Gender Equity and Governance’s journey toward centering equity and shifting power in our grantmaking

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At the Hewlett Foundation, we have been actively working on improving our practices regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) for many years. We made DEI one of our guiding principles because these values are at the core of our own very purpose — the betterment of society — and they make us more effective and better at what we do. Since 2020, the Gender Equity and Governance (GEG) Program has accelerated efforts to center equity and shift power across our team, partnerships, operations, and grantmaking, by reflecting deeply, learning continuously, and steadily advancing the internal and external dimensions of this work.

Notably, over the last year, we have welcomed five team members who both have lived experience and expertise in Mexico and Africa, the places where we focus our work. These new team members joined a high-performing GEG team to build on our existing work and refresh three strategies — Global Reproductive Equity (GRE), which was launched in the fall of 2021; Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE), which was launched a few months ago, and Inclusive Governance (IG), which we just launched a few days ago. Each of these new GEG strategies prominently centers equity in substantive ways while intentionally aiming to shift power and better achieve our charitable goals of ensuring governments are more responsive to the needs, hopes, and aspirations of their people, and that women, in particular, are able to live the lives they seek. These renewed strategic approaches build on lessons learned from changes in our U.S. Reproductive Equity portfolio over the last four to five years and provide useful insights for the upcoming refresh of our Evidence-Informed Policymaking strategy later this year.

Here are some of the highlights of what centering equity and shifting power in our grantmaking has meant, in practical terms:

Increasing our focus on power dynamics and structural inequalities in the contexts where we work to advance our charitable goals.

Our team has embraced a stronger intersectional and power lens across our program strategies to accelerate progress toward our strategy goals. We believe that uprooting the deep socio-economic and cultural practices and norms that limit the voice and power of historically excluded populations is necessary in order to increase pressure on governments to adopt more inclusive policies and be more responsive to the needs, hopes, and aspirations of these populations. Our new Inclusive Governance strategy seeks to support the efforts of women and youth to exercise their power to make governments more responsive to their needs. Transforming gender and power dynamics is also at the heart of our new GRE strategy, which intends to address inequities by focusing on geographies and communities with a high unmet need for reproductive health services in East and West Africa. And, similarly, our new WEE strategy strives to promote gender-responsive macro-economic policies to address the needs of women whose voices have not been heard, including around unpaid care, informal work, and social protection, again in East and West Africa.

Exploring how to move more funding to organizations with headquarters in the Global South, while consciously contributing to changing power dynamics between the foundation, international organizations, and national actors to build equitable partnerships.

We reviewed our grantmaking in recent years to analyze our performance regarding the allocation of our $90-$100 million/year budget for organizations headquartered in the Global South. In 2020, three-quarters of our budget went to organizations with headquarters in North America and Europe; by 2021, that had dipped to less than two-thirds.

While we are committed to increasing our grantmaking directly to organizations headquartered in the Global South, we are still feeling our way through these changes and striving to make these shifts responsibly. We are exploring, for example, how we might also increasingly make grants to International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGO) offices and partners in Africa, and support these INGOs as they reflect upon their own internal power dynamics, as their African offices and partners are almost always staffed and often led by professionals from the continent.

Strengthening grantees’ support to advance their diversity, equity, and inclusion work, including through our organizational effectiveness grants.

The Hewlett Foundation provides organizational effectiveness grants to its current grantees to help strengthen their internal capacity to become high-performing organizations that are healthy and sustainable. We have provided around $500,000 a year in such grants (around 30% of GEG’s budget for this type of support) to GEG’s grantees for DEI purposes. As with all such capacity-strengthening grants, these DEI grants were based on requests and demands from grantees. Most of these grants, including those specifically focused on DEI, were provided to organizations based in the Global North to support their DEI learning journeys, or to develop DEI-related policies and practices.

We still have much to learn about how we define diversity, equity, and inclusion outside the U.S. context. We have begun to deepen our understanding of race, ethnicity, and class in the geographies where we work and it’s a priority to continue doing so. As we increasingly fund organizations in East and West Africa or Mexico, our goal is to better grasp the effect of intersecting inequities within the communities we serve and avoid replacing one power dynamic (North-South) with another unhealthy power dynamic (e.g., strengthening elites, or one ethnic group over another). We are committed to learning alongside our grantees and evolving our OE grantmaking to better support organizations in Africa and Mexico.

Continuing to diversify our grantmaking portfolios by funding organizations led by those most affected by the issues, feminist movements, and exploring increased investments in African regranting organizations and research institutions.

In each of our three strategy refreshes (WEE, GRE, IG), our teams concluded that strengthening the power and agency of women’s organizations and feminist movements is critical to furthering their specific strategic goals. Our Evidence-Informed Policymaking team will be looking at this issue as well as they embark on their own strategy refresh.

Our nascent work in Africa and Mexico to support feminist movements will be informed by what we have learned in our U.S. Reproductive Equity strategy and our Women’s Fund Initiative. Our U.S. Reproductive Equity strategy, for example, has moved away from only funding a small group of national-level policy organizations and towards a more diverse group of organizations, recognizing that barriers to women’s full and equitable access to reproductive autonomy are not separate from or unrelated to other political, economic, and social ills.

Our support for feminist movements responds to the growing recognition of the power of these critical leaders in mobilizing public support and domestic pressure for equitable policies, budgets, and laws. Along with other civil society actors, feminist movements are well-positioned to drive sustainable progress in Africa and Mexico. Yet, they have been under-resourced.

We are also examining the demographic data of our grantees as an important input to inform and improve our practices for identifying partners. Our data-gathering efforts here are limited to U.S. grantees, excluding universities. In our 2020 survey, which represented roughly two-thirds of our grantees, we found that the number of staff who identified as white in these organizations had dipped slightly from 53% in 2018 to 47% in 2020; staff who identified as people of color had ticked up from 39% to 42% (The rest reported as “other” or “declined to state”). The percentage of GEG grantee staff who are women has stayed relatively constant over the past three years, at roughly 68%.

These data are a small part of the overall picture we hope to understand regarding if and how various historically excluded groups are represented among our grantees, particularly considering that many of our INGO grantees have offices and operations in East and West Africa that we help support. These data come as we have been observing meaningful trends in our U.S. Reproductive Equity portfolio regarding who is leading the organizations we fund, including those not historically led by or representative of women of color. Over the past few years, many longtime grantee leaders stepped down, resulting in a much more diverse group of organizational leaders — across age, race, geography — than the movement has ever had.

We are committed to continuing and evolving our efforts to center equity and shift power in our grantmaking. Embedding these values and practices is critical for achieving our strategic goals of building inclusive governance and advancing gender equity to improve people’s lives. We will continue to learn from our partners, course-correct, and share with you the lessons we pick up along the way. We do so with gratitude and humility, acknowledging our privilege as funders, and knowing that this is a journey with a clear compass but without a map.

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