Despite recent progress, women’s and feminist organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean continue to struggle to guarantee effective and universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). In recent decades, several countries have enacted legislation on this topic, both generally and at the level of specific types of rights: access to contraception, treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancy, and maternal health, among others.
In particular, the feminist “Green Wave” that began in Argentina in 2018 brought with it the legalization of voluntary abortion in Argentina itself (2020), followed by Colombia (2022). These countries joined Uruguay, Puerto Rico, Guyana, Cuba, and some states in Mexico as the first nations in Latin America to legalize the right to access an abortion. For the rest of the region, abortion is only legal on certain grounds, such as when a risk is posed to the health of the pregnant woman or to the health of the foetus, or when a pregnancy is a result of rape. In Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Haiti, Jamaica, and El Salvador, abortion is fully criminalized without any exceptions. In El Salvador, the punishment for getting an abortion is up to 50 years in prison, even for those who suffer an obstetric emergency.
Legal barriers are not the only limitations to accessing sexual and reproductive health and rights. There are also material and cultural barriers that affect certain populations more than others, such as those living in poverty, rural communities, victims of disasters, indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants, migrants, adolescents, and LGBTQIA+ people. Material barriers are characterized by a lack of infrastructure, limited quality and variety of services, inability to reach remote populations, and a lack of adequate assistance. In terms of cultural barriers, the majority of the population in the region sustains and reproduces a narrative of conservative morality around our rights over our own bodies that is reinforced by the strong presence of Catholic and Evangelical churches and the increase of civil society groups conducting strong activism against the freedom to access sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Thus, civil society organizations working to promote these rights face a multiplicity of challenges, ranging from criticism and social delegitimization, to political persecution and exclusion, depending on the context. Another factor conditioning the sustainability of their actions is the accessibility of funding in accordance with their organizational needs. The crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the advance of nationalist and conservative governments, have all had repercussions on the funding avenues for organizations that advocate for sexual and reproductive health and rights. As such, it is paramount to design contextual diagnoses and strategic plans so that the economic sustainability of these NGOs is guaranteed.
Against this backdrop, a Latin American network of organizations promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights contracted Catalystas Consulting to advise them in their strategic search for funding.
To conduct the funding needs assessment, a series of steps were carried out. First, we analyzed the particular national contexts in which the organizations operate, interviewed staff members, and reviewed key institutional documents. This allowed us to draft organizational profile sheets with an analysis of each organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) with respect to the search for funding. The central aspects taken into consideration were: organizational size, current financial capacity and funding needs, diversification of current funding sources, strategic orientation, project design and implementation capacity, track record, and communication and outreach competencies.
Second, we analyzed the key stakeholders in the sector where these NGOs operate in order to identify allied and competing organizations also accessing funds. We drew a map of actors with the potential for establishing strategic alliances, as they complement the organizations in matching strengths with shortcomings. In addition, we highlighted the competing entities on the basis of their similar geographical, thematic, and population-based approaches, and the NGOs’ own competitive advantages and disadvantages compared to their competitors.
Taking into consideration all of the above points as well as organizational aspirations and needs, we prepared a Funding Opportunity Mapping. This map consisted of a list of all the funding options available to each organization in a specific time frame. Utilizing a holistic view, the mapping included both conventional funding sources such as grants and donations requiring an invitation to apply and open calls for proposals, as well as participation in events and workshops to make the NGOs more visible to potential funding opportunities. The mapping also looked at opportunities to incorporate further into existing and relevant regional and international networks, and to use novel digital platforms for fundraising. With all the information from the mapping, an analysis of current funding trends and patterns for each national entity of the regional network was prepared.
The second stage of the consultancy consisted of the design of the funding strategy. This was done on the basis of a comparison between the analysis of funding trends and the profile of the NGO. The strategic recommendations specified the most prudent actions to promote in terms of cost/benefit, grouped by type of funding opportunity. The types of funding opportunity were listed in order of priority according to the urgency of carrying out a concrete action and their potential to provide funds in the short to medium term.
In addition to actions directly related to fundraising, we issued complementary recommendations to make the organization more attractive to funding entities. These included actions in the areas of administration and human resources, communication, and institutional relations. Finally, we provided a Work Plan, complete with a schedule including all of the activities to be carried out, the people responsible for each activity, and the days on which they should be executed.
Globally, the regions that continue to receive the most support are those with extremely high development assistance needs. This includes low-income countries in situations of armed conflict or humanitarian crisis, particularly in North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as West Asia. Relatively more support is being given to initiatives that operate at the local level and have the advantage of being “closer to where the problems are”. Within sexual and (non-)reproductive health and rights, government agencies —especially in Europe— emphasize contraception, comprehensive sexuality education, and access to health services.
There is uncertainty about how the US Court’s overturning of the “Roe v. Wade” ruling, which guaranteed the right to abortion in the United States, will affect funding for sexual and reproductive health and rights in Latin America and the Caribbean. It is likely that many funders will direct or redirect their funds to NGOs operating within the United States, although many funders are required to direct their funds to countries that qualify for official development assistance.
It is worth noting that it is important for NGOs to diversify their funding sources between conventional and non-conventional sources, ensuring continuity of income and reducing vulnerability to external risks. An approach of diversification would also allow them to better cover overhead and core costs that are not usually covered 100% by public and multilateral sector grants. Non-conventional sources of funding include impact investments, crowdfunding, sale of goods or provision of services, and membership fees. Participating in events organized by donors or by NGOs operating in the same sector is also important, in order to stay up to date on new programs and funding trends. Improved integration of each NGO with regional and international networks is also key in gaining more visibility and synergy with potential donors.
Finally, adjustments in the areas of human resources and administration involve drafting an Equal Employment Opportunity Policy and making efforts to have representation of diverse identities within organizational staff. It is essential to map out the relationships with existing funding entities to ensure that they extend their funding over time. Regular communication should be maintained through thank you letters and timely updates and invitations to participate in NGO events or activities. In terms of communication, a visually appealing website in English detailing the organization’s quantitative impacts is a good idea, as well as maintaining an active presence on social media and on the main traditional media outlets.
Sofía is a professional with more than six years of experience in research, project management, fundraising, training & capacity building, public speaking, and communications strategy design in the fields of international law, democracy and governance, and new technologies. She holds a Master’s in Law applied to International Security from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and a Bachelor’s of Science in International Relations from Universidad Católica de Córdoba, Argentina.
A doctoral student in legal theory and legal tech, she is part of the BlockchainGov project, an interdisciplinary effort financed by the European Research Center and comprised of members of Harvard University and MIT.
She started out working in The Hague in the field of law-making, public international law, and human rights with major international non-governmental organizations and international organizations, as well as members of parliament from democratic countries all over the world.
More recently, she has collaborated with startups, social enterprises, civil society organizations, and academic networks in the Global North working on blockchain-based applications to identity, voting, representation, and currency. Sofia has also advised NGOs promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights in the Global South.