A Global Legacy
Network members’ calls to action resulted in two new global funds being established for our community: the COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund, and the Legal Empowerment Fund. The campaign played a pivotal convening and connecting role, helping to shepherd the creation of funds and secure commitments for new financing streams from private foundations.
The campaign helped work out some of the key questions as to how a fund would operate. We looked at different models of global funds and became very interested in how the Fund for Global Human Rights (FGHR) managed to distribute grants of varying sizes across the globe to established NGOs, grassroots groups, and activist networks. We approached FGHR to discuss whether they would be willing to share learnings with the donor community as to how their model worked, and to help design a new participatory grantmaking mechanism to support legal empowerment organizations. Collectively, we created a way for FGHR to host both funds, with the Legal Empowerment Network and other partners providing technical assistance and access to our community.
We established the COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund without a single donor on board, and then advocated for donors to fill this fund. We were simultaneously advocating for donors who were interested in establishing a long term fund to house it at FGHR, and using our experience with the COVID-19 Fund to demonstrate how such a mechanism could work.
COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund
The COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund was designed to support and resource grassroots justice defenders on the frontlines of response to the injustices created and worsened by the global pandemic and resultant crises in their communities. The Fund reached its goal of raising 1 million USD and supported 60 grassroots groups from 30+ countries with rapid-response, flexible grants.
Partners: Namati, the Legal Empowerment Network, The Elders, and Pathfinders for Peace, Just and Inclusive Societies, hosted by the Fund for Global Human Rights.
Funded by KOICA, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Ford Foundation, Target Foundation
In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we understood the Justice For All campaign strategy would have to pivot quickly to remain relevant to our community and donors. We asked members to participate in a rapid COVID-19 Justice Challenge. The results of this challenge were utilized to revamp our strategy to focus on the immediate and medium-term needs of grassroots justice defenders who were overwhelmingly still serving their communities in spite of national lockdowns. We found that close to 80% of our members had ideas for how to respond to the needs of their community and needed only a small injection of funds to execute their plan. The information collected in this challenge provided the rationale and data to design and bring into being the COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund.
We rallied a core group of partners: The Elders, the Pathfinders for Peace, Just and Inclusive Societies, and the Fund for Global Human Rights, who, alongside the Legal Empowerment Network, designed the fund and advocated for it to be filled. The Fund aimed to highlight that beyond being a health issue, the pandemic was also a justice issue, and that justice defenders needed support to not only continue their work but also adapt to support communities as they faced the consequences of the pandemic and societies grappled with how to rebuild.
Having several partners communicating a single clear ask — to fill the COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund — made for fruitful conversions with donors. At that moment of crisis, donors were looking for proven solutions to a problem, rather than for open-ended ideas and conversations. We shared the idea of the COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund with known allies and those who had shown some interest in legal empowerment and SDG16. Once the first donor made the decision to invest it was much easier to build excitement about collectively solving justice issues in the pandemic.
A cornerstone of this fund is that it promoted participatory grantmaking. The Fund had a committee made up of grassroots organizations, spanning broad geographical and thematic areas, who were the decision-making body as to which organizations received awards.
Legal Empowerment Fund
In 2021, leaders from Namati, the Fund for Global Human Rights, and the Mott Foundation walked onto the Global Citizen Live stage in New York City in front of 30,000 people to launch the world’s first Legal Empowerment Fund. This bold new initiative aims to close the global justice gap and provide urgently needed, long-term support to grassroots justice defenders and organizations. The Fund was launched with an initial $20 million in commitments from donors. Over ten years, the Legal Empowerment Fund aims to raise a total of $100 million to strengthen the movement for grassroots justice and legal empowerment.
Partners: Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Namati, International Development Research Centre, Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, hosted by the Fund for Global Human Rights.
The campaign had a key role in convening, educating, and influencing the donor community around the need to establish such a fund and invest in grassroots legal empowerment, in a context of shrinking donor space for access to justice funding.
We hosted multiple donor roundtables. Initially, we brought together grassroots organizations with a mix of donors in one conversation, but based on feedback from this gathering, we followed up with separate meetings for different groupings – governments, philanthropy, and the private sector. We followed up with 1:1 meetings and helped address the concerns raised. We also shared learnings from the COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund as donors moved into designing the fund.
Ultimately, it was the donors themselves who came together to design and launch the Legal Empowerment Fund. We relied on members of the network to provide technical support in the design phase and brought in grassroots justice defenders to the governance structure.
The hope is that over the life cycle of the Legal Empowerment Fund, money will be invested from all kinds of donors.
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- Having “proof of concept” was critical in establishing a long term fund. We had never intended to have a smaller fund in our strategy, but the COVID-19 Fund came into being out of necessity. That said, it proved to be vital in testing a number of concepts, especially around governance structure, grant size for grassroots organizations, methods for reviewing applications from multiple language communities, and more.
- Staying true to the values of our community was critical. Participatory grantmaking and very small flexible grants made a lot of donors uncomfortable. We did not want to compromise on these values and focused on finding the right partners and pushing back when needed during the design phase.
- Securing financing in a crisis was easier, but didn’t necessarily convert to long term investment from new donors.
- Field financing is a harder ask than fundraising for any one organization. In multiple conversations with donors we were offered the opportunity to apply for traditional funding for our individual organizations or projects. We more often than not turned down these offers in favor of the bigger picture of establishing a legal empowerment fund. That said, there were some cases where we saw a grant as a way to build evidence for how to support the movement (e.g. participatory grantmaking, research that made the case for investment, etc.) or a way to open up more funding for a field investment after an initial seed grant.
- When pitching to donors, keeping the same type of donors together in donor meetings allowed them to speak more freely with their peers about what they were interested in, and what challenges they might face when adding this into their portfolios.
- There was value in bringing different types of donors together at certain strategic moments to demonstrate collective interest and to create a buzz. Having donor allies primed to pitch to other donors was useful, rather than bringing them together in a brainstorming environment.
- Finding the right targets and allies is critical. We would not have been able to establish either fund without strong allies from inside donor institutions. It will vary by organization which level is the right person to cultivate. Sometimes that is advocating to the person at the top. Our experience was generally working with the people who were in charge of grantmaking; they were more able to move things forward than higher-ups.
- Philanthropy was more comfortable trialing a new mechanism than governments, and were more engaged with the legal empowerment movement than the private sector.
- Several donors noted that the campaign led to better articulation and framing around legal empowerment among the philanthropic community; helped strengthen coordination amongst themselves; and generated increased collaboration between donors and partners, such as The Elders. One donor even stated that the campaign helped to amplify their work.
- One donor reported that they utilized the statistics and framing provided by the campaign in their recent strategy design process, while another reported that the narratives and stories of justice defenders shared through the campaign influenced their work in the access to justice and legal empowerment sectors.