Integrating Inclusion Lens to Thematic Programming: Brief - TAI Session at WINGS Forum 2023

By Cristina Ordóñez (Program Coordinator-TAI)
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How can founders appropriately integrate a gender and social inclusion perspective into philanthropic programming? This is what we discussed at the session moderated by the Transparency & Accountability Initiative at the recent WINGS Forum in Nairobi. The full title of the session was funding at the Intersection: Hard-Won Lessons from Integrating an Inclusion Lens to Thematic Programming

The session offered insights from grantmakers who have directly overseen intersectional grantmaking approaches. We had quick of presentations by Amina Salihu, Acting Deputy Director of the On Nigeria Program at the MacArthur Foundation, Ishita Dutta, Program Manager at VOICE, and Alvin Mosioma, Division Director for Fiscal Justice at the Open Society Foundations; and the participation of 40 colleagues from philanthropic organizations, donor networks, intermediary funders, civil society organizations and more.

Amina started asking us all to invest time and resources in building a common language around concepts of inclusion, accountability and participation – these are complex, we need common understanding. She shared how the MacArthur Foundation has incorporated a formal gender and social inclusion approach into its On Nigeria governance programming, guided by a value framework called the Just Imperative. To build this framework, the team began discussing what justice looks like and what it means to deliver justice: "It goes beyond just giving money. It's more about how you use philanthropy to give opportunities more directly to those you are supporting, and to be sure that you are doing it in a way that affirms their dignity." 

Each country office of the Foundation reflected on how to implement the Just Imperative approach, analyzing local context and being mindful of doing no harm with the interventions. In the African context gender equity and social inclusion (GESI) was the preferred focus for achieving the Just Imperative, but understanding GESI as an intersectional approach that includes dimensions of gender, age, geography, generation, ability, and faith. 

Moreover, the MacArthur Foundation sees GESI as a value, an approach, and an outcome. Values are the principles that guide the Foundation’s work internally and with its partners, "because you can't ask of others what you haven't done yourself".  Approach refers to the grantmaking practices and the type of organizations the Foundation decides to partner with. Finally, the outcome is how the landscape is changing, how lives are transforming, the nature of the policy space, how much more inclusive the allocation of resources is to communities in need, among other factors. 

Ishita spoke about how VOICE, a grant making facility, started in 2016 to support rights holders facing intersectional and multiple forms of discrimination to express their views and demand their rights for responsive and inclusive societies, including influencing governance processes to become more inclusive. VOICE supports local initiatives for and by rightsholder groups, including people with disabilities, indigenous people, young people and the elderly, women’s groups, and LGBTI people.

An example she shared is the work of Albinism Umbrella in Uganda, that used transparency and accountability tools to generate data and evidence to make this community visible as active citizens of Uganda and to express their needs and demands to the government. Other partners focused on promoting active engagement by communities, providing communities with information and knowledge about their rights, as well as budgetary processes and ways to demand their rights from authorities. In Kenya, the Coalition on Violence Against Women was able to include 32 proposals in the county’s budget process, leading to concrete actions such as the creation of a Center for Early Childhood Development. VOICE also created a space for networking and learning among partners, with support from the Coady Institute, which provided a platform for the projects to come together and exchange ideas.


Alvin brought his experience from his previous role leading the Tax Justice Network Africa (TJNA), where he worked on illicit financial flows and his current role leading fiscal justice work at OSF, where he links climate finance and fiscal justice work. He elaborated on the challenges of addressing intersectionality in a thematically structured organization, such as those focusing on women's rights or tax justice. While the issues are cross-cutting, organizations often continue to work with siloed approaches and funders contribute to this problem with their siloed support. How could we bridge themes and approaches? Debating this question, at TJNA they recognized that traditional economic organizations are predominantly male led, while tax policies, and other economic policies mainly impact on women. There is both a representation and a capacity issue to bridge. We need more to support women-led initiatives and organizations involved in macroeconomic issues and we need to address leadership and governance of organizations.

Another challenge Alvin raised is that organizations focusing on communication and mobilization often lack sufficient resources to also do research. At the same time, think tanks that do great research often lack the capacity to translate these into advocacy. To address this gap, funders should support more collaborative work, such as coalitions that include organizations from different fields and approaches and networks with intersectional approach – for instance, OSF supports Financial Transparency Coalition. For instance, OSF supports the Ideas Network, formed of progressive economists "to promote interaction between research activities, policy advocacy, and activism and to reinforce the links between academics, activists, policymakers, and other practitioners in networks working on similar issues". 

We asked speakers and participants about their approach to monitoring, evaluation and learning when it comes to inclusion and intersectional approaches. The MacArthur Foundation has for instance MEL partners to help their and their grantees work. They frequently inquire about where interventions are making a difference. They measure GESI in multiple ways, for instance tracking number of policies that didn't exist before, new creative spaces that were built, the kinds of decisions being made – and by whom, how the space itself is changing, number of women leaders, or the quality of policies and entities.

Participants of the session wanted to learn more about practical ways to address patriarchal approaches, when there are established grantee relationships with patriarchal organizations, and without abusing the power of the funder. Amina suggested that the starting point for thinking about gender intersectionality had to start at home and was the delegation of power - and to delegate power, we need to deconstruct it. The process of deconstructing internally as a team involves rethinking the systems, structures, frameworks, tools, and language that are already in place in our own teams and organizations. Alvin added on the importance of analyzing how an organization’s leadership is structured and, when possible, encourages funders to discuss transitioning leadership plans with grantees. Important to remember that this is a process of unlearning and relearning as the context is constantly shifting. 

Fostering collaboration spaces among funders, can help to take them out of working in silos, align strategies and learn from experiences. And equally important is for funders to listen to grantee partners and being open to feedback, which represents the spirit of philanthropy: giving for good and not giving just to look good. 

Ishita commented that one of the approaches that has been useful in VOICE is to review their own assumptions, acknowledge that they are on a learning journey together with grantee partners, and reflect on how they are using power with the communities they work with. This involves considering what the role of a funder is in relation to furthering conversations about inclusion and intersectionality within movements they support. We need to move away from a binary understanding of exclusion and demonstrate an openness to unlearning ourselves.  Through its linking and learning component, VOICE has created safe spaces for people to come together and promote the recognition that ‘the person on the other side is also a person’. This has helped dispel stereotypes and stigma and promote cross-sectional and intersectional movement building. 

Related to shifting the power, there were also questions whether bilateral funders had interest in supporting and/or doing participatory grantmaking. Ishita sees an intention to shift power, but also sees funders struggling with the question of what shifting power means, and as these institutions are often not started from the premise of shifting the power, they have not yet been able to make a meaningful shift. That said, some mentioned existing efforts to pool funds, such as the Comuá Network in Brazil, which mobilizes resources from diverse sources to support groups, collectives, movements and civil society organizations that work in the fields of socio-environmental justice, human rights and community development.

Another exciting question was about how to manage the impact on marginalized groups when a funder decides to exit a country or close a program. While private funders make efforts to mitigate impact of exits, the fact is that many organizations simply must close when their major funders shift priorities. Intermediary funders need to be assessed too and Ishita hopes that the lessons learned by VOICE regarding placing too much power in the hands of Global North intermediaries will help others in the future to build more inclusive structures.

Given the lively discussion and incredible contributions, TAI invited those interested to join continued exchanges on these issues. If you are a funder or funder network,  and would like to participate, please feel free to contact us at the following email addresses: [email protected] and [email protected].

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