NPQ has written in the past about the NoVo Foundation’s constituent-centric approach to funding (here, here, and here.) Over the years, they have lived out their philosophy of being guided by those most affected by the challenges societies face today. NoVo’s mission—to foster transformation from a world of domination and exploitation to one of collaboration and partnership—is common sense for those who are committed to mutuality but rare among foundations. They have asked themselves tough questions, such as, “Can philanthropy support the transformation of society?” Now, they are looking to support transnational movement building with the launch of the Radical Hope Fund.
Radical hope is one of NoVo’s core values. The Radical Hope Fund will award $20 million over four years, and the minimum award amount will be $250,000 for one to four years, reflecting NoVo’s commitment to supporting big ideas. In a recent interview with NPQ, NoVo’s executive director Pamela Shifman said,
We believe that in a time of darkness and division, there must also be room to dream…This moment calls for creativity and innovation grounded in the wisdom of those, past and present, who have transcended regressive politics…I think it’s incredibly important to respond to the immediate situation, but in the moment that we’re in right now, we also need to think about how to build the movement that we need for transformation.
Shifman described the current moment as one where “communities all over the world are under attack…women and girls, people of color, immigrants and refugees, transgendered people and GLBTQ. The list goes on.” But, she also remained very optimistic, noting an increasing solidarity across social movements. “While there is so much threat, there is also unprecedented activism.”
NoVo has always been global, but according to Shifman, global/U.S. is a false distinction. “We believe global work has to include work in the U.S. and our local communities.” NoVo is among a small group of foundations that are asking similar questions: What does it mean to work across issue silos, across geographic borders? What is transnational movement building, and what does it look like?
The foundation is serious about asking its grantees to think boldly. Shifman said, “For us, this is about creating space to think big and bold, build partnerships, and experiment…We’re looking for projects that create transnational relationships and solidarity that nurture long-term partnerships based on trust and transformation rather than transaction, that promote shared leadership, and prioritize healing and sustainable activism.”
Though this may all be music to a potential grantee’s ears, for NoVo’s part, it is pretty straightforward. It is simply listening to the field: grantees partners, institutional partners, nonprofit organizations, and groups that are not grantees. Shifman noted, “This is a moment of incredibly beautiful and brilliant activism that is so inspiring. We are hoping to be able to lift that activism up and provide support to allow activists to go deeper, to be as creatively bold and visionary as possible in this moment. So many of our grant partners are leveraging this opportunity to make huge change.”
NoVo seeks to support movements for the longterm by giving leaders room to step back, heal, and build. Perhaps this approach comes easy to NoVo because their staff approaches their work in philanthropy from an activist perspective. “We believe we are activist, and that now we are activist in the social sector, and the way we help is to help build movements. We see ourselves as part of the movements we are supporting.”
Shifman has spent much of her life as an activist working globally for girls and women’s rights. She deeply believes that we have the power to transform our world, and that in order to do that, we have to upend patriarchy and racism and other systems of oppression that don’t allow us to live in our full humanity.
Ultimately, what distinguishes NoVo is its deep commitment to listening to those who face the greatest impact and investing in building relationships with them. Shifman admitted, “We know we don’t have all the answers.”
The Fund is accepting Letters of Inquiry though October 2017 and grantees will be announced in February 2018.