Investing With Trust in Survivor Leadership

As members of the Philanthropy Workshop, we strive to mobilize our resources to have the greatest possible impact on people and the planet.  We are constantly learning and questioning how we can invest in leaders, organizations, and communities who are closer to the problems we’re trying to solve.

One of the frameworks that has been elevated in the sector this past year is “trust-based” philanthropy.  This approach is certainly not new and is core to the experience of being human in how we first built partnerships and communities for survival. This concept is underpinned by values of power-sharing, equity, and collaboration which has now been adapted to philanthropy. At its heart is the notion that those with resources to allocate give more agency to their partners and provide more unrestricted funding with less bureaucracy to participate in applying because they trust that not only do those partners know how best to deploy the resources, but also that their deployment will be executed well and timely according to their needs. Embedded in this notion is also a deep respect and appreciation of the daily complexities and challenges of running an organization in often under-resourced settings.

The Freedom Fund, an organization we both invest in, is moving from intention to action.  As a global nonprofit organization leading the global fight to combat modern slavery, the Freedom Fund partners and invests in the most effective frontline efforts to eradicate the most extreme forms of exploitation. As a leader in the anti-slavery space, the Freedom Fund believes it is their fundamental responsibility to center the leadership of those individuals who have experienced exploitation⁠ and to uplift and support the organizations they lead. For example, we know that women and girls comprise over 70% of those in slavery today, and gender discrimination is a key factor that drives exploitation. Yet very few women or survivors are supported to become leaders in the anti-slavery movement. Freedom Rising was structured to help bridge that gap. 

This past week, the Freedom Fund announced the launch of the Survivor Leadership Fund, a new trust-based fund for survivor-led organizations. We know that unrestricted and trust-based funding for survivor leadership is a key step towards shifting power to those most impacted by slavery.  Too often these organizations are locked out by the overwhelming demands of traditional funders and thus denied the space to build and grow.  With the Survivor Leadership Fund, we hope to make access to unrestricted resources easier and more fluid for frontline organizations and to require minimal reporting on the back-end.

While the size of the fund is still small, we hope that the fund grows and that our collective learning also grows. Will the Survivor Leadership Fund help to build healthy, adaptive, and effective organizations in these communities? What insights might we be missing from these partners? Will it translate to strengthening those key local voices and local leadership that are integral to social change as we believe it will? As investors, we are excited to find out. 

The Freedom Fund understands that to create the conditions for a more inclusive and vibrant anti-slavery movement, transformative change is required at three levels – the leader, the organization, and the movement. With the Survivor Leadership Fund, we move a step closer in making that vision a reality.

Lisa Wolverton is a member of the Council of Advocates for the Freedom Fund, President of the Wolverton Foundation, and the Chair of the Board of The Philanthropy Workshop.

Natasha Dolby is a Trustee of the Freedom Fund, a member of the Council of Advocates, and a member of the TPW community.

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