On Sunday, a day before the Women Deliver conference opened in Vancouver, B.C., the federal government set the mood for the gender equality conference by announcing that it would be investing $300 million into the newly launched Equality Fund, a cross-organization initiative that’s aiming to generate over $1 billion over the next 15 years for women’s rights organizations both in Canada and around the globe.
It’s a bold new initiative that brings together 11 organizations from the non-profit, financial, and philanthropic sectors, including grant-making experts like the MATCH International Women’s Fund and the African Women’s Development Fund; impact investing leaders including Calvert Impact Capital, RBC, and Yaletown Partners; and leading nonprofits such as Oxfam Canada and Philanthropy Advancing Women’s Human Rights.
What makes this new initiative so impactful? By granting the Equality Fund a solid financial start, the Government of Canada is helping kickstart an innovative, strong, and sustainable approach to funding women’s rights movements around the world — and it’s one that the world of social impact can learn a lot from.
Leveraging new types of partnerships in order to scale
Speaking to Future of Good on Thursday morning, Jessica Houssian, co-founder of the Equality Fund and senior advisor with Women Moving Millions, admitted that government partners likely took a bit of a risk on the Equality Fund.
“We were the small women in this bidding process,” Houssian says. “This is an innovation that’s very disruptive to the charity model, but it’s something that we’re sure is going to work.”
The Equality Fund breaks from the traditional charity model by bringing together a multi-sector philanthropist strategy, feminist grant-making, and gender-lens investing to generate continuous and sustainable funding for organizations on the ground.
“The idea of partnering not only people in an unprecedented way, but partnering pools of money in an unprecedented way, is what makes this disruptive and innovative,” Houssian explains.
Because the public sector generally must invest its funds slowly and carefully, innovation in the world of philanthropy and social impact can often move at a similarly slow pace, leaving movements underfunded, leaders frustrated, and progress languishing. But individual and institutional philanthropists can be more nimble: as Houssain explains, philanthropists can move quickly and in directions that are perceived as riskier in a way that the public sector simply cannot.
“Institutional and private philanthropy can de-risk solutions or investments that governments can then come in and take to scale, once they feel more comfortable that there is a proof of concept,” Houssian says.
Bridging the gap between different types of philanthropists
To streamline that process, the Equality Fund — and other initiatives using similar approaches — work as “brokers” to forge partnerships that can both lay the foundation and then scale progress for movements. And it’s an approach that’s already showed success.
For instance, the Maverick Collective, an initiative launched by Population Services International, collects seed investments — a minimum of $1 million over three years, to be exact — from individual philanthropists to first test promising solutions and pilots. Then they measure, pivot, and analyze those solutions as needed. If there is evidence that they’ve hit upon a promising solution with strong results, they use those results to attract additional funding and scale solutions — with previous projects receiving backing from USAID, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, and local governments.
“It’s happening, and it’s working,” Houssian says. “My colleagues and I see ourselves as translators between philanthropists — institutional and private — and big government actors who want to have a bit of a wait-and-see approach and then come in when it’s time to scale.”
What’s next for the Equality Fund?
Following a busy week in Vancouver after the government of Canada’s investment announcement, the Equality Fund will be getting to work on their plan to generate over $1 billion in the next 15 years for women’s rights organizations around the world.
“In three years, I hope that we can say we’ve smashed through that [$1 billion] goal,” Houssian says, “because this idea is one whose time has truly come.”
Interested in getting involved or following the fund’s ambitious journey? Take a deeper dive by reading our Q&A with Equality Fund co-founder Jess Tomlin, or visit the Equality Fund online to keep up with the initiative’s progress as they grow.