Fenomenal Funds is a feminist funder collaborative using a shared governance model and participatory grantmaking to support the resilience of women’s funds who are members of the Prospera International Network of Women’s Funds.

Introducing the Fenomenal Funds Collaboration Grants

One of the privileges of being part of Fenomenal Funds, is that our work is about bringing people together. When we approach our work grounded in our values, something special happens. We connect at a deeper level. While this may be an ordinary human thing, in a world where our coming together is often driven by the need to be productive and to accomplish goals, connecting deeply not only makes us feel seen and heard, it creates something extraordinary in us and between us.

We have seen that first hand over the last three months.

In February, Fenomenal Funds kicked off Collaboration Labs, spaces curated to support women’s funds to come together, connect with each other, and decide what issue or topic to work on together over the next 12 — 18 months.

The Collaboration Lab process was designed by our Advisory Committee that guides the Fenomenal Funds participatory grantmaking. The Committee is made up of eight women who represent five women’s funds, two private foundations, and the Prospera INWF Secretariat. In our particular approach to participatory grantmaking, the Advisory Committee is doing more than just making the decisions about money. They designed the process, articulated the guiding principles, and continue to guide how we bring it to life.

The idea behind the Collaboration Labs is to facilitate and hold spaces that are intentionally curated to deepen connections among women’s funds. In addition, the spaces support women’s funds dream and define how they want to work together to address challenges or take up opportunities to support feminist movements. The process will lead to groups of women’s funds to collaborate on a selected topic over the next 12 — 18 months.

The Collaboration Grants support our overall aim to build the resilience of the feminist funding ecosystem. An underlying premise is that resilience requires both internal and external resources. Relationships with other organizations, who can support, encourage, and share our journey, both through the good parts and the challenging parts are essential to resilience.

We called the first part the Collaboration Lab process the Discover Phase. A group of feminist faciliators held space across 11 themes that brought together women’s funds representing diverse geographies, sizes of the funds, and different levels of work — national, regional, and multi-regional.

Over the course of seven weeks, women’s funds met in these spaces to connect to each otherand to explore. What unfolded in those spaces brought lots of insights that we will be sharing with you over the coming months.

Today, I want to share some observations on what it takes to make this kind of process work:

  • Set clear intentions of what you want to happen in the space but also of the experience that you want to create for those who join the space. When the Advisory Committee designed the process, they thought not just about the outcomes of these spaces but spent time in their conversation naming the feelings and experience they wanted women’s funds to have during the Collaboration Lab. That guidance set the intention that continues to guide the process.
  • Put in the work: It is not enough to just set an intention and then just invite people to the space with a hope that your intention turns into reality. You have to put work into selecting the people who will hold the space and then engaging with them deeply so that they understand the vision and internalize the intention. As a team we worked on translating the intention into action. We also held space for sharing the vision with the facilitators and engaged the group to think together about approaches that would support them to create it.
    Support the process of relationship building: When a process is set out to culminate in a collaboration, it is easy to focus on defining the what, the how, the when. It was important to set up our process in stages, clearly defining the first stage as focused on relationship building. Giving the women’s funds space and time to talk to each other, to engage each other, and to learn about each other’s work turned out to be one of the most important aspects of the process. They not only got to know each other better, they built relationships that are the foundation for their collaboration.
  • Set the stage for vulnerability: Funding processes often set up organizations to compete with each other rather than to collaborate. When we are in competition, we are more focused on showing our best face, which makes it hard to name our struggles. The Advisory Committee made a decision to make this grantmaking a non-competitive process. By removing the competition, the spaces supported women’s funds to have courageous conversations. They felt more comfortable to open up about what they are struggling with, hoping for, did not know, and to share the amazing things they are doing from a place of generosity. When we both offer and hold each other in our vulnerability, we create space for brave conversations that strengthen our connection.
  • Provide accommodations for language justice and other accessibility needs: It is easy to say we want people from different parts of the world to connect to each other. But doing that means the space we create must be welcoming of their perspectives and must provide the necessary accommodations so they can fully understand and fully contribute to the conversation. We did this by offering language translation. Everyone could participate in the language that supported their full participation.

This takes me back to where I started – using the ordinary to create the extraordinary. As humans, we are wired for connection. But in a world driven by a focus on productivity and results, we often don’t have time to nurture those connections. In philanthropy we are no different. We enter spaces, talk about work and programs, but never get to know each other, or even to know about each other’s work.

This process of the Collaboration Labs reminded us about the importance of connection. As one of our facilitators said, “…the conversations in the room may just be the big outcome even if they don’t all translate into a collaborative. The networking, building relationships and connections, itself may just turn out to be the most important outcome.”

When we take the time to build relationships with each other, our work together has more meaning and has greater alignment with our values. Our creativity flows and we move toward our shared vision.

We would love to hear from you about the thought, the process, the intention and the benefits you have seen when you set aside space and time to nurture deep connection.♀️

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