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A growing philanthropic model builds trust and rewards ideas, rather than dictating how donated capital is spent.

Growing up in a rural village in northwestern Tanzania, Josephina Joachim was a young woman who experienced hardship and injustice. Hoping to shift the narrative for girls who came after her, she and her colleagues decided to fight harmful social-cultural practices, beliefs, and traditions — like early-childhood marriage and female genital cutting (FGM) — that violate the rights of young women and girls. In 2020, they founded a grassroots women and children’s rights and empowerment organization, now called Solidarity for Her Education and Empowerment Organisation (SHEEO). SHEEO has a simple vision: educating girls and young women will give them a brighter future.


SHEEO’s Management team meets with Guillemette Dejean, GEC Programs & Partnerships Manager















While that vision is clear enough, it isn’t always compelling enough to draw early philanthropic capital from Western donors. For example, donors like to see measurable impact — that their invested dollars are moving a needle. But early-stage and community-based organizations usually don’t yet have that internal capacity or knowledge on how to measure their impact – to western standards. Hence, their important community-based work goes unseen.

This is a recurring problem in successfully connecting those with resources — Western-based nonprofits and philanthropists — to the community-level work they aim to help. In reality, there are a number of obstacles in navigating existing philanthropic models that hinder the growth of the receiving organizations.

1) Western-based nonprofit organizations often have their own vision about how programs on the ground should be run, and how their money should be allocated. For all the benefits that the funding may deliver, there are often strings attached, which counter that benefit. That results in the receiving organization navigating restrictive oversight, gate checks, milestones, and carefully monitored allocation of resources.

2) The designs of Western-led programs are not only imposed in a way that shows a demonstrable lack of trust in the receiving organization, but that also may not meet the actual needs and priorities of the receiving organization or the community it is intending to help.

3) Lastly, the smaller and younger receiving organizations have trouble establishing themselves well enough to gain access to the abundance of Western resources earmarked for projects like theirs. It is often a classic ‘catch 22’— one has to already be funded to get funded.

Girls Education Collaborative, a twelve year old US-based non-profit organization, has believed from the start that it is in all of our best interests to let local communities lead the way.

That is why, in 2022, we launched an innovative framework called the Ally Funder Alliance (AFA), in which we find and support on-the-ground innovation connected to gender-equality and girls-education initiatives. And rather than dictating how and when to utilize our funding dollars, it comes with no strings attached. The journey is to develop a relationship of trust in which we become valued partners and advisors, and the local change-makers can focus on fulfilling their vision.


1st Annual AFA Gathering consisting of GEC Executive Director, Anne Wadsworth; Ally Funder members, Mollie Van Horn and Laura DeDominicis; Ally Organizations, Empowered Girls represented by Kellen Msseemmaa; Solidarity for Her Education and Empowerment Organisation (formerly AHIRD) represented by Gloria Rwegoshora; Bright Hostel represented by Luka Mang’uli; and Tumaini Open School represented by Br. Ezekiel Kassanga.


The West Does Not Have All the Answers

Western countries enjoy many comforts, per capita, that the global south does not. And yet that does not mean that western countries have the best answers when it comes to ideating or implementing sustainable development — particularly in a local context half a world away.

The locally-led approach is one that has gained ground in the past few years in ‘development circles’, a philosophy that aims to let local leaders lead and execute the vision laid out by the receiving party, rather than the external, usually western-based, funder. These days it is often referred to as “localization” or “proximal leadership,” terms that were not at my disposal when we launched in 2012 but do in fact describe our model.

Enter the Ally Funder Alliance, a small group of like-minded funders who invest in a fund managed by GEC that re-grants to a small number of Ally Organizations (recipients) each year in unrestricted funding. AFA gives such Ally Organizations, like SHEEO, the financial independence they need to grow as they see best — with no strings attached. These partnerships are rooted in relationship building. There is due diligence and accountability but no gauntlet of applications, prescriptive reporting, or external dictation.


AFA Ally Organization: The Bright Hostel welcomes Anne

AFA Ally Organization: Tumaini Open School visits their corn fields with Anne










The new AFA model grants unrestricted funds to already promising early-stage interventions  that have the potential to smash gender-based barriers and make tectonic shifts in under-funded communities by equipping girls with the skills and tools needed to finish school, navigate their circumstances, and fulfill their futures. 

In addition to multi-year funding, we also link arms in allyship with these local changemakers in the girls-education space, driving social change by putting trust in their ideas, ideals, and philosophies. We are there to help them through pain-points, seize opportune moments and grow their networks. The AFA follows a minimally viable consortium framework  and now in its second year there are four Ally Organizations being supported. The work has started in Tanzania, east Africa, but if demonstrated to be a fruitful model, could expand into other geographies.


AFA Ally Organization: Bright Hostel Residents

AFA Ally Organization SHEEO’s (formerly AHIRD) leadership skills session and mentorship with Gloria, Executive Director.









While small, community-led organizations are usually not on the radar of large Western donors, like single-family foundations, GEC recognizes how vital they are to making systemic and lasting change, both regionally and globally. That’s why we work determinedly and carefully to find smaller girl-centered organizations that match our North Star: locally led organizations are the key to making transformative changes in rural, under-served regions in developing economies where high rates of gender inequality and economic poverty persist.


Empowered Girls, an AFA Ally Organization, works with girls and boys in rural schools to help transcend destructive cultural traditions, create community equity and support girls to complete their education.


The Ally Funder Alliance is distinctive in that it draws on the advantages of collaborative philanthropy to create both funding and allyship. The aim is to build trust and respect between all parties, allowing Ally Organizations to thrive on a trail that they themselves blazed. They hold the power and we act in support.


Anne Robinson Wadsworth is the founder and Executive Director of Girls Education Collaborative.

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