Jack Dorsey’s #StartSmall Initiative Grants A Transformational $3 Million To Girls’ Education – Forbes

In early March of 2021, four girls’ education organizations operating in rural Africa, Women’s Global Education Project (WGEP)AGE AfricaAsante Africa Foundation, and WISER International, joined the growing number of nonprofits who have benefited from a philanthropic movement coined, “trust-based philanthropy.” With partnership and collaboration at the forefront, the organizations proposed and have now secured a $3,000,000 grant, $750,000 per organization, from Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey’s #StartSmall Initiative to fund their joint efforts to educate girls in remote villages across Africa.

Trust-based philanthropy, as defined by the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project is about ‘redistributing power—systemically, organizationally, and interpersonally—in service of a healthier and more equitable nonprofit sector. On a practical level, this includes multi-year unrestricted funding, streamlined applications and reporting, and a commitment to building relationships based on transparency, dialogue, and mutual learning.’

This concept is not new, but has proliferated over the past year in part from giving announcements made by billionaires like Dorsey and MacKenzie Scott, and in tandem with the Covid-19 pandemic and discussions around racial inequity in philanthropy. Dorsey has been lauded for his transparency, tracking his donations in a public Google spreadsheet after announcing in April 2020 that he would transfer $1 billon (28% of his wealth) into the #StartSmall venture to benefit projects focused on Covid-19 relief, girls’ health and education, and universal basic income. 

When Harriet Spears, WGEP’s Strategic Partnerships & Communications Manager, read Dorsey’s announcement, she knew it was the opportunity that WGEP had been waiting for to scale their program’s impact. “Before the pandemic, there were 132 million girls around the world out of school— a number that’s predicted to increase by 20 million by the time the crisis ends. It’s critical that community-driven organizations are given the funds we need now to assuage the damage of prolonged school closures and remote learning in under-resourced communities, particularly for vulnerable girls. Over the past 17 years, Women’s Global Education Project has developed highly-effective interventions to help more girls attend and succeed in school— but our biggest growth barrier has always been securing sustained funding.” 

“We partnered with three other like-minded organizations in the Obama Foundation’s Girls Opportunity Alliance, Mrs. Obama’s girls’ education initiative, to jointly apply for the #StartSmall opportunity. We believe in nonprofit collaboration, and feel it’s especially important in crisis situations for our sector to band together! There is more than enough money in the world to achieve gender equality; we just need more people to recognize the importance of investing in women and girls,” Spears shared. According to a 2020 study by Women Moving Millions, just 1.6% of U.S. philanthropic funding goes to organizations focused on women and girls, and less than 0.5% benefits women and girls of color.

“Too often, women and girls’ organizations are seen as a ‘special interest,’ rather than the key to global development and poverty alleviation,” Spears said. “Our $3 million grant is a step forward for each of our organizations to work with our teams on-the-ground to expand our impact, and to scale our program interventions to dismantle the structural barriers keeping girls out of school.” 

WGEP, AGE Africa, Asante Africa Foundation, and WISER International work in remote, rural regions across five countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya, Malawi, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda. In addition to helping each organization scale, the one-time gifts of $750,000 will allow the organizations to immediately respond to challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, including increased threats of gender-based violence, food insecurity, illiteracy, and the health and safety of their communities. Through their unique partnership, each organization will continue to operate their own community-led programming, while leveraging their combined expertise to share best practices, apply for joint funding opportunities, and ensure that thousands of girls can continue their education through and beyond the Covid-19 crisis.

“We’re grateful to Jack Dorsey for recognizing the importance of investing in girls’ education, and for believing that our small organizations are poised for greater impact, if only given the opportunity to dream and grow.” Spears concluded, “We’re also eternally grateful to our community of supporters who have been practicing trust-based philanthropy before there was a word for it! It is a welcome shift in our sector that is already making a difference in the lives of women and girls around the world.”

For more information about this collaborative and the trust-based philanthropy movement, Women’s Global Education Project (WGEP)AGE AfricaAsante Africa Foundation, and WISER International, will share stories about their mission work, and how it is funded, throughout 2021 and 2022.