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.

Discover - Fenomenal Funds

“Knowing will be more valid—richer, deeper, more true to life and more useful if…our knowing is grounded in our experience, expressed through our art, understood through theories which make sense to us, and expressed in worthwhile action in our lives.”

— Peter Reason, “A Laypersons’ guide to cooperative inquiry,” University of Bath, 1998

 

The idea behind the Discover phase was to hold a space for women’s funds to explore the topics and themes that they wanted to work on in collaboration with other women’s funds. Held by a facilitation team, the process focused on supporting women’s funds to identify their shared challenges, articulate the questions they were grappling with, and to identify shared interests and perspectives in order to decide if they wanted to work together.

The Discover phase was about setting the ground for co-creation. As a safe space it allowed women’s funds to talk honestly about what they were grappling with. As a brave space it opened up opportunities to ask each other difficult questions, then figure out if there was enough shared interest to work through those questions together.

The Resilience Grants had given women’s funds an opportunity to reflect on what they needed to build up their organizational infrastructure. The grants also provided them with resources to start working on some of those issues individually. In addition, the benefit of non-competitive grantmaking meant that they could trust that indeed this was not about competing against one another, but about working together. Every fund that participated in the process would receive funding.

To set up areas of exploration, we asked women’s funds to share their topics of interest. We used that information to set up 12 thematic spaces for their exploration. Women’s funds could go to any session and as many as they liked.

This, along with the careful selection of a facilitation team that could support the process with care and intention, played an important role in setting the stage. We thought the process would be relatively quick. But we didn’t anticipate just how meaningful the space would be for women’s funds. Connecting to each other, learning more about each other’s work, and exploring ideas together was inspiring and exciting. As one women’s fund described it, “It feels like I am a child in a toy shop.” Instead of a six-week discovery phase, women’s funds wanted more time to discover—expanding into a three-month process.

In the end, 13 group formations across four thematic areas emerged, some new, and some a continuation of work that had been seeded by the Prospera INWF. The Advisory Committee recommended each fund to choose a maximum of two collaboratives so that funds would not be over stretched. Choosing was not easy, especially for some of the national women’s funds. The opportunity to learn from each other, through a process that is resourced, is not all that common. And for women’s funds that also have limited resources to support professional development, learning with and from their sister funds was a golden opportunity.

Each group defined their thematic focus and why it was important to them. Then it was on to the next phase: Define.

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