Tackling gendered poverty by shifting power through grant-making

The Smallwood Trust has been helping women across the UK to be financially resilient for 135 years with our mission being to challenge the systems that cause gendered poverty.

In order to become a trusted partner that works with others to advance economic justice for women, we believe it’s vital for us to increase our focus on devolving power through our grant-making by building on the work already started through our Community Grant Partnerships and other key projects that are detailed in this article.

Community Grant Partnerships (CGP)

Our CGP is a strategic initiative that helps us to shift power for grant decision-making to local community organisations, the majority of which are led by and for women. Smallwood provides the funds, support and an operational toolkit to help local community-led groups to provide immediate financial support through individual grants. Local partners have autonomy on how they can spend the funds to benefit women.

The programme represents 30% of our current annual spending, and provides targeted support for women most at risk of poverty including: Black, Asian and minoritised women, disabled women, young women and women with no recourse to public funds.

Overall, partners have found that the programme to be a flexible way to help them respond quickly to situations that need immediate resolution.

The programme won the Grant-Making and Funding Category at the 2022 Charity Awards, further demonstrating the potential of devolving power in such a way.

Board Shadowing Programme

Our inaugural Board Shadowing Programme was launched in 2021 and provided three  women with lived experience of gendered poverty an insight into the roles of trustees and boards as well as the opportunity to provide the Trust with their own invaluable perspectives.

The participants were able to shadow trustee Dr Ambreen Shah and be involved in Smallwood Board meetings, access briefings and see first-hand what being a Board member entails. 

The programme is a way of embedding Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in grant-making at a strategic level but also an important opportunity to shift power by helping our participants to equip themselves with the knowledge, experience and confidence to go on to join other organisations and empower them to tackle gendered poverty.

Two of the original cohort have now joined Boards of other organisations and, due to its success, our 2022/23 programme has resulted in four women with lived experience of economic hardship being recruited from the 23 applications we received.

Co-produced Grants Programme with T2U + Buttle 

The Smallwood Trust have joined forces with funders Buttle UK and Turn2us to create a programme which aims to test the effectiveness of a co-produced approach to grant-making for women and their children.

Our goal is to build a strong partnership between local communities and funders, who are aware of the web of multiple disadvantages impacting women, to support longer-term transformational change. We believe that working alongside local communities will help create a movement of change against the systemic poverty suffered by women and children.

In Summary

Smallwood are aware we are still in the early stages of our journey, which is why the Trust is committed to further Board and staff learning on EDI and shifting power, as well as designing a monitoring and evaluation system with grant partners and a newly appointed external learning partner that can be fed back and shared with others. For the second year, we are also part of the 2027 Programme which encourages decision-making expertise from minority and working class communities to lead change.

Smallwood believes that these strategic approaches show the importance and effectiveness of shifting power to organisations and individuals, empowering them to create their own specialised strategies and collaborations and help make society a fairer and safer place for women.


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