What happens when you provide women-led grassroots organisations with flexible funding, tailored technical support and safe spaces for networking and collaboration? What can be achieved when you give the decision-making power on what actually needs to be done and how the grant is best used to the grantees themselves?  

This is what WILPF decided to find out with the groundbreaking pilot project “Feminist Movement for Change in Syria”, which provided 19 Syrian grassroots organisations that hold feminist agendas with the three pillars mentioned above – flexible funding, tailored technical support and safe spaces for networking and collaboration. With this project, we challenged the traditional donor-led approach to funding.

After 18 months, the project is now coming to an end, and we are looking into partners’ learning, as well as our own. Did our approach to granting work? How did the partners grow their impact? And did we — WILPF and partners — contribute to enhancing the feminist movement in Syria?

A new approach to granting

WILPF has been working with Syrian grassroots organisations since 2012. We have a firm understanding of the context they operate in and, as a women-led NGO ourselves, we understand many of the challenges they face. The aim from our three-pillared approach was to aid our partners in developing their agendas and structures, ensuring they are better equipped for sustainable growth, and that they would eventually be in a stronger and better position to achieve more impact than they had been with donor-led granting.

Find out more about the Feminist Movement for Change project, watch the longer version of the video here.

Working from a feminist perspective

Since day one of the project, WILPF sought to ensure an equal and horizontal relationship with partners; a relationship based on the partners’ needs, where their views and recommendations formed the basis of the work and the support provided by WILPF.

“The support that SAWA received from WILPF was different as it was built on SAWA’s needs; it was not ready and imposed on SAWA. This was very beneficial, as many times donors have prebuilt conceptions and expectations that do not fit into the local context we are working on, or the needs which we know are required,” said a representative from SAWA for Development and Aid.

The project started with a thorough needs assessment which highlighted the need for flexible funding aimed at supporting organisational structure, growth and sustainability, rather than the traditional and widely common project-driven funding. This finding, therefore, determined the focus of the project; we aimed to provide partners with the funds that will allow more time to think strategically and to focus on the creative aspect of the work, rather than spending the majority of time and energy worrying about fixed costs, fundraising, and reporting to donors.

WILPF partners used the grant to fund a diverse set of goals, some established a women’s advisory board within their organisation, others developed their monitoring and evaluation tools and systems. Some conducted research on gender within Syrian civil society organisations, whereas others produced digital material to change the stereotypical perception of Syrian women.

“The grant helped us fund a research that we have been trying to start for a long time, and due to the grant’s flexibility, we were able to cover core costs, such as salaries, that other donors do not,” shared a representative from Citizens for Syria

Fostering granting with customised technical support

The technical support was tailored to the 19 organisations’ needs and requests, and included psychosocial support, gender mainstreaming training and media and communications training. All training sessions were conducted in Arabic by Arab feminist experts who have a firm understanding of the Syrian context.

Staff who attended found the psychosocial support training very informative and useful for their daily work. The online format also meant that team members with travel restrictions could also attend,” said a representative from Badael.

All trainings were also conducted online to ensure all partners were able to participate, regardless of travel restrictions and security issues. Follow-up sessions with the experts were made available to partners to follow up on the learning from the training, and to ensure that individual challenges would be addressed and discussed.

Our view on the work has changed since we received the trainings. We were able to expand our thoughts and knowledge and to improve our policies. The training sessions we conduct have shifted from traditional means to the online. Additionally, we have had three colleagues volunteer to recreate the trainings WILPF has provided to our teams locally. We repeated the psychosocial support training, with an added element of psychosocial support for children,” said a representative from Al Wafa Charity Organisation, an organisation based inside Syria.

Bringing partners together for cross-learning exchange

In October, WILPF organised a convening with all the project partners. The convening, which brought together as many of the partners as possible in Beirut, provided the partners with a safe space to connect with like-minded organisations, establish relationships, discuss cross-cutting issues and engage in further or new collaborations which could enhance the feminist movement. Partners not able to join the meeting in person, took part of the convening via video conferencing options.

The convening and the participants were very helpful in sharing experiences and expertise in a safe space, and I was able to hear participants’ experiences and explore differences and potential collaborations,” said one of the participants, who wishes to stay anonymous.

A successful project

Now that the project has come to an end, we have analysed its results and outcomes. Here is a snippet of how the 19 partners answered:

  • 89% (17 out of 19) partners reported that there has been progress on their planned activities and desired behaviour changes within the organisation.

  • 94% (18 out of 19) of partners indicated that they are satisfied or very satisfied with the overall support that has been provided by WILPF.

  • 88% (7 out of 8) of partners were satisfied or very satisfied with the support from WILPF in the Psychosocial Support webinars.

  • 100% (14 out of 14) of partners were satisfied or very satisfied in the Gender Mainstreaming training.

  • 90% (9 out of 10) of partners were satisfied or very satisfied with the support from WILPF in the media and communications training.

The ‘Feminist Movement for Change in Syria’ project has been successful in its innovative mix of granting Syrian organisations with flexible funding and tailored technical support. It has given WILPF’s partner organisations the opportunity to further their feminist agendas in a way that fits their needs without imposing any further requirements. The technical support plan was very-well received as it was designed and implemented by responding to partners’ needs and challenges.

The project has also been successful in breaking the isolation that organisations in Syria are facing. The partners have also expressed that working with a team that speaks their language and understands the challenging context they work under is an added value.

WILPF utilised the flexibility it was provided by our donors to design an innovative project which partners were able to greatly benefit from. It was the flexibility and creativity that went into designing this project that helped it stand out in its achievements in comparison to other donor-led fundings.

However, while the project did exceed expectations with excellent results in a very short period of time, there is still a lot of work to be done in order to achieve more and provide our partners with more tools for growth and sustainability. This is just the beginning as there is still so much space for creativity and new ideas to be implemented in future projects to achieve greater results.