Transforming activism “behind the scenes” with the UN Trust Fund’s Capacity Development, Finance and Operations team
In the past 26 years, the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund) has proudly supported 646 initiatives in 140 countries and territories implemented by civil society and women’s rights organizations (CSOs/WROs) to bring transformational changes to the lives of women and girls at risk of violence.
From equipping them with capacity to navigate the UN system and manage grant funds, to mutually informing and learning to respond in crises, the UN Trust Fund and its grantees are redefining donor-grantee partnerships and enabling the collective efforts to power global feminist movements.
We talked with Mildred Garcia (Capacity Development and Operations Manager), Hisham Obaid (Grant Operation Analyst) and Elimane Bousso (Capacity Development Analyst) from the Finance and Operations team of the UN Trust Fund on what activism looks like behind the scenes.
Congratulations on another successful season of capacity development! Why is capacity development such an important component of the UN Trust Fund’s work?
Elimane: Capacity development forms part of the UN Trust Fund’s vision set out in its Strategic Plan 2021–2025 and has two distinct objectives, both based on needs and demand. The first objective is to accompany CSOs/WROs through all stages of a project to effectively plan and manage grant funds. The second is to support CSOs/WROs to develop or access additional capacities needed for ending violence against women and girls (EVAW/G) programming, learning and knowledge management.
This means that our capacity development activities focus not only on supporting grantees throughout their project cycle but also beyond that — at country, regional and global levels.
What is so distinct about the UN Trust Fund’s capacity development approach?
Elimane: We are proud that grantees’ feedback each year has significantly informed the direction of our activities. Most recently, for the first time the UN Trust Fund has provided calibrated support in the forms of webinars, written guidance and individual accompaniment to selected applicants while they developed and refined their project proposal. Arabic language interpretation has been introduced, in addition to providing training in English, French and Spanish.
I believe what makes our capacity development approach distinct is the close relationship between the UN Trust Fund and the grantee partner. Understanding and meeting UN requirements and navigating the system might not always be a walk in the park, particularly for small women’s organizations. We want to make sure these organizations obtain, strengthen and maintain the capabilities to carry out their important work.
We have heard a lot about the need to strengthen organizational resilience and sustainability in EVAW/G. What do these concepts mean from an operational viewpoint, and how has the UN Trust Fund, as a donor, ensured its grantees’ resilience and sustainability?
Hisham: These concepts mean that the CSO can manage their organization in a way that overcomes operational and contextual challenges that usually derail and impede the organization’s work.
We support grantees in building their organizational resilience and adaptability by providing financial support and dedicated budget lines that invest in contingency plans, should they arise. These enhance the CSO’s ability to develop operational systems to maintain their sustainability, increase resilience to operational challenges, and build adaptability characteristics into operations that ensure the CSO remains functional.
We know that violence against women and girls spikes during crises. What does the response look like in a crisis context for the UN Trust Fund?
Hisham: In settings of crisis, available funds are limited, and EVAW/G is not always prioritized by decision-makers as an essential component of preparedness and response initiatives. Working in complex and volatile contexts with continually shifting needs, barriers and drivers of change has solidified the culture of adaptive management within the UN Trust Fund. The key here is adapt, and to do that in a timely manner.
Mildred: That’s right! For example, as part of the learning process during COVID-19 and in order to ensure the responsiveness of programming to the needs and priorities of women and girls, the UN Trust Fund moved from a regular operation to mount an exceptional crisis response. This included creating operational instruments and innovative approaches, and making resources available, to deliver timely, high-quality financial and technical support in record time. The support was complemented by advisory services aimed to increase the ability of CSOs and WROs to adapt their project activities to the operational environment.
This is the humanitarian response field and specialization. The UN Trust Fund, at the nexus of CSOs/WROs, the UN and governments, is very well positioned to adapt and inform response activities that enable grantees to transform operationally.
This year’s theme for the 16 Days of Activism is “Activism to End Violence against Women and Girls”. What does this look like in your work?
Mildred: In complex environments with uncertainties and instabilities, the operational risks of CSOs/WROs working on EVAW/G are high. However, the risks of inaction are much higher.
For the UN Trust Fund’s Finance and Operations Team, activism means embracing agility, adaptive learning, flexibility and mid-course adjustments that are critical to responses in the context of crisis.
Activism means understanding the problem and the constraints to change, trusting your team’s intuition on the most likely path to success, and reflecting on what is working and what is not.
*This is part of a #16Days series of interviews with members of the UN Trust Fund that sheds light on what goes on “behind the scenes” to end violence against women and girls.