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Equity in Design: Participatory Grantmaking Builds Community

New to the world of philanthropy, I am still catching my balance. Just a month into my internship as the Wenda Weekes Moore Intern and I am already sitting at my desk poring over grants. Never did I think I would be on the end of receiving grant applications instead of sending them in, especially not so soon. But I’m seeing that the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota creates opportunities for women who look like me to be part of decisions that affect me and my community.

The grant applications on my desk are from young women applying to become WFMN Innovators and receive microgrants of $2,500 to support their leadership and to drive their ideas and solutions that advance key recommendations in the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota (YWI MN) Blueprint for Action. In its second year of funding this innovative program, WFMN awarded microgrants to 33 WFMN Innovators, representing young women of color, American Indian young women, young women from Greater Minnesota, LGBTQ+ youth, and young women with disabilities, between the ages 16-24. Past Innovators have incorporated nonprofits to advance the leadership and political power of young women, trans and nonbinary individuals; developed social enterprises that introduced beautiful hijabs to hospital gift shops; and led a healing support group for survivors of domestic violence.

The grantmaking committee was comprised of members of the Community Impact team from Women’s Foundation, six members of the Young Women’s Cabinet, and me. Those of us reading the proposals mirrored some of the life experiences of the young women leaders who had written the proposals. This is the crux of participatory grantmaking, which engages individuals most impacted by gender and racial inequity in funding decisions to advance equity in outcomes by using equity in design.

The participatory approach to grantmaking is innovative and effective in how it allows for the community to exercise decisions about what’s best for the community, giving individuals agency in acknowledging their expertise to provide solutions. At its core, this approach to funding allows those impacted by the decisions to make the decisions.

As a grantmaking committee, we were mindful as to why we were at the table and how our decisions could be transformative.

Because the grant focused on the eight communities at the heart of the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota, our committee acknowledged the variety of cultural norms and experiences that applicants bring to their application and proposal descriptions. We grant each application the grace and latitude for applicants to approach the process in a variety of ways.

Once we began reviewing the proposals, our task was not easy. Some choices were clear; others were not. Themes emerged of what elements created a successful proposal. Many proposals needed to develop a more structured and thorough project plan, complete with details to demonstrate how their goals could be achieved.

Some project proposals exuded clear passion. The young women’s authenticity and love for their project jumped off the page. We could see their vision, and their zeal took up space around us. Those decisions were clear.

Some of the proposed projects were bigger than any one individual could solve, yet these young women were able to fragment complex problems into manageable solutions. They showed us just how they could bring their ambitious projects to fruition. I can truthfully say that I have never been a part of such a humbling and impactful innovation rooted in selflessness.

Once we made the decisions to award grants to new WFMN Innovators, our job at the Women’s Foundation has just begun. We support the Innovators’ leadership as individuals and as a cohort to see these their visions manifest into light.

WFMN hosts quarterly meetings with the Innovators to engage in political education and community building, with strategies to build their networks, influence, and social capital. They each meet with experienced coaches representing YWI MN’s target communities to mentor and guide their project plans and personal development. Through their projects, Innovators are creating lasting impact that reverberates through communities as part of the Young Women’s Initiative work to change systems so all young women in Minnesota can thrive.

Stay tuned to WFMN to learn more about this next cohort of 28 WFMN Innovators!

By Isra Hassan

Isra Hassan is WFMN’s Wenda Weekes Moore Intern and current student at the University of Minnesota pursuing a self-designed major in communication, political science, and global studies

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