The world is at a point and time in its evolution, when a shift – and a very rapid one at that – is inevitable. In fact it is already happening. To take a broad sweep – rapid environmental degradation, hazards, and disasters; increasing conflicts; weakening – or in countries like mine, failing States; and widening disproportionate economic gaps between people, are only a few of the markers. Like never before, with the help of technology and communications we are more connected as people. Despite colour, taste, size, location, interests, we are increasingly realizing that as humans we are basically the same. Essentially we are not happy when we do something wrong e.g. hurt others, steal, or lie. On the other hand we are naturally elated and content when we help, gift, or are kind to others. Our intrinsic nature is to be altruistic and just. On this the human race as a whole thrives. This explains all the philanthropists who went before us and gave in the interest of the larger good of the communities according to their specific choices or issues of interest. Today we find that owing to our changing context, philanthropically inclined people have more urgent needs to respond to: local and global emerging issues pertaining to health, education, human rights, and the environment, or for some kind of damage control or response.
When I jumped in to found Tewa in Nepal (1995), it was with the urgency to respond to women’s organizing and emerging needs, and to see if self-reliant organizations in aid dependent countries like Nepal could still stand beyond dreams. I remember the Global Fund for Women (GFW) Founder President, Anne Firth Murray saying to me, “we thought a fund such as this was not possible in the Global South”. Less than 5 years later with the initiative of Mama Cash and GFW we were sitting in a circle in the Tewa office in Nepal, where the International Network of Women’s Fund (INWF) was birthed (2000). There was no looking back. In less than 15 years there are some 42 members of INWF and additional associate members in over 30 countries (most of them in the global south) of the world. This emergence and growth of the women’s funds (WF) has been to resource women’s work in a grossly unequal world where increasingly nation States have little accountability to those who are on the lowest rungs of the ladder. They are born with clear feminist politics, as was Tewa, and raise monies locally to make grants to women’s groups according to their interests and felt needs ranging from income generation activities to human rights advocacy and everything else in between.
Recently, a study by the Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF) based on the data pulled off from the Community Foundations Atlas of 110 community foundations (CF) operating in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Eastern and Central Europe, reveals that “building assets, capacity, and trust” are the most salient features of CFs. If we did a similar study of the WFs I have little doubt that we would also all have prioritized on the same features for that is what we all also do – raise money, strengthen our constituencies, and we can only do this in an environment of trust! As I can see now, like the growth of the women’s funds, there is a parallel boom of the CFs, which again may be a reflection on the not so good situation of our world and the States. As more and more of us begin these journeys with WFs and CFs, we are not only fulfilling our needs to do the right thing but also comprehending our potential and power to do good, which in turn ensures our well-being and happiness. Given our varying contexts but also commonalities, there seems to be no looking back. WFs and CFs are here to grow and stay.
Stemming from very clear ideologies of being feminists, or being grounded in local communities for the sake of being accountable and transparent, both do similar work. Imagine when all the CFs imbue strong feminist values as component of social justice; and all WFs can also fully be CFs – raising resources completely from their communities and thus being first answerable to local communities; the emergence of a global community, which is more powerful and respectful in its compassion and coexistence than all the powerful nation States put together CAN be envisioned. I for one, continue to dream of this, and strongly feel that it is not one or the other – but all of us together!
Rita is the founder of Nagarik Aawaz, an initiative for conflict transformation and peace building in Nepal, where she previously founded and led Tewa – Nepal Women’s Fund.