Funding Gender Justice: Interview with the Third Wave Fund

Sara Sargent facilitated this interview with Ana Conner and Kiyomi Fujikawa, the co-directors of the Third Wave Fund. In this interview, Ana and Kiyomi explain the Third Wave Fund's unique gender-justice frame and the trust-based model they're using to resource intersectional movements for justice and transform institutional philanthropy. We believe this interview complements the rest of the report and shows an inspiring example of how to support those most impacted by intersecting systems of oppression — especially gender and racial injustice — through social justice philanthropy. A shortened version of this interview was originally published in our 2020 State of the Dream report, “Building a Fair Economy at the Intersections.”

Sara Sargent joined the UFE team as the Development and Operations Associate in February 2019 and became the Resource Mobilization Director in November 2019. She leads UFE's fundraising and donor engagement work. She is passionate about supporting social justice movements through organizing donors and philanthropists to fund transformative organizing work. She has a BA in Education from Smith College and a Graduate Certificate in Mindfulness Studies from Lesley University.

Ana Conner is one of the Co-Directors at Third Wave Fund. They are committed to community building and resourcing movements, particularly those rooted in Black liberation, racial and gender justice, queer and trans liberation, and youth leadership development. Before Third Wave Fund, they were the Senior Program Associate for the Transforming Movements Fund and Black-Led Movement Fund at Borealis Philanthropy. Ana came to this work through organizing with FIERCE, where they convened queer and trans youth of color across the US.

Kiyomi Fujikawa is a Seattle-based, mixed-race queer trans femme who has been involved with movements to end gender- and state-based violence since 2001. Her political home is with queer and trans communities of color and organizing to prevent and respond to intimate partner violence. Kiyomi is currently on the board of Groundswell Fund and is a Grantmakers United for Trans Communities (GUTC) Leadership Development Fellow.

 

S: What inspired you to work in philanthropy? What brought you to the Third Wave Fund?

A: I moved to New York for college where I was introduced to a group called FIERCE, and that was really my opening to intersectional racial justice and queer and trans justice organizing and movement building. I felt so at home, and ever since then I have been committed to that work. While I was at FIERCE, we had received a big grant to do national youth-led political education and movement building work. Long story short, our funding was pulled, and at that moment I was so furious with foundation funding. But I had also known of some foundations that were trying to transform philanthropy to better meet the needs of organizations and movements. Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice was one of those foundations, and was also where I landed my first job out of college.

K: I grew up outside of San Diego, California where there was a lot of political activity around me. I got involved with anti-rape work that was happening on my college campus, which led me to really deeply understanding the outrageous racism of the criminal legal system and how it doesn’t actually protect survivors. And so then I moved to Seattle where I worked as a local organizer mostly with trans Asian Pacific Islanders and Immigrant and Refugee populations around domestic and sexual violence. At that time, I was funded by Borealis philanthropy to do some of that work and I ended up seeing a remote job opening at Borealis, so I don't think I was ever like “philanthropy is the place for me,” but it worked out, and then I met Ana. We ended up applying to the Third Wave Fund together, and the history took on from there.

S: How do your personal experiences living within our current systems and structures of power around gender, race and class inform your work and approach to philanthropy?

A: I know we’re two Black and brown queer and trans folks coming into this work with a lot of ideas, but also we don't know everything and we don't represent all of the communities that we are a part of. So we understand some of the most powerful and beautiful work is collaborative and leaderful and that we can't do this from a top-down only way. I feel the most in my power when I'm making a decision that is backed by multiple conversations and it's not just coming from me. Sometimes making the decision is difficult, but it's important to have full by-in. Also, a lot of organizations that I was either a part of or was in community with were hit by the financial crisis and let’s be real, we know that there's another economic crisis coming. That’s something that has made me think a lot about how we can sustainably commit to our goals in the long-term and make sure our communities are abundant and safe.

S: What kind of groups and folks does Third Wave give grants to?

A: We have several pillars of grant making, including rapid response grant-making all the way to a 6-year long general operating support grant-making pool. We have a two year grant-making pool that's for grantee-led capacity building, and those dollars can be used for a variety of things, like if folks want to learn about finances or are going through a leadership transition. And we also do a lot of philanthropic advocacy, which is this idea that philanthropy wasn't made for us but we have the tools and the power and the means to shift the status quo. We act as a sounding board for what movements are telling us needs to shift within both institutional philanthropy and individual fundraising. And then there’s a third pillar, which is leadership development.

K: Leadership development really speaks to the participatory grant-making that we do. For example, with our Sex Worker Giving Circle, we have several month-long series of workshops and trainings that we do with 11 or 12 Fellows each year who are current or former sex workers. Those Fellows then make decisions about where money goes for groups that are sex-worker led. Through the Fellowship, we build a collective understanding of the landscapes of organizing, break down how philanthropy works, and build the fundraising skills and leadership of folks across the board.

We fund groups that are on the smaller side, and almost all are led by young women of color or trans and gender-nonconforming people of color. We are a pipeline for folks to get their first grant in philanthropy. We often introduce groups to larger funders if they want to be introduced, and help them build up their capacity. And, with the exception of the Sex Worker Giving Circle, we really took away all the silos within our funding model, because with siloed funding a lot of groups can fall through the cracks. For example, if a trans group that's doing reproductive justice work is applying to a reproductive justice fund, they might not be taken as seriously as a group who is just doing reproductive justice. What we see in philanthropy is a lot of the groups that we feel like are doing the most powerful work are falling in between the cracks because they don’t fall into a specific funding silo. 

S: How does Third Wave define gender justice? And how is the third wave fund supporting movements working for gender justice? Can you give us some examples of projects Third Wave is funding?

K: I think of a group like Trans Queer Pueblo that’s based in Arizona who do a lot of organizing work around the intersections of queer immigration. They do direct support for folks in detention centers and they also do just a lot of work both within queer community and more broadly sort of pushing the political landscape around what the power building looks like for immigrants and undocumented folks. But they also do things like a health clinic where they serve mostly undocumented queer and trans people who don't go to hospitals because they don't know what it's going to look like. There are so many horror stories of folks being turned over to ICE while they’re in an emergency room, and so they built their own clinic that offers hormone replacement therapy, queer and trans reproductive care, etc. I feel like they really illustrate for us a gender justice lens because, to go back to the silos, it’s easier for folks to see you as either a service provider or an organizer, and there’s little room for both. But if we’re centering the folks that are most marginalized, we need to provide services for the organizing to happen. That’s why I love this image we use that explains how gender justice is often seen as women's liberation, reproductive rights and queer and trans rights, but actually it has so much to do with racial justice, health and disability justice, immigrant rights, education justice, healing justice and criminalization. 

A: To understand gender justice we have to understand all of the different complexities that people are bringing to this work. We have to consider all the different identities people bring to this work and how complicated it makes a conversation around gender justice. 

S: How does Third Wave approach grant-making in a way that disrupts the problematic power dynamics and racist, sexist, classist, etc systems that exist within many foundations? What challenges and opportunities have you experienced working in fundraising?

A: Some of the very concrete ways we try to disrupt it are by providing long-term funding, general operating support, and to trust that folks are doing the work that they need to be doing. We commit to those very basic things that folks have been asking for forever. We also take applications in many different ways. Typical funding applications take so long and basically requires multiple degrees to write in the ways that philanthropy asks, so to make the process more accessible we take phone calls, written applications, selfie videos, and have different ways that folks can apply for the money that don't require you to be able to write in a specific sort of way. And we take applications in English and Spanish.

K: It’s really about trust. Sometimes funders will be like, “I have a vision, we're going to focus on these eight states and do these 10 things,” and it's basically like they're hiring their grantees as contractors to fulfill their vision of what change-making looks like. Our approach is that folks on the ground own change-making strategies. So I just think the best way is to really reflect trust in grantees versus some of the strategies that can be so top-down. Third Wave is never going to move all of the money that's needed for movements; what we can best do is offer a possibility model and leverage some other sources of funding to do that moving too. 

To answer your question about challenges and opportunities, I don't want to sugarcoat the fact that usually when Ana and I walk into a philanthropy room people do not look like us. As far as we know, Ana is probably one of the youngest director level people in philanthropy, as far as we know there aren't any other trans women in philanthropy in the US on a director-level. We know that it’s not all about identities, but there are definitely challenges with that.

A: Part of how we’re able to do what we do is because of how we think about who has power and who should have power within philanthropy. In order for us to transform philanthropy, it’s critical that the folks who are the most marginalized have the power to decide where dollars go. When we recognize that low-income folks are philanthropists too, we can really transform how we think about philanthropy. That gives us the basis for what we can do and makes it possible for us to do the grant-making in the ways that best meet the needs of movement building.

S: On Third Wave’s website, you share some data about how little funding in the US goes to LGBTQ people of color, and support for the transgender community. Why do funding gaps like these exist, and what kind of world would be possible if more funding was going to intersectional gender justice organizing?

K:  I think that this funding gap really ties back to the racial wealth disparities and gender wealth disparities in society. I mean, thinking about just what the US economy is really built on, which is stealing land, stealing people, stealing labor and you know, some folks getting really wealthy off that. Also across philanthropy the frame is such around a charity model versus a model of trust or of actually trying to change the conditions or through reparations. 

A:  Private philanthropy has hoarded wealth from the exploitation of people and land, and they can use that wealth to continue to implicitly and explicitly perform white supremacy. An example of this is who is seen as an expert in philanthropy. We’ll pay people with PhDs to make all these decisions about people who have been saying forever what communities need and want, and it means that so much money gets put in the wrong places. And because it's a field that was never meant to give away all of its resources (they only have to get away 5%; they could give away more, but generally 5% is what they give away) it means that the hoarding of wealth will continue indefinitely, so it works in such a way that it's against philanthropies self-preservation to actually fill funding gaps, you know what I mean?

S: To take a little bit of a positive note what would be possible if more funding was going to intersectional gender justice organizing?

K:  We see a lot of requests around healing justice work and we don't see a ton of funding for it, but just the level of healing work across the board that could support in building some of that equity too. We know there is deep historical and current trauma that folks need to be responding to, processing and healing from. And also my vision for the world, which I feel is a vision shared by a lot of our grantees, is one without prisons, without such a wealth disparity, with fair and livable conditions for workers, healthcare, housing, and yeah, birth justice and control and reproductive choices.

S: What do you think are the most important questions to be asking about the intersections of gender, race and economic inequality right now? How have recent movements like Black Lives Matter, Me Too, the Women’s March, etc impacted the small organizations you partner with?

K: I’m proud of Third Wave because we gave Tarana Burke one of her first grants many years before #MeToo became the movement that we know today, and so many of our groups have been fundamental parts of the Black Lives Matter movement or the Women's March. So we actually see it on the flipside. We see how those small organizations are the building blocks to national movements that help to spark a big, nation-wide conversation about these issues. But it’s a time where we’re under such vicious attacks from the current political powers-that-be, and it’s like they have an intersectional play-book on how they want to target communities. So I think we should be asking ourselves not only how we respond to those attacks but also how we open up some of the vision of what could be possible and what the other systems are that we can make.

A: I also think about how movements for climate justice have been screaming at the top of their lungs for so long about how deeply connected that work is to gender race and economic inequality, and how the climate crisis is going to become one of the biggest questions and fights that we have in our lifetimes. How do we continue this amazing legacy of youth-led, queer and trans led, Black and brown led work and make sure that we're creating a world that we want to live in and can live in?

K: Yeah, in Puerto Rico we've had several grantees that were impacted by climate disaster, a man-made climate disaster, and the emergency responses aren't particularly set up to support queer and trans folks, low-income folks, you know, and it is similar to what we saw in Katrina or in so many other places in regards to the disproportionality of how folks with different identities are able to navigate when a disaster hits.

S: What role do people like myself, a person with class and wealth privilege, have in supporting gender justice work and advocating for more funding for this work? Can you share some examples of the ways you partner with donors and folks in philanthropy to try to impact the wider landscape of funding?

A:  One way is understanding that giving away your money and therefore passing along your say over where dollars go, is one really critical step to shifting power. And, because we understand that we are all complex, full people no matter how much wealth we have, there are so many other ways besides giving money that can resource organizations. We often ask our folks to strategize on how we can bring in more people, or to share access to knowledge about investments and the stock market, or to support us with party planning. There are an infinite amount of ways to plug in to make sure this work can happen and is resourced. 

One example of how we’ve partnered with folks with wealth is our work with the Men's Gender Justice Giving Circle which was made up of men that organized to specifically think about changing internal patriarchal misogynistic practices and the best way to show up for and resource movements for gender justice. We partnered with them, provided fundraising trainings, shared learnings and that sort of thing. It’s not often the case that a group of mostly white cis guys come together to think about funding queer trans people of color and women of color. I think things like that really transform the relationship between a community foundation and who are its supporters. We have to understand that we’re all in this together, and so that's how we approach it.

S: Okay last question, is there anything else you would like to share or bring up about the topic of gender, race and economic inequality?

K: In thinking about the racial wealth divide, the gender pay gaps and things like that, I think a lot about also centering women and specifically Black Trans women in that pay gap. Sometimes I think when folks look at wealth inequality they see it kind of has a math equation, but also that it’s not just a different set of dollars for any of those folks but actually it translates into a different set of life choices that are available and honestly life expectancy at the end of the day. There’s a tendency to focus on the numbers rather than the actual levels of stress or threats to people's livelihood and quality of life and the things that got us there. And, not to knock those things or to say they count for nothing because I do think in many cases they are important, but they really shouldn’t be the focus so much as what’s going to tangibly change the conditions for folks’ lived experience.

 


 


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