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Flying the Flag for Local

Posted by: Angie on 11 Feb 2016
in Blog

This blog was originally published on

2015 was a beacon year for international development. With a new set of global goals and an agreement at COP21 by world leaders to limit emissions, it is easy to feel positive about where things are headed.  Yet, the picture is not quite as rosy as it might initially appear.

Despite the critical role that women and girls play in sustainable development, the World Bank estimates that less than two cents of every dollar spent on international aid is directed towards adolescent girls. Meanwhile, a recent Civicus report showed that only 1% of all official development assistance‎ is directed to the global south.

For Stars Foundation, it was also a big year. The end of 2015 brought us the first cohort of With and For Girls Award winners. In response to the call made at the 2014 Girl Summit in London, the With and For Girls Collective, a collaboration of eight funders (EMpower, Global Fund for Children, Mama Cash, Malala Fund, Nike Foundation, Novo Foundation, Plan UK, and Stars Foundation – the Collective’s convening partner) works to shine a spotlight on the real agents of sustainable change by finding and funding 20 locally-led and girl-driven organisations working to improve the lives of adolescent girls.

As we – and philanthropy more broadly – begin a new year and embark on the quest of achieving ambitious global targets, the time couldn't be better to remember the vital role that locally-led organisations play in improving the lives of young women and the role the funders can play in supporting them.

Making a point  

The With and For Girls Awards set out to demonstrate the importance and the ease of funding local organisations in a meaningful way over time. Each award winner receives up to $50,000 of unrestricted funding, as well as capacity building support.  As a Collective, we believe in the power that flexible funding brings. It allows organisations to adapt to changing situations on the ground and to invest in vital core costs – such as staff or computers – which are can often be sidelined when funding is restricted.

Finding eligible initiatives was not a problem. In total, some 125 organisations were nominated, all motivated by the prospect of receiving flexible funding and having autonomy over the allocation of those funds, an opportunity rarely marketed to local girl-led groups. The 20 winning organisations, which span five continents, work with more than 37,400 people.  Each winning organisation has demonstrated strengths in engaging girls in governance, programme design and decision-making to ensure that their work really is girl-led.

All of them are grassroots organisations and locally-led, thus best-placed to respond to the needs of the communities they serve. There is a growing consensus around the importance of 'localising' global development. For us, this means finding and investing in local organisations that deliver impact on the front line in the fight against poverty. With networks already in place and possessing the trust of their communities, these organisations are in a position to change lives.  

Local knows best

Integrate Bristol, one of the winning organisations from the Europe and Central Asia region working to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM) within the UK, is a shining example of a girl-driven organisation making a substantive impact. Fahma Mohamed, one its young trustees, was 17 years old when she successfully petitioned the former education secretary of state to write to all schools about their responsibility to safeguard girls from FGM. In response, the minister of state at the Home Office announced mandatory reporting of known cases of FGM in school for girls up to the age of 18.

Boxgirls Kenya is another example of a local organisation transforming lives from within its community by challenging stereotypes related to gender and sports. The organisation works closely with community members, harnessing their involvement in demanding the rights of girls.  The organisation has championed Kenyan women in sports and one beneficiary, Elizabeth Andiego, was the first female boxer to represent Kenya at the London 2012 Olympic games.

Aware Girls, a winner from the Asia Pacific region is working to promote equal rights for girls in Pakistan by providing access to education and rights knowledge. In 2013 the organisation led a team of 100 young women to monitor the countries' General Election, a first in the history of Pakistan. The organisation runs a variety of programmes to raise awareness of girls’ rights by building leadership skills. These include training courses on human rights, civic and political empowerment, addressing violence against women, and HIV/AIDS education.

 “If a campaign is run by a local organisation, it can be accepted as an organisation of the community, so the community trusts them, and they are not seen as [promoting] western propaganda trying to change culture. When grassroots organisations are supported, they can do wonders.” - Gulalai Ismail, founder of Aware Girls

Building networks

Embedded in the Collective’s award design was the desire to give visible, public recognition to smaller grassroots organisations. Half the winning organisations have an annual income of between US$15,000-US$50,000 and often struggle to secure unrestricted funding. For these organisations, flexible funding allows them to invest their funds where they most need in order to sustain or scale their work at a critical time in their growth trajectory.

We used referral partners knowledgeable about girls’ rights and programming to help us reach the most effective girl-centred organisations. This process has helped to create a wider network of supporters who continue to remain engaged with the Awards and in some instances have offered additional support to winners. 

Looking ahead

We look forward to exploring and reporting on the collective impact of the 2015 With and For Girls Award winners, who are now each connected to one another as peers and are able to share their practices, passions, and strategies with one another. We now embark on a journey of raising the profile of the winners in the hope of encouraging more funders to support grassroots organisations in a way that is both meaningful and responsive.

Photo: Rachael Ouko