The Other Foundation: Embodying the Human Rights Grantmaking Principles
By Nairuti Shastry*
When Kutlwano Magashula, Executive Officer of Programmes at The Other Foundation, spoke at the second workshop of our Grantmaking Principles Launch Series in 2020, we knew there was more to the Foundation’s story than we could hope to explore in that session. Three years later, in 2023, I sat down over Zoom with Samuel Shapiro, Research Officer at the Other Foundation to learn more about how, specifically, the Foundation makes sense of and applies each of the Human Rights Grantmaking Principles across their grantmaking and programming.
“I know what it feels like to be on the other side,” Samuel shares, reflecting on his transition from grassroots activism to philanthropy. No more than five minutes into our conversation, the weight of responsibility the team at the Other Foundation feels to the LGBTI and gender non-conforming people of Southern Africa is palpable. The Foundation’s changemaking purpose is not simply to provide support to social justice movements of LGBTI communities in Southern Africa, but also to uplift and embody what LGBTI people represent all over the world. Samuel declares, “The research we do, the convenings we host, the grants we give…is all a collaborative process…We don’t see ourselves as funders separate from the activists or separate from the community. We see ourselves as part of the community.”
Made operational in 2015 with generous support from The Atlantic Philanthropies, the Other Foundation is a community foundation that gathers support to advance and defend the freedom, equality and social and economic participation of LGBTI people in 13 of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)’s member states—Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Their community orientation is reflected in how they operate. Allocating 17.7 million rand (approximately $910,000) in 2022, the Other Foundation pays special attention not only to what they fund, but how they fund, embodying:
- power sharing and shifting;
- collective care;
- a community driven approach;
- equity; and
- adaptability and learning.
So, how, specifically, does the Other Foundation embody each principle? And, more importantly, what advice do they have for other foundations looking to adopt or better align their grantmaking practices with human rights and social justice values?
Power Sharing and Shifting
The Other Foundation’s participatory approach to grantmaking—particularly through their extensive peer review process of all grant applications—is the most obvious way they shift and share power. At the same time, as a funder based in the Global South, the Foundation is also working to reshape the LGBTI movement from its imported origins, and shift narrative, organizing, and decision-making power back into the region.
Many of the original campaigns for LGBTI rights in the region relied on funding from, and thus were shaped by, the Global North, and primarily focused on public health. Though valuable as an entry point for Southern African communities to acknowledge and begin engaging with LGBTI peoples, imported interventions can backfire, including by furthering the regional bias that homosexuality is a neo-colonial imposition. As such, the Other Foundation has assisted in shifting movement work toward greater attitudinal change, as requested by activists in the region. “We don’t simply want to support an LGBTI shelter, for instance. We want [all the] shelters that exist to be accepting of LGBTI people,” Samuel explains.
This reorientation requires a profound reckoning with history, especially with the roots of philanthropy and humanitarian aid. Financial support in the region, particularly from the Global North, that is not grounded in local expertise runs the risk of detracting from local power-building efforts. In response, the Other Foundation has a donor policy, one that explicitly addresses how the Foundation wants donors to engage with them. In the policy, the Foundation asks for transparency, confidentiality, engagement, learning, availability, and, most importantly, risk tolerance from its donors.
When advancing the rights of the LGBTI community, the Other Foundation sees itself as accountable in two ways:
- to the donors from whom they raise money, and
- to activist and non-activist LGBTI people.
Samuel shares that, in the African context where many of the communities they serve are struggling to meet basic needs such as housing or healthcare, an effective strategy can be one that places activism as a centerpiece of community and culture. “It’s not just LGBTI people need healthcare, it’s people need healthcare, and we advocates are part of the LGBTI community,” Samuel explains.
For the Other Foundation, accountability includes countering harmful public narratives about sexual orientation and gender identity and identifying allies to support these efforts. Throughout its work, the Foundation places considerable emphasis on nurturing allies, including within the church, businesses, families and friends of LGBTI people, the media, and government. As they explain, “LGBTI people will always be a permanent minority and we need allies in different spaces to not only access those spaces but leverage their power and ability to influence society towards the acceptance of LGBTI people.”
Drawing on the narrative work the Foundation has conducted since 2016, much of the Foundation’s recent allyship has been with churches and other religious organizations in the community that operate with an eye toward Black and Queer theology. This reclamation of religious scripture has proven to be effective in countering narratives that use the Bible as justification for LGBTI hate and violence. “We are fighting the backlash that Queerness is un-African. We are not allowing traditional groups to rewrite history. Instead, we are saying, we have a deep history of Queerness in Africa. We have always been here. We will always be here…In fact, if you’re homophobic or transphobic, that’s what’s un-African. That’s what’s un-Christian.”
The Other Foundation takes a deliberate and holistic approach to collective care in both their grantmaking and internal practices. For the Foundation, wellbeing and care is much more than a yoga retreat or a guided meditation; it is about safety and security, dignity, belonging, joy, and healing.
For LGBTI activists in the region, the Foundation recognizes that physical safety and bodily autonomy are not always a guarantee. As such, the Foundation ensures that their funding encompasses all aspects of care that are needed for LGBTI people from advocacy with public policy-makers to supporting pride events for people to feel like they’re part of a community where they belong. They also recognize that many other donors in the region prefer to fund programming over operating costs. In response, the Other Foundation is flexible in responding to the shifting needs of grantees, “because we know people are the ones running the programs and doing the work.”
From the grantmaking process to identifying research questions for study, the Other Foundation engages their community every step of the way. In fact, many team members of the Foundation were peer reviewers themselves for grant proposals before being hired full-time.
For the Other Foundation, the community driven principle also has a geographic element. All the Foundation’s convenings are held in historic spaces, particularly including those that represent the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa—from Freedom Park in Pretoria to Soweto to the Cradle of Humankind. Further, meetings of the board of trustees of the Foundation are hosted in different parts of the region where local activists are invited to speak to the trustees. This allows the Other Foundation to more viscerally contextualize decision making in community realities and local movements.
Because the work of social justice often begins with an uneven playing field, equity is a step toward justice, not the end goal in and of itself. Within the work of human rights philanthropy, an equitable approach requires moving beyond merely increasing the diversity of voices and perspectives within our institutions to ensuring that there is fair and equitable participation and power at all levels.
With an eye to equity, the Other Foundation has shifted its most recent grants to specifically fund lesbian, transgender, and intersex movements, three communities they feel need more deliberate and sustained support. This decision was not only made to espouse greater equity in their grantmaking, but also to build and deepen relationships between all of the LGBTI community and the general public in the region.
Of course, the Other Foundation is unable to fund all the projects that are received, often leaving gaps in continued funding and in the overall work of local movements. Indeed, they assert that it is critical for many more funders to step up and support LGBTI activism—particularly those activities led by lesbian, transgender, and intersex peoples—in the region.
Adaptability and Learning
Adaptability and learning is not simply a responsive principle, but one that is baked into the ethos of an organization. Grantmakers seeking to be accountable to grantseekers must be adaptable to community realities.
Like many foundations during the pandemic, the Other Foundation made sure that both their grantmaking and programming was adaptable to the needs of their team and grantees. For example, though in-person gatherings were canceled, the Foundation made sure that it stayed connected to the movement by hosting several online engagements. In addition, even before the pandemic, the Other Foundation was taking steps to ensure that the community can readily access funds, particularly during times of emergency and hardship.
More recently, as the rights of LGBTI Ugandans have been under attack, LGBTI South African activists determined it was of paramount importance to show solidarity, especially to stop further erosion of LGBTI rights in other African countries. Though the Foundation does not explicitly work in Uganda, they supported activists in their own region to engage by providing a discretionary grant to help them attend an advocacy event in Pretoria around the Ugandan bill.
Both Kutlwano and Samuel stress that the Other Foundation faces challenges and that they are always looking for ways to improve. For example, like many of their peers, the Foundation struggles with monitoring and evaluation. Team members share, “There are so many stories of change that we are sitting on that need to be told. As we drive forward with our work, capturing and [telling]…these stories is vitally important.”
Yet, there is clearly much they are doing well. Kutlwano cites the practicality of incorporating the principles and working in such a participatory way, “When we work in this way, we are able to build relationships and…trust…this contributes to enabling solidarity among people and groups in times of difficulty.” Through these relationships, trust, and growing solidarity, the Other Foundation hopes to unite all people who are marginalized—or “other”—and advance human rights and social inclusion across Southern Africa for LGBTI people and beyond.
 The Other Foundation does not work in the Democratic Republic of Congo, citing its geographic size and reach, the Comoros because they only joined the SADC in 2017, nor the United Republic Tanzania, which is served by a sister organization, UHAI EASHRI.
The Other Foundation is an African trust that advances equality and freedom in southern Africa with a particular focus on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Featured image courtesy of The Other Foundation
* Nairuti Shastry is an engaged scholar, strategist-facilitator, and educator working toward racial and economic justice that transcends organizational, cultural, and political borders. She wrote this post for our Human Rights Grantmaking Principles blog series while consulting with HRFN.