Donor Funding and WPS Implementation

About the project

Global foreign aid flows reached an all-time high of $161.2 billion in 2020. However, funding to and through civil society organisations (CSOs) remained relatively constant, despite additional funding needs in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. This means that CSO funding allocations have not kept pace with the rise in Official Development Assistance (ODA) and the increased global needs.

Furthermore, women and women-led organisations receive a relatively small proportion of this available funding. A 2015 review of funding for women, peace, and security (WPS) initiatives suggesting that only 1% of funds provided were targeted toward women-led organisations. These funding patterns are troubling given that CSOs play an invaluable role in peace work. They are often closely embedded in conflict-affected contexts and are better positioned to reach vulnerable and marginalised populations than large government and INGO actors.

More research is needed to understand the dynamics between donors and women’s peace organisations, and the extent to which donor funding priorities shape the way they do their work on the ground, and in turn the impact this has on gender justice work more broadly. In response, this project has conducted online qualitative semi-structured interviews with experts from women’s peace CSOs in Colombia, Nepal, and Northern Ireland.

Key findings

Donor priorities can have a significant impact on how CSOs frame their work.

Sometimes organisations strategically pursue funding by framing their goals and projects in a way that appeals to specific funders, often compromising on their areas of expertise to secure funding.

The frequent use of short-term project-based funding does not match the needs of women-led CSOs in conflict-affected contexts and can hamper the impact of their work.

Interviews reveal that there is a significant need for core funding, not for the more commonly available short-term project-based funding donors offer. Some organisations try to navigate this challenging funding landscape by finding creative ways to use project-based funding to also help support their broader work due to a lack of core funding in this area.

Flexible funding is needed in conflict-affected contexts where factors on the ground can change quickly.

In part due to their complex and often adaptive work in conflict-affected contexts, CSOs need flexible funding that can be reallocated or redeployed in response to changes in the working context.

Submission and application procedures are cumbersome and not fit for purpose.

Donor funding agencies are increasingly bureaucratising the application process. Small organisations often don’t have any dedicated grant, donor, or development staff members who can lead on lengthily bureaucratic processes in order to secure very small amounts of funding.

Monitoring and evaluation processes are burdensome.

Interviewees in all three contexts stress that they frequently have to commit to invasive and time-consuming monitoring and evaluation frameworks by donors to ensure the money is being spent the way it was intended. While accountability is needed on such matters, the current systems again place undue bureaucratic pressure on small organisations over small amounts of money in ways that inhibit their ability to actually do the needed peace work.

Funder perceptions of conflict and peace fail to account for the temporality of peace and the persistence of non-linear developments.

Donor funding dries up when peace accords are signed and/or when political actors determine that a conflict is “concluded”. This is particularly the case for funding priorities for international, bilateral and multilateral donors and aid agencies. However, peace is messy. War is messy. And conflict doesn’t have neatly delineated beginnings or ends. Donors need to better understand that local populations’ experiences of security and violence in conflict-affected contexts do not necessarily correlate to the end of formal conflict.

Covid-19 created challenges for women’s civil society organisations.

Many organisations report an increase in the perpetration of violence against women; the needs of the community – including mental health needs – became even more pronounced; and the activities that the organisations had expected to be able to carry out are no longer feasible in this new environment.

Despite these various challenges, organisations are finding creative ways to overcome bureaucratic hurdles, and are irrepressible despite these hurdles.

The organisations are so committed to the community work they do that they are finding ways to survive and support women even in the face of precarious funding, pandemic disease, and shifting funder priorities.

Peace is messy, war is messy, and conflict doesn’t have neatly delineated beginnings and ends. So that can affect funding priorities, particularly from international, bilateral and multilateral donors, and aid agencies.

Key findings

Funders and donors.

  • Longer-term donor funding is needed. Donor priorities can shift quickly, especially when there is a perception that a conflict has “ended”. But there is a need to increase periods of funding for maximum impact; interviewees report that funding for at least three years offers an organisation the opportunity to establish a programme, run it effectively, scale its impact and evaluate its success.
  • More core funding for overhead costs and organisational expenses are needed. Donors should consider providing support for core funding for organisations, and move away from focusing too much on project-based funding. Many organisations (and the communities they serve) need things like transport, room hire and office space, and funding these core needs can make as much (if not more) difference to an organisation’s activities and impact than a series of workshops.
  • Peace work requires flexible funding. While tangible and measurable goals are appealing on paper, they aren’t necessarily the best way of building and maintaining peace, not least given the unpredictability of conflict and post-conflict settings. This means that funding needs to be more flexible, as do deliverables.
  • Participatory approaches and needs assessments can increase the impact of donor funds. Donors need to meaningfully engage with civil society organisations to determine the actual needs of the communities. There can be a disconnect between what donors are willing to fund or think should be funded as compared to the work that organisations see as critical to building peace. Open dialogue and the alignment of interests between donors and organisations in a spirit of collaboration should ideally guide the identification of funding priorities.
  • Administrative work connected to donor funds needs to be responsive to the limitations of CSOs working in conflict-affected contexts. Priority should be given to reducing or eliminating unnecessarily complicated or arduous administrative processes and eligibility requirements. Donors should work with civil society organisations to find ways of administering funding (including the tender process and requests to vary a project) that does not exclude smaller organisations from participating in calls for funding.
  • Fund and invest in the capacity building of grassroots organisations. There is a tendency in some parts of the sector to parachute in experts to talk about issues where there are community-led grassroots organisations doing this same kind of work. Dedicated funding for grassroots organisations who are working on women’s rights (including rural organisations and those that represent a diverse demographic, including age, ethnicity and sexuality) is important; these groups have an intimate on-the-ground understanding of the needs of people and communities, which is essential in conflict and post-conflict environments. In particular, investment in capacity building of the grassroots organisations can enable more CSOs to meaningfully participate in the implementation of the WPS agenda, making the WPS agenda more inclusive.
  • Donors need to pay closer attention to the complexity, temporality, and gendered dimensions of conflict and peace work. There are many aftershocks to conflict and removing funding from environments marked as ‘post-conflict’ can restrict civil society organisations’ ability to continue to offer community support and deliver peacebuilding initiatives in the longer term. Furthermore, there are all sorts of ways that women’s peace work might not look like the traditional model of top-down reconciliation and what donors expect. For example, sometimes peace work involves providing a space for women to learn computer skills so they can find work beyond the conflict economy.
  • Funding should prioritise multi-generational women-led peace work. Young women need to be engaged in peace work, at both policy and grassroots levels. Beatriz Mosquera Hernández of Federación Humanitaria de Mujeres Negras, Afrocolombianas Raizales y Palenqueras de Arauca (FUMNARPA), expressed it in an interview as the need for ‘generational relays’; there is practical knowledge that must be transferred from one generation to the next in order to keep this vital work going.