More than grants: GFC’s creative partnerships for change

By Vanessa Stevens | December 21, 2022 | Africa & The Middle East, Asia, Europe & Eurasia, The Americas | Education, Youth Empowerment

Global Fund for Children’s Director of Innovation and Influencing, Vanessa Stevens, reflects on a year of innovative grantmaking in response to the needs of children, youth, and GFC’s local partners.  

When you think of grants, do you think of creativity? Throughout our history and especially in 2022, we have embraced creativity in grantmaking to adapt and move resources to where they are needed most.

Founded in 1993, GFC was an early pioneer in creative, trust-based grantmaking. From the beginning, we have believed that small amounts of flexible funding given to innovative, community-based organizations make a real, lasting impact on the lives of children and youth. With a commitment to courage, inclusion, and learning, our grantmaking has continued to evolve, with young people and community leaders at the center.

Developing leadership skills with indigenous children in Chiapas, Mexico

GFC Regional Co-Director for the Americas Rodrigo Barraza meeting with children in Chiapas, Mexico. © GFC

GFC’s grantmaking partnerships embrace creativity, playfulness, and wellbeing as core to social change. Our support goes beyond grants of flexible funding to capacity development, convenings, and network building tailored to each partner’s goals. In recent years, we have adapted our approach in a multitude of ways, from participatory capacity development tools that integrate drawing and theater to partner-led convenings that center wellbeing and trust-based relationships. We embrace our role as a facilitator, not an expert, to hold space for those most affected by injustice to define the changes they want to see.

To this end, GFC’s grantmaking is now more flexible, accessible, and responsive than ever for community-based organizations. GFC funds both registered and unregistered groups, with or without a fiscal sponsor, making it possible to reach more nascent and youth-led groups from marginalized communities. We also recently updated our grants management software, implemented a new international bank transfer system, and simplified our annual reporting requirements to save partners time and money.

GFC partners in Sierra Leone and Liberia in front of a staircase

Amé Atsu David (center in dark blue), GFC's Regional Capacity Development Specialist for West Africa, poses for a picture with partners. © CFN

Many of these changes were in response to partner feedback. GFC participates in the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s (CEP) Grantee Perception Survey and conducts Constituent Voice surveys to regularly hear how grantee partners view their relationship with GFC and the types of support they find most valuable. In 2022, we learned through our most recent Grantee Perception Survey that GFC ranks near the top of CEP’s comparative dataset of more than 300 funders for the quality of its relationships with grantees. Additionally, through GFC’s most recent Constituent Voice survey, we found that partners trust GFC to follow through on commitments. Partners said they especially value GFC’s flexibility and quick response to changing needs.

We tested our adaptability this year in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. For more than 20 years, we have provided flexible emergency grants to partners, but we had never responded to an emergency on this scale that wasn’t a natural disaster.

The war in Ukraine called for bold action to protect the rights of children and civil society. Since February 2022, GFC has disbursed more than $2.2 million in grants to more than 60 nongovernmental organizations in Ukraine and neighboring countries. Most of the funding has gone to first-time grantee partners that were recommended by donor and activist networks. Making this many large, rapid-response grants to new grantees required a shift in our processes and a reinforced commitment to trust-based philanthropy.

Kulsoom Khan visiting partners in Thailand.

Kulsoom Khan (second from right), GFC's Senior Regional Director for Asia, visits a classroom during a trip to see GFC partners in Thailand. © GFC

Additionally, GFC is a growing leader in participatory grantmaking and youth participation in philanthropy. Our Youth Leadership Council, formed in 2018, and our new Partner Advisory Group, launched in 2022, are important spaces for feedback, co-design, and strategy development. Through our annual awards and new Spark Fund, GFC’s grant decisions are increasingly made by youth and community leaders.

The Spark Fund, which invests in youth-led efforts to disrupt social inequities and tackle injustice, is a prime example. Over the past year, through an iterative learning process, four diverse Spark Fund youth panels across the world designed their own regional funds. Each regional panel designed their focus areas, criteria, applications, and calls for proposals. After receiving 790 applications globally, each panel used a digital voting platform for more inclusive decision-making. The panels ultimately selected a total of 56 youth-led and youth-focused organizations in 13 countries, awarding $546,000 in flexible funding.

Lastly, GFC is determined to share the power of creative grantmaking to reimagine philanthropy and global development.

Over the past two years, the GFC team, our partners, and youth leaders have led or engaged in more than 45 public speaking events. Most recently, in late 2022, GFC launched a participatory strategy process engaging community leaders to define the changes that are most important to them in the funding ecosystem. These efforts are part of GFC’s Commitment to Change for both GFC as an organization and the sector, recognizing that funders must be active allies to global civil society in order to support lasting social change. With the launch of GFC’s new Five-Year Vision, our team will continue to embrace creativity to center children, youth, and their communities as drivers of systemic change.

Header photo: GFC staff and partners meeting with other civil society organizations for a convening in Tijuana, Mexico in 2020. © Jeff Valenzuela

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Global Fund for Children (GFC) UK Trust, created in 2006, is a UK registered charity (UK charity number 1119544). We work to generate vital income, create new fundraising opportunities, and raise awareness of the invaluable work of GFC’s grassroots grantees. Our aim is to extend the reach of GFC in the United Kingdom, Europe, and beyond.

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