Collaboration is nothing new. The philanthropic community has been sharing experiences for many years, but interest has grown as funders realise individual efforts cannot address complex social problems.
Well-executed collaborations are bigger than the sum of their parts; they magnify each partner’s contribution, collectively yielding results well beyond the reach of single donors.
Collaborating -With and For Girls
Despite the critical role that women and girls play in sustainable development, the World Bank estimates that less than 2 cents of every $1 spent on international aid is directed towards adolescent girls.
In 2014, a group of organisations came together with what might seem to some as a radical notion: what if they pooled their funds to target grassroots organisations dedicated to–and led by–girls? What would happen if funding decisions were made by the girls themselves? And what if the funders provided no restrictions on how the award money could be spent?
“From day one, the Collective has adopted girls’ substantial contribution as a core principle and value,” says Cynthia Steele, Executive Vice President of Collective member Empower.
Now in its third year, the With and For Girls Collective is comprised of donors and stakeholders from around the world: EMpower, The Global Fund for Children, MamaCash, Nike Foundation, NoVo Foundation, Plan International UK, Stars Foundation and newcomers such as Comic Relief and FRIDA The Young Feminist Fund. As a group of independent donors with combined annual grantmaking of over $200 million per year, the members of the With and For Girls Collective are united by a common belief that girls are agents of change.
The Collective demonstrates that donors can fund in a meaningful way, with flexible funding and capacity building support, which allows grassroots girl-led organisations to thrive.
Challenges of collaboration
The Collective members vary in location, grant giving size and where the money comes from, and many fund the awards in differing amounts. However, all come to the table as equal partners, with equal say. Initially, the Collective accomplished this by adopting a model of consensus: all decisions needed to be unanimously approved by every member organisation.
Although consensus has been valuable, it comes with challenges.
At the Collective, we recognise that decision-making by consensus is unsustainable with the addition of new partners, who continue to join us, resulting in bottlenecks. To help us evolve we have developed a Strategic Vision to 2020, identified priorities for growth and an approach to decision-making that includes a formal, elected body, with quorum and reserve matters.
Commitment to diverse voices and learning
Collective members are united in their strong belief in the model – to provide flexible funding to grassroots, girl-led and girl-focused organisations, with girls placed front and centre of decision making. Bringing in girls’ voices is key to this diversity.
However, working as a Collective involves a good deal of productive disagreement on issues, as members all bring their own expertise, opinions and viewpoints to the group.
Healthy debate is highly valued by the members. We do not see it as a challenge – it is crucial to learning and progressing thinking within the sector. Indeed one of the key benefits of being part of the Collective is to be challenged by other members.
Donor collaborations, though challenging, allow individual donors, foundations or government agencies to access partners’ expertise, gain sufficient ‘voice’ to pursue high-level changes, leverage capital for larger scale and allows partners to take on big agendas, tougher issues, and longer-term challenges.
The Collective has turned the notion of competition funding on its head and has been able to show that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.