A Conversation with Co-CEO Atti Worku on Our Updated Grantmaking Criteria

Sep 9, 2021

For many African visionaries, securing funding for their ventures often feels like a treacherous journey through a complex maze riddled with hurdles and bureaucratic hoops, fueled by both conscious and unconscious bias. At the Fund, we are committed not only to driving more funding to African-led organizations, but also doing so in a way that is less strenuous and more equitable. We believe that a fundamental part of the journey towards more equitable and inclusive grantmaking to African visionaries begins with an ongoing review of our grantmaking criteria which is the cornerstone of the work we do at the Fund.

Today we are happy to announce that we have completed the first participatory revision of the Fund’s grantmaking criteria and selection process! We caught up with the Fund’s co-CEO, Atti Worku, who led this exercise for a deep dive on the intricacies of conducting this process, what elements have changed and what lies ahead! 

What inspired the revision of the Fund’s grantmaking criteria? 

This effort was born out of the Fund’s goal to provide equitable pathways to funding for African visionaries and eliminate some of the hurdles and hoops that continue to slow the growth of their organizations and their potential impact. We wanted to make the process simpler, more inclusive, and ultimately, more equitable. 

Break it down for us, what did the grantmaking criteria revision process entail?

From the start, we really wanted to understand how our criteria were understood by African visionaries themselves and where there might be a disconnect from their experiences and realities on the ground. We prepared three comprehensive surveys to gather feedback on our existing grantmaking criteria and administered them to diverse groups whose input we wanted to incorporate in this process. But we knew that survey data alone may not give us the full picture so we complemented this with conversations with individual survey respondents to get deeper insights on our grantmaking criteria and selection process.

Tell us more about the different stakeholders that were involved in the process?

We consulted multiple stakeholders because it was important for us that we incorporate diverse voices and perspectives throughout this process. First, we spoke to our current visionary partners and organizations that were finalists but did not receive funding in the previous round of grantmaking. Their input was particularly important because they had experienced the first iteration of our grantmaking criteria. Additionally, we consulted our Founding Working Group given they played a critical role in creating the foundation of our grantmaking model. We also spoke to members of our team for feedback on various elements of the grantmaking process such as the due diligence stage from our first grant round cycle and reached out to other mission-aligned funders to gather learnings from their approach to grantmaking. To top it all off, we got invaluable strategic guidance from members of our Advisory Board. Thank you to all our collaborators, I was humbled by their generosity and willingness to offer their wisdom during this exercise.  

Talk us through some of the highlights of this revision. What changes stand out?

The most important change we made, I believe, is in our basic eligibility section. We changed the African-led and African-based requirements to African-founded, African-based and African-led. 

What we learned from an overwhelming majority of the feedback we received from African Visionaries is that African-founded organizations are most disproportionately underfunded. We believe this is an opportunity for us to narrow our focus further on organizations that are being marginalized because their founder and executive leadership are African.

We also adjusted our requirements around growth indicators for potential partners. This is to ensure that our grantmaking criteria is inclusive and accommodating of diverse African-led organizations operating under different circumstances and at different stages of their organizational growth trajectory. With this in mind, we:

  • Adjusted our criteria to prioritize organizations with an annual budget size ranging between $200,000 to $1,500,000 (previously $300,000 to $2,000,000). 
  • The “year-on-year budget growth” requirement was removed from our grantmaking criteria as we learned it could deter organizations that may be experiencing stagnation in their budget from seeking partnership with the Fund.
  • Though not required, the Fund previously strongly welcomed organizations whose leaders have prior experience with high-impact fellowship, incubator, or accelerator programs. We acknowledge that these fellowships are often exclusive in nature and largely funder-driven. Thus, in a bid to uphold inclusivity, this requirement will no longer be part of the Fund’s grantmaking criteria going forward. We will give equal consideration to potential Visionary Partners regardless of their participation in such programs.

We also revised some of the organizational resilience ​​criteria for potential visionary partners. We’re always keen to partner with organizations that show evidence of robust governance systems including the presence of a strong board of directors who serve as strategic thought partners and active fiduciaries. Previously a “nice to have,” this will now be a requirement for potential partners following this round of revisions. 

At the Fund, we believe that diverse teams that incorporate an intersectional lens are better positioned to successfully and holistically solve some of the world’s most complex challenges. While we previously stated gender equity in a potential partner’s organization as a “nice to have,” we will now be looking to see this diversity in our partners’ teams and their commitment to mainstreaming gender equity in their work as well. 

What are some of your key learnings from this process? 

This process really underscored the importance and benefits of collaborating with proximate leaders in our approach to grantmaking. We open up so many possibilities for partnership and growth when we bring the voices of proximate leaders to the table. We see this kind of collaboration with our partners as a path to fostering more trust and transparency, and a worthy step towards grantmaking that is simpler,  more inclusive, and more equitable.

I believe our collaborative approach to this process is a testament to our commitment to building meaningful relationships with our partners where they play an active role in co-designing key elements of the Fund’s core programs and processes.

What are you looking forward to for the rest of 2021? 

I’m excited to implement our new grantmaking criteria during our next grant round scheduled to take place later this year and bring in 8-10 new exciting and impactful visionary partners. We have received an overwhelming set of referrals from our referral partner network for this round so I cannot wait to build new partnerships with impactful African visionaries.

Going forward, we are excited to develop an open application system in 2022 that will remove barriers to entry and help us learn about incredible organizations that are flying under philanthropy’s radar despite their remarkable impact. 

Please find the Fund’s revised grantmaking criteria here and if you see alignment with your own organization, make sure to join our mailing list for updates on our application process.


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