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How SAAF is addressing power dynamics in our funding

SAAF is the only global fund focused exclusively on the right to safe abortion. We provide funding to organisations working on abortion rights and access all over the world.

We want to be a supportive, responsive and fair donor. We cannot achieve that without the recognition that an inherent power imbalance exists between donors and grantees in general, and especially in our context in which funds are sourced from Global North countries and disbursed to organisations mainly in the Global South.

The burden to shift some of this power is on SAAF, not the organisations we fund.

SAAF’s current funding philosophy and practices are the result of an extensive process of reflection about our grant-making that has aimed to centre grantee partners’ voices and views on what they want from us as a funder.

This included inviting all the organisations we were currently funding to participate in an external, independent consultation in 2021.  While it’s been important to always listen and gather feedback, in the end, it’s actions that matter. We donors must put intentions into practice through the way we fund – and these are some of the concrete ways SAAF is doing that:

  • Grantee partners set the agenda and expectations

We trust that the best people to decide on what is needed and what works are those working in their own communities and contexts. In practice this means that SAAF has no “priority topics” and no “priority countries” (although we do not fund organisations in high income countries).

We strongly believe that our grantee partners must be trusted and empowered to analyse their challenges and to come up with the most appropriate solutions. This is a concrete way of shifting power from donors to grantees, as priorities for funding are not based on top-down analysis by a donor.

Not only do grantee partners have full autonomy to decide what they want to work on, they can also decide what they think they can achieve. Change can take time and often just holding the line against the rollback of abortion rights is a great success in itself. Our grantee partners do not need to fit into complex pre-defined log-frames or report against donor-imposed indicators. Measures of success can be small and qualitative. The work of each organisation is unique and so is the definition of what success looks like.

  • Flexibility and long-term funding

Long-term funding is a key demand of the global abortion rights movement. While SAAF still has limitations based on our own funding contracts, we always offer the maximum length of time and extend where we can. Some of our current grantee partners have been funded by SAAF for almost 10 years.

While not entirely unrestricted, our grants are flexible, and grantee partners are actively encouraged to change their plans when needed. We do not micro-manage workplans – we no longer even ask for one. Grantee partners can adapt activities and budgets as they go and crucially, without prior approval.

We have very few restrictions on what we can fund. For example, and unlike many donors, we have no limit on the amount that can be spent on salaries. In fact, we want our grantee partners to have all the staff they need (and we want them to pay their staff appropriately). We can also fund audits, equipment, purchase of medication, costs for staff development, and many other items often restricted by donors.

  • Funding for “new” organisations

We purposefully encourage applications from organisations that have not worked on abortion before, or who have never managed a large grant before. This ensures that groups with passion and good ideas can receive support, even if they have little previous grant-management experience.

We want to break the cycle in which “new” organisations never get funding because they have no previous experience, which is often a major barrier. We are more than happy to be an organisation’s first funder.

We only fund through open calls and we review all the applications we receive. While funding is very competitive (in our last round we received 1200 applications, for only 87 grants), organisations do not have to have prior connections or already be part of the safe abortion movement to access SAAF funding. Everyone is assessed equally based on the ideas they put forward.

  • Re-thinking compliance

Ensuring that funds are used appropriately is an important responsibility of SAAF. We must also comply with several legal, audit and anti-money laundering requirements. This means that we have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to fraud and put in place systems to assess and monitor grantees’ capacity to manage funds. However, we are not auditors, and our guiding principle is that organisations can be trusted and will use the funds appropriately.

We also see compliance as inextricably linked with technical support on financial management. As part of our mission, SAAF funds organisations that have less expertise on financial management.  We see it as our role to provide support so that they can become more equipped to manage funding and to comply with SAAF’s (and other donors’) requirements.

  • Support beyond funding

Although the main purpose of SAAF is to provide funding for abortion work, we do not just provide financial support. We have introduced a specific role on our team to support ‘Technical Allyship’ – engaging organisations with capacity building opportunities and linking expertise within the movement.

Abortion is still such a stigmatised topic around the world, so an important part of our work is to introduce organisations to each other through our online SAAF community but also at in-person meetings and global gatherings. We provide access to training, support and relationship-building, not only to share best practice, but also to boost morale.

We’re excited to currently be funding 87 organisations to further the global abortion rights movement – find out more about their work here.


By André Deponti, SAAF Deputy Director

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  1. Pingback: Bringing together abortion activists in Latin America - Safe Abortion Action Fund

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