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Turning Donor-Led Approach Upside Down

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?

Image credit: WILPF
WILPF International Secretariat
18 December 2018

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?

WILPF started working with Syrian grassroot organisations in 2012 to address peace from a feminist perspective. Through its work, WILPF realised that there is much to be done in order to further organisations’ feminist agendas, esnure their sustainability and create spaces for collaboration and networking. This was how the “Feminist Movement for Change in Syria” project came to life


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.

YouTube video

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.”

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.

“The grant we received from WILPF has definitely helped us push our feminist agenda within the organisation and it provided us with the opportunity to meet as a team for the first time and to discuss and work together on psychosocial support for the team”

Syrian Female Journalists Network

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,”

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,”

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,”

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,”

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.

“We view this as a positive and fruitful relationship, with lots of benefits to us. We feel that it is probably the best type of grant we have received, because it was able to achieve this type of support which we feel the effect of, and even when the fund ends, the effect will remain and continue, mainly due to its flexibility.”

Representative from Syrian Women’s Network

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.

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WILPF International Secretariat

WILPF International Secretariat, with offices in Geneva and New York, liaises with the International Board and the National Sections and Groups for the implementation of WILPF International Programme, resolutions and policies as adopted by the International Congress. Under the direction of the Secretary-General, the Secretariat also provides support in areas of advocacy, communications, and financial operations.

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Thank you!

Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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