Grants:APG/Funds Dissemination Committee/Benchmarking analysis/Fondo Centroamericano de Mujeres

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Benchmarking Interview with Fondo Centroamericano de Mujeres (FCAM/Central American Women’s Fund)[edit]

Date: April 26, 2012


FCAM is a grant-making organization based in Nicaragua that provides annual grants in the average amount of $5000, capacity building, tools, and knowledge to small women’s grassroots organizations based throughout Central America. FCAM partners with organizations working to guarantee women’s rights to physical and emotional integrity, economic justice and to participate as leaders in making decisions that affect their lives and communities.

We had the opportunity to speak to Claudia Samcam (Development Coordinator) and Emily Schechter (Development Officer) from the Central American Women’s Fund / Fondo Centroamericano de Mujeres (FCAM). Through our discussion, we discovered a number of areas where FCAM’s experience, particularly with their Peer Review grant selection process, could provide some very relevant insights for the Wikimedia movement:

  • FCAM emphasized the importance of having criteria for selection that are closely linked to their strategy. This emphasizes the importance of developing these criteria for the FDC.
  • To ensure the best grant-making decisions are made through their Peer Review Process, FCAM removes the name and location of the organization requesting funds from each proposal. This helps remove personal biases from grant selection. This could be an interesting model for Wikimedia to consider.

Interview Notes[edit]

Could you please walk us through the process used to identify grantee partners in each grant-making cycle?

The department that manages this process is “Programs”. The program area is responsible for the grant-making process, for follow up and monitoring, and communication to facilitate our capacity building activities. There are five steps in our grant making process:

1. Call for Proposals: Between July and August, we initiate our open call for proposals. We typically put out the call through traditional and alternative media outlets both nationally and regionally. Invitations are sent to grassroots groups of women working on promoting women’s rights. Every year, we support 10 – 12 new organizations through our grantmaking programs, providing support in the average amount of $5000.

2. Initial Screen:After we receive the initial proposals, the program department does a thorough review against certain criteria. Selected organizations must have a strong proposed project, fit within the regional scope (Central America), and address one of our target populations (young women, women’s sex workers, transgendered individuals, and female domestic or factory workers). Organizations cannot have income generating activities, be affiliated with religious institutions and cannot be run by a single person. In the last grant making cycle, we received 230 proposals, of which about 50 met FCAM criteria.
The idea is to reach to all those groups that directly influence women that are in our target groups, not organizations that are working on behalf of, working for, or with other orgs. Our philosophy is that grassroots women initiatives know best what their needs are. This is why the support we provide is general. We don’t specify which projects they must fund within their organization. We leave the decision-making process of how they use the funds to them.

3. Peer Review Process: After the initial screen by the program department (to eliminate proposals that do not meet the established proposal criteria) the remaining groups will move onto the next round, where we go through a peer reviewed participation selection process. We invite our current partners and those who have sent in proposals to come and participate in a voting process to decide which proposals will move to the next round. We ask participants to select proposals that are innovative and relevant to the priorities of FCAM’s programs. During the voting process, the potential organizations seeking funding are anonymous – we take out the name of the group and their location. We provide just a summary of their proposal so that this can be a fair process.
We ask grantees and potential grantees through this process to pick a number of proposals, and we leave one proposal to be selected by FCAM staff, to prevent the possibility that a strategic grantee group is not chosen in the participatory voting process (if for example, a group does not receive enough votes because they address a controversial topic or due to the identity of the group’s member population and/or beneficiaries.) We always respect the voting of our grantees and potential grantees, but we leave room in case this happens. This is curious because when we do the exercise internally in our office, there is a lot of coherence between the community and what our staff would choose. All of our staff members participate in voting– including administrative staff. It is really important to share the information with everyone who is working here.

4. Introductory Workshop: We then invite the grantees whose proposals were selected in the Peer Review voting to an introductory workshop. This is the first time we meet the groups in person. The purpose is to revisit the original proposal from each organization, and to make any changes in terms of the format or the budget. We facilitate the process of putting together a formal work plan and budget for all of these grassroots organizations. It is helpful to get to know the leaders of our potential partners to make sure that what is on paper is what the group is actually doing. We have encountered some surprises in the past – for example, the group is not lead by women. Sometimes there is a difference between what the group is doing and our philosophy and strategy, as we are feminist organization. We are respectful of diversity, and we embrace respect for all women. Fortunately, we have only encountered surprises a few times during the introductory workshop.

5. Resubmission of the Proposal: After the introductory workshop, organizations have to submit a revised proposal with our recommended changes. The majority of groups that make it to the introductory workshop will be our grantees during the following grant making cycle. The groups will receive their money within 3 months after the call for proposals has been closed (the submission deadline).

How does this grantee selection process feel? What would you change?

We’ve been implementing this process since FCAM’s inception in 2003. I don’t think we would change anything about it. We’ve been improving parts of the process on an ongoing basis. For example, small grassroots organizations don’t necessarily have access to email or internet. We have to leave enough time for the groups to respond and we have to use more community radio stations for outreach.

How do you ensure the grantees are having the impact that they seek?

The goal is that every one of our grantees is successful. Our program staff completes monitoring visits with each grantee group, giving FCAM an opportunity to meet with the group face-to-face to see them in action, learn more about their successes and challenges, and to receive an update on their progress.

We also hold annual evaluation workshops using “Making the Case” methodology. We have adapted this methodology (originally developed by the Women’s Funding Network) to a Central American context as a way to evaluate changing attitudes, behaviors, knowledge, and community commitment. We invite all grantees to the evaluation workshop. This workshop is also an opportunity for peer exchange.

All of our exchanges with grantees are opportunities for us to observe and monitor the groups. We receive a narrative report semiannually and a final narrative and financial report.

How do you provide capacity building support to grantees?

We provide capacity building support through workshops where we facilitate tools for planning, monitoring, and evaluation; and peer exchanges about issues selected based on common problems the groups are targeting (e.g. gender based violence) or common methodologies (e.g., community radio). For peer exchanges, one grantee group with a lot of experience in the selected issue will be the facilitator of the exchange. The idea is that the facilitator and other groups can share their best practices, learning how each group is working in their community. We bring together peer organizations from different countries all over Central America.

How do you incorporate the input of your target population or partners?

We always try to have representatives from our grantee partners on our board of directors to make sure that these women can provide input on the decisions made by the Fund. In the last two Boards of Directors, one of the members has been a woman from a grantee partner group.

In addition, the grantee partner selection process always serves as a way in which FCAM receives feedback from our counterparts and allows us to include them in one of the Fund’s major decision-making processes.