Interview with Rye Young, Executive Director, Third Wave Fund-
Third Wave Fund resources and supports youth-led gender justice activism to advance the political power, well-being, and self-determination of communities of color and low-income communities in the United States. This summer, Third Wave launched a new rapid-response fund to support social movements and bold activism in real time.
What is the Mobilize Power Fund?
The Mobilize Power Fund is an innovative new tool to move resources quickly and directly to community-led organizations undertaking urgent activism for gender justice. Gender justice activism includes a full range of issues that spring from misogyny and sexism, including reproductive health and justice, women’s economic justice, transgender liberation, and anti-violence work. Our fund is open all year, quick-acting and flexible, because we believe social movements are stronger when resources are accessible and responsive to the needs of activists.
What inspired Third Wave Fund to start this new fund?
Often in moments of political urgency,
grassroots organizations are at the center of community mobilization but at the margins of philanthropy. We have seen time and time again the ability of more heavily resourced, national organizations to leverage resources during crises only to play a complicated and short-term role in a local or state-level issue. Whether it’s a ballot initiative or the Movement for Black Lives, the organizations with roots in local communities often lack philanthropic connections, even while their work speaks to the heart of issues many funders seek to address. From policies that attack reproductive healthcare access, to the issue of state violence, young women of color, queer, and transgender youth have a lot at risk, a lot of leadership and organizing skill, and yet very little philanthropic voice and power simply because they don’t have a 501(c)(3), or the organization they do have is operating at a small scale. The Mobilize Power Fund seeks to reshape these power dynamics and let the movement drive philanthropy’s response, not the other way around.
This is an exciting model of responsive philanthropy. Can you share some of your innovative practices?
Third Wave Fund believes that philanthropy and social justice movements need to work together in a genuine way. Leadership development and a “by-and-for” leadership structure – in which organizations are led by and for the communities they seek to serve – are essential to Third Wave and a core aspect of all of our grantees. Third Wave is governed by an advisory board of young women of color, queer, and trans folks mostly under 35 as a way to keep us guided by the communities we work for – our communities – and to foster new leadership in philanthropy among those that are often left out in critical ways. I myself began at Third Wave as an intern and am now perhaps the only transgender leader in women’s philanthropy, and one of only a few in LGBT philanthropy.
We also believe that great grantmaking isn’t just about who makes decisions, but how you make decisions. We designed the Mobilize Power Fund to be able to make a decision and get a grant agreement out in under two weeks, because not every organization has large enough cash flow to cover their urgent and unforeseen expenses. We also created a fund that is available to non-501(c)(3) organizations (the designated tax status for non-profits in the US). Community organizing is often a function of addressing powerlessness and structural lack of resources. Funding outside of a (c)(3) structure enables us to actually reach communities that aren’t able to afford the costs associated with that model. We believe that the philanthropic sector can only support economic justice if we acknowledge and address how our models encourage resources to flow where they already exist and where there is already infrastructure. Our application and reporting processes pay particular attention to communities that are over-extended and under-resourced by simplifying things: we ask for a two-paragraph or bullet-point proposal and also accept proposals in the form of a half-hour phone interview or a self-made video. In our first month already, we’ve conducted interviews with coalitions and individuals who said that they wouldn’t have been able to apply without the ability to do so quickly and over the phone.
How do you hope the Mobilize Power Fund might influence the philanthropic sector?
We hope to see more opportunities to have activists at the table in discussions about resources. Often in the US, activists are convened for the movement conversation and asked to leave during the funding and strategy conversation. When this exodus happens, we lose a tremendous amount of expertise, as well as a fair representation of people of color, disabled folks, trans communities, and people who are low-income. We believe that strategic conversations about social change that lack leadership from communities living within that social condition are not just morally questionable, but also lack strategic rigor. To invest in real change that has the power to end oppression, we need to shift these power dynamics – otherwise, we produce the image of progress while things stay the same for the majority of people.