At Fenomenal Funds we see learning as an emergent, adaptive, and co-evolutionary process. In our experimentation as a feminist-funding collaborative, all stakeholders are interacting in a power-sharing process – responding and adapting to each other so that what emerges and evolves is an ongoing cycle of learning.
As part of this – we are documenting our model to understand the change that results from supporting the feminist funding infrastructure in this way, to capture our learnings, and share our insights. To guide our learning journey, we engaged an external Learning Partner – KIT, Royal Tropical Institute – through an Expression of Interest process. But before we go into the nitty gritty of feminist learning and evaluation, we would love for you to get to know them.
We spoke to the the KIT team: Ana Victoria Portocarrero, Camilo Antillón, and Rebecca Rosario Hallin – to understand their journeys as both individuals and a team, and to find out what they are most curious and excited about as they document and make sense of Fenomenal Funds’ model in practice.
We hope you enjoy the interview as much as we did!
What event, person or moment in your life served as a catalyst for you to work in social justice? How has it shaped what you’re doing today?
Camilo: When I was a university student in Nicaragua I took an elective course on gender-based violence. The teacher was a member of the Group of Men Against Violence, a group that started in the early 1990s and organized bi-weekly meetings to reflect on issues related to masculinities and violence. I started participating in the group and later I started working as a facilitator of reflection workshops with groups of men in marginal urban communities. In these collective spaces we had the opportunity to think critically about gender inequalities and how we contributed to reproducing them in our daily lives. For me they were also a starting point for an interest in feminist theory and activism against gender injustice and other interconnected forms of oppression, an interest that I continue to share with many friends and colleagues.
Ana Victoria: In my case it was music that awakened my passion for social justice. I was born and grew up in Nicaragua, a country where a popular left-wing revolution had triumphed. Music was a key element to sustain the enthusiasm of the population in a context of war, external intervention and economic blockade. Protest and testimonial music told the story of those who had dreamt of profound social transformations in our region, and through it I began to make sense of the reality I observed. In the 1990s, when the revolution was over (with its successes and failures), I was also able to understand through music what was changing, how neoliberalism was reinstalling and deepening social inequalities. Although today I see the role of the left in a more critical way, testimonial and protest music continues to run like blood through my veins.
Rebecca: Although far from both of my countries (Sweden and Colombia) I remember as a 15-year-old learning about the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Painfully aware of the end result (while still ongoing), learning more about the situation read like a horror story to me, and I couldn’t understand how the world could have allowed the colonial powers at the time to create a situation so devastating and unsustainable for both peoples. I think this gave me one of my first insights to how historic movements, discourses and subjectivities shape our present, and how important it is to know who is telling the story about these movements.
Ana and Camilo: how does your experience working in grassroots organizing and popular education in Latin America shape your perspectives?
Camilo: From those first experiences in sensitization sessions and workshops, both as a participant and as a co-facilitator, I started to develop a deep appreciation for the transformative potential of a reflection that is both collective and grounded in our lived experiences, two elements that I feel have guided my work in research and education. It also offered the opportunity to learn from various people that were engaged in diverse forms of feminist and social justice activism, and to gain awareness of the importance of critical self-reflection on the complex systems of privilege and inequalities we are immersed in.
Ana Victoria: My work as a feminist researcher and academic has been deeply permeated by two key lessons that I value highly from my work with social movements in Latin America. The first is the place for emotions. There is a lot of shared pain among activists because of the realities that bring us together. But there is also a lot of joy, music, affection, which is what sustains the struggle in the long term. The second is the diversity of knowledge and ways of knowing that intersect the people who work on these issues. I understand knowledge as a deeply emotional and diverse process; as something we connect with collectively and not something we acquire; and as something that is accessible to us all when we are able to engage with our surroundings with all our senses.
Rebecca: You were a diplomat, what brought you to this work of research for social justice?
In my former role I had the privilege and pleasure of working with and learning from many impressive civil society actors, who challenged and supported the diplomatic community. So after a decade in the world of foreign policy, including a front row seat to discussions about many of the global challenges we are facing today, be it the threat of nuclear weapons, armed conflict, (un)sustainable financing of development interventions, as well as the difficulties governments are facing to take necessary actions together, I wanted to explore being a part of other pathways to address these issues. My shift was also driven by wanting to dig deeper to understand the underlying factors to the lack of social justice, and through my work, contribute to the evidence base for this.
Last, but perhaps one of the most important impetus for me since I’m a firm believer that internal willingness to change is a necessary condition to be able to enact external change, has been to work in an environment where feminist values are guiding principles.
You have all had different journeys along the way – what is the glue that makes you work so well together?
One of the elements that brings us together is a shared interest in reflecting critically on the power structures and dynamics that deeply influence not only the issues we work on, but also our personal and professional lives. As a team we are creating an open and safe space where we can engage in these reflections together, and we also strive to create such spaces with our partners from other organizations.
Another element that we share is precisely the experience of constant moving. Moving from our countries to the Netherlands; moving from our affects to a space where we are creating new experiences; moving from working in academia, diplomacy or with social movements to now engage as external partners, situated in an organization located in the North. Moving (physically, emotionally, mentally) involves much learning through discomfort. We bring all these learnings to the projects in which we collaborate.
From your perspective, what is feminist monitoring, learning and evaluation? Why is it important? What makes it different from other approaches?
From our perspective, monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) is about understanding how social change happens and how certain actions may contribute to it. This engagement with social change processes is situated in a particular standpoint that guides our actions, and in the case of feminist MEL that standpoint is deeply rooted in the long history of feminist theories and movements that have striven for gender justice. At the same time, we recognize there are diverse feminisms and diverse understandings of what gender justice is and how to contribute to it, hence the importance of continuous dialogues on our shared, but also divergent visions of gender justice, that take into consideration other intersecting systems of oppression, such as racism, colonialism, classism, ageism, ableism and heteronormativity.
Feminist MEL aims to contribute to these dialogues, visions and actions towards greater gender justice, by collectively generating knowledge that can inform the social transformations we aspire to. This contribution involves not only quantifying those transformations, but also understanding the narratives and lived experiences of those involved, and therefore influencing the choice of methods that favor the perspectives and the active engagement of the protagonists of these processes. Feminist MEL also recognizes that knowledge generation does not occur in a social void and needs to consider the structures of inequalities that may make it more difficult for certain voices to be heard.
What excited you about the call for applications for Fenomenal Funds Learning Partner?
Ana Victoria: The notion of a learning partner, as opposed to external evaluator, was one of the elements that excited me the most. I consider that knowledge is always co-created, and, in that sense, I see my role in this learning process with FF as a facilitator of a horizontal space where I will learn along with the rest. I am thrilled that we will be able to engage with the work of women’s funds in so many regions of the world, since I strongly believe that real social transformations emerge from social movements, and that philanthropic efforts should be put in those movements. Finally, I am particularly enthusiastic to understand the distinctive governance created for Fenomenal Funds and what this means in the feminist philanthropic landscape.
Rebecca: For me, having just completed a study on how to ‘localize’ funds to national and local actors, the call for applications indicated that Fenomenal Funds was an initiative that was putting many of the conclusions we had come to in the localization study, into practice; addressing (and first of all admitting to) hierarchies, recognizing the conflict between financial reporting rules and flexibility, the need for relationship- and trust building to collaborate beyond organizational structures, languages etc. I was also attracted by the idea of being able to use my experience of having represented a (government) donor, from a different perspective, to think about what is needed in order to positively affect the philanthropic ecosystem to adopt more feminist approaches to financing.
We have a growing list of curiosities as we practice and reflect upon our shared governance model. What are you curious about as you dig deeper into Fenomenal Funds’ work?
Ana Victoria: I share many of the curiosities that have been put forward by the different stakeholders of Fenomenal Funds so far. For example, I am really interested in knowing what kind of collaborations have emerged between women’s funds as part of this initiative, as well as what kind of spaces of transformation this particular way of shared governance is allowing.
I am especially interested in reflecting on barriers and resistance to cooperation, what they consist of and what they stem from. Within this curiosity I would like to explore what conditions are needed in order to create a non-competitive environment.
What work are you particularly excited about as Fenomenal Funds’ Learning Partner? What can we expect?
Camilo: What I enjoy the most about a learning trajectory such as this one, is the opportunity to interact with the different people involved, be it through workshops or collective sessions, or through in-depth interviews or informal conversations. We have already had the opportunity to engage with the members of the working group, the Steering Committee and the Advisory Committee, and we have had very rich and stimulating exchanges. What I am looking forward to the most now, is engaging with the diverse women’s funds that are at the heart of the work that Fenomenal Funds does, and learning from the stories of the journeys they have embarked on together as part of this initiative.