningful to grassroots organisations by granting them the liberty to decide how to allocate resources. On the other hand, even funding labelled as flexible can become highly restricted if it faces excessive scrutiny.

Diana from H&M Move beautifully articulated that grassroots organisations should not be confined to rigid structures and assigned Key Performance Indicators. Instead, they should have full ownership of funds, as they are best positioned to determine how to manage those resources being sector experts.

We found a resonance in the reflective sharing of the ONSIDE grantees who participated in the discussion. Although the sustainability of movements has multiple faces, grantees agreed that working with vulnerable communities and empowering them through sports is in itself a way of making the movement sustainable as it enables the community to take ownership of carrying it forward. Building leadership skills among the girls and women we are working with is not only empowering but also promotes sustainability as shared by Luz, Jennifer, and ourselves. 

We also felt that unrestricted funding is giving organisations a breathing space and infuses us to be entrepreneurial and more creative in our strategies. It fuels the experimentation of new ideas and supports self and collective care within communities, societies, countries, and continents.

In conclusion, we believe that flexible funding represents the future of philanthropy and is something that more corporations should embrace. The funders in the conversation echoed the need for this type of discussion with corporate funders more broadly so that they can hear the voices from the ground and understand how feminist initiatives and movements are looking at sustainability issues as well as flexibility in funding.

The ONSIDE Fund Thought Piece Series IV - Jawa Tiwari, Smita Sen
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Written by Jennifer Mejía Calderón, Centro Transdisciplinario de Estudios en Género (CETREG)

These dialogues led me to reflect on the importance of having our voices heard in diverse spaces. Although ONSIDE has always given us the opportunity to express our ideas and share our knowledge in forums or panels, we had never shared a space with funders. I believe this is important because as members of grassroots collectives we were able to be heard directly by the people who make decisions about the resources allocated to the Fund. These dialogues allowed us to express ourselves freely about how we understand sustainability, and I noticed that most of the Fund's grantees share similar visions of this concept. I was happy to hear that none of us translated sustainability into a purely economic concept, on the contrary, we defined it from a political, emotional, and social perspective.

This led us to ask ourselves: how can we continue to sustain our work? The importance of self-care came up as we agreed that there is an emotional aspect to sustainability. The question of sustainability forces us to be very clear about our expectations as a grassroots collective. Sometimes we can take up very large projects, but other times we can't, so we devise strategies that allow us to continue collaborating with our organisations and movements based on our capacities and scope. We also talked about the importance of not overburdening ourselves and instead letting our mission and vision guide us to ensure that the funding we receive is aligned with our desires and concerns. For us, as a collective, it means believing firmly in our political commitment and in the changes that we want to create, which then translates into our programme design and proposal writing. This sustains us because we do what we love and are passionate about. It is also why we value flexible funding, as it allows us to make autonomous decisions and does not exert so much pressure to reach certain numbers.

This becomes even more relevant in the presence of funders because it allows them to reflect on their requirements or the results they expect from the organisations. It is crucial for them to know that behind every figure there are dozens of women trying to sustain a movement and their own organisations and that each of us has a social, historical, and family context that must also be taken into consideration. Companies need to know that it is not always possible to achieve the expected results. Furthermore, they should know that contexts can be difficult and therefore it is necessary to be more flexible when granting funding. I was excited to hear that some of the people in the room understood these points and even showed interest in continuing to promote flexible funding.

Photo by CETREG

I would like to go back to the importance of flexibility in the sustainability of movements. Many times, flexible funding helps and encourages us to sustain our work because we feel that our efforts are valued and acknowledged. This also speaks about trust; it shows that funders trust us and our work and therefore give us the autonomy to make decisions and tackle the difficulties we may encounter in our own way. Flexible funding also pushes us to be creative and free, and this certainly sustains our organisations because we're not constantly under pressure.

The ONSIDE Fund Thought Piece Series - Jennifer Mejía Calderón - ENG
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Written by Lucerito, CMJ

I had the opportunity to participate on behalf of CMJ in Sustaining the ONSIDE movement, a space for dialogue between funders and movements of the ONSIDE community. Despite having our own identities and contexts, all the participants in this dialogue resonated with the perspectives shared by each other. For us at CMJ, sustainability goes beyond the financial; we think it's important to find a balance between financial and social wellbeing. When these aspects go hand in hand, our organisations face less challenges, and this is why when we talk about sustainability, we don’t just refer to long-term funding.

This dialogue gave us the opportunity to speak our minds directly and not through evaluation reports, which are often not read in full, or the data contained in them never reaches the funders. This could be why many funders continue to follow the same practices and structures, thinking that this is the best way for grassroots organisations to achieve their goals instead of letting us focus on what we actually need to develop ourselves. This often leads to demotivation and fatigue and does not contribute to community building as a key aspect of sustainability. In our work towards sustainability, we experience great challenges and as part of the ONSIDE community we value spaces for dialogue and flexible funding because these help us to sustain ourselves.

During this event, we discussed questions such as what does sustainability mean for movements and how are we contributing to it? This was an open question that provided a great opportunity for reflection, and I would like to share some insights. Sustainability for movements is:

Photo by CMJ
  • Listening to the diversity of voices, moving towards gender justice, and recognising leadership.

  • Play (sports) as an act of resistance for movements.

  • Promoting collective care and strengthening relationships.

  • That the communities acknowledge our work and the importance of sports as a tool to challenge gender roles. 

  • Having human and financial resources that contribute to developing actions to meet the needs and priorities of the girls.

  • Accessing renewable and flexible funding to develop our creativity as a movement. 

Financial flexibility contributes to our social sustainability, and it is important because it allows us to be diverse and inclusive, to be creative in order to seek better horizons, to change power and promote systemic changes, to be flexible with our ideas and get out of stressful situations. It also contributes to our autonomy, mental health, self-care, and self-defence and provides us with the opportunity to adapt our ideas based on the needs and contexts we face (such as COVID, patriarchy, political and economic contexts, etc.).

Understanding sustainability from broader perspectives (and contexts) gives funders the opportunity to adapt what they require from us as organisations. This is why it is important to maintain spaces for dialogue between both parties to act as a bridge between two different worlds: a world that is less “square”, one in which we strive to contribute to the wellbeing and development of girls and vulnerable groups and recognise the power of diverse voices to bring about meaningful, long-term change.

The ONSIDE Fund Thought Piece Series IV - Lucerito
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