Clothing brands and the women who make the clothes are coming together in a new effort to build long-term resilience for women workers and their communities.

The project, called the Resilience Fund for Women in Global Value Chains, is a joint initiative of the UN Foundation’s Universal Access Project, BSR and Women Win/Win-Win Strategies and is described as the “first of its kind.” Over three years, it will aim to raise at least $10 million dollars in pooled, unrestricted funding for women-led organizations in the Global South, starting with South Asia then expanding to other regions by early 2022.

What makes it disruptive of traditional corporate philanthropy models is that the corporate investors will not be the only ones deciding where the money goes. Instead, they will join representatives from local and regional women’s organizations and feminist leaders as equal partners on an advisory board to review proposals and decide how to allocate funding.

“Women’s funds have legitimacy, trust and strong relationships with girls and women’s groups, organizations and movements,” said Alexandra Garita, Executive Director of Prospera International Network of Women’s Funds, in a press release. “…This Fund, with an innovative governance mechanism, will channel resources where they need to go – into women’s hands – in sustained and meaningful ways.”

Pandemic Inspired

The fund was inspired by the recognition that the pandemic has disproportionately affected women workers in global supply chains, particularly the garment industry. Not only have many of them experienced job loss and loss of wages (or alternatively, health risks as they continue to work without sufficient protective measures), but there has also been an alarming rise in women reporting sexual and gender-based violence against them as a result of pandemic restrictions. The fund was created to address the systemic problems that put these women at greater risk in crises like the pandemic. It is also an opportunity for global corporations – who have faced pressure to uphold their commitments to social corporate responsibility – to invest in the long-term resilience of their workforce and the communities in which they operate in the face of future pandemics and crises.

“Women, who are essential to the resilience, success and sustainability of global value chains, have suffered the brunt of the impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Aditi Mohapatra, Managing Director at BSR. “This innovative new fund is an opportunity for companies to address these impacts by centering the voices of these women in identifying solutions for themselves and their communities. In doing so, companies have an opportunity to bring to life their commitments to equity and social justice.”

Initially, representatives from Global Fund for Women, the Naz Foundation, Prospera International Network of Women’s Funds and Women’s Fund Asia will serve on the advisory board. The founding corporate partners and investors include Gap Foundation, H&M Foundation, the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation, PVH Foundation (associated with brands including Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Van Heusen and IZOD) and The VF Foundation (associated with brands including The North Face, Vans, Timberland, Dickies and Supreme).

Through the fund, these corporations will have a chance to build long-term relationships with women’s funds and grassroots organizations that work on women’s safety, security, and sexual and reproductive health as drivers of economic resilience. They will also have the opportunity to interact through a “Learning Hub,” which will serve as a platform for investors, grantees, experts and other stakeholders to provide real-time feedback and discuss successes, challenges and emerging issues.

“We’re joining a growing movement that is challenging the traditional notion of solving problems through pre-ordained approaches or ideas of success. Instead, we’re recognizing that transformative change comes from local organizations and feminist leaders who are driving priorities, strategies and solutions,” said Seema Jalan, Executive Director of the UN Foundation’s Universal Access Project in a press release. “This is a new way to do corporate philanthropy.”

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