FCAA Blog: Introducing Paul-Gilbert Colletaz, the Coordinator of the Red Umbrella Fund.

FCAA is pleased to introduce the Red Umbrella Fund’s Coordinator: Paul-Gilbert Colletaz.

Red Umbrella Fund is the first and only global fund for and by sex workers of all genders. The Fund works to strengthen and ensure the sustainability of the global sex workers’ rights movement by catalysing new funding specifically for sex worker-led groups and national and regional networks. The Red Umbrella Fund supports community-led groups and networks that work to ensure sex workers’ rights are respected as human beings and as workers, so that all sex workers can live lives free from criminalisation, stigma, and violence.

We timed this blog to come out ahead of International Sex Workers’ Day (June 2nd) as an opportunity to talk about the Fund’s new strategic plan, as well as to highlight critical gaps in funding for the sex worker community. In fact, FCAA’s most recent resource tracking report found that HIV-related philanthropy for sex workers totalled $13 million in 2019, a 11% decrease from 2011. In this blog Paul shares ways in which donors can better support the sex worker community.

  • Tell us a little about yourself, and how you’ve come to the Red Umbrella Fund?

My first name is Paul-Gilbert and I currently work as Coordinator of the Red Umbrella Fund.

Before joining Red Umbrella Fund, I worked for several years as Programme Manager for the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP).I also gained experience in the philanthropic world by working as Programme Coordinator for a French funding organisation focused on HIV/AIDS and as International Steering Committee Member of the Robert Carr Fund, the world’s leading international fund focused on funding regional and global networks led by and involving and serving inadequately served populations. When Red Umbrella Fund was looking for a new Coordinator, it coincided with my wish to work in a sex worker-led organisation where I could use my experience from my work with funding mechanisms.

  • Red Umbrella Fund is a vocal advocate for participatory grantmaking. Can you tell us about your structure, and how it prioritizes community?

Red Umbrella Fund is led by a partnership of sex workers and donors, with significant sex worker majorities in both grant decisions and overall governance.  Our decision-making structure consists of the Secretariat – composed of myself and three other staff members – and an International Steering Committing (ISC) which is responsible for making strategic decisions. A Programme Advisory Committee (PAC) acts as our grants review panel that selects the groups we fund.

Participatory grantmaking is a journey and not an end-goal. As such, Red Umbrella Fund’s Strategic Plan for 2020-2025  identifies sex workers’ leadership in grantmaking as one of its three strategies, along with grantmaking and accompaniment, and funder advocacy.

A strong sex workers’ rights movement needs not only better funding, but also power and autonomy in making decisions about how to use this funding to fuel change. Only when sex workers have a real seat at the table in funding decisions can real change be achieved. Our participatory and activist-led model, which was designed by sex workers and which has sex workers in the majority in our strategic decision making and grants selection bodies, is central to making this vision a reality.

Sex workers’ leadership in strategy and grants decisions promotes transparency and accountability to the sex workers’ rights movement and makes sure our funding is well directed. We facilitate sex workers’ leadership by providing language support to sex workers who are not English speakers, conducting one-on-one orientation sessions, offering (peer) mentorship and learning opportunities, and respecting community activists’ lived experiences and expertise.

As participatory grantmaking has been gaining more traction, parts of the resource entitled “Deciding Together: Shifting Power and Resources Through Participatory Grantmaking” remain relevant today. You can access this resource here.

  • Last September the Fund released its new Strategic Plan. What are your main goals for the next five years?

Indeed, Red Umbrella Fund’s released its 2020-2025 Strategic Plan on 14 September 2020 – International Sex Worker Pride Day! It is accessible on Red Umbrella Fund’s website at this link and can also be found in all the languages we work in: English, French, Russian and Spanish.

Our 2020-2025 Strategic Plan re-affirms our commitment to supporting a strong, diverse, and collaborative sex workers’ rights movement globally. We commit to holding human rights values and principles central in all our grantmaking and accompaniment work.

Recognising that social change takes time, we aim to provide longer term support to organisations that are well placed to make lasting change. Building on the momentum, we aim to expand our funder advocacy work to mobilise more and better funding for the movement.

Last, but not least: we commit to strengthening and promoting our participatory model, both as a better way to do grantmaking and as a way to shift the power and support community leadership.

Our vision remains: we want to see a world where sex workers’ rights are respected as human beings and as workers so that all sex workers can live free from criminalisation, stigma, and violence.

  • June 2nd is International Sex Workers’ Day. It has been a particularly challenging year with COVID-19 disproportionately impacting sex workers. What would you like donors to know about how they can better support sex worker communities?

The data highlighted in FCAA’s resource tracking report is unfortunate, but predictable. The latest data available from Human Rights Funding Network, for example, showed that sex workers’ rights funding represented less than 1% of foundation Human Rights funding in 2017.

In the study published in 2020 by Aidsfonds, it was noted that “sex workers accounted for 6% of all new HIV infections globally. […] Yet programmes for sex workers received only 0.6% of all HIV expenditure and only 3% of estimated prevention funding in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), between 2016 and 2018.”

In the middle of all these contradictions, COVID-19 happened and continues to have profound impacts on sex workers. The factsheet accessible at this link summarizes how COVID-19 affected sex workers, including stronger barriers to health care and exacerbated inequalities and injustice. Despite these, sex worker-led organizations and networks showed their resistance, resilience, and the importance of their work. Sex workers continue to be at the forefront of movements that challenge stigma, discrimination, and criminalization of sexuality and bodily autonomy.

Just like in the other aspects of the world, COVID-19 has also exacerbated inequalities in the philanthropic field. In this time of crisis when many sex workers have lost their livelihood, a majority of donors left sex workers behind, and continue to do so.

I would encourage donors to think about their practices and reflect on whether their funding is reaching the populations that are most marginalised at the appropriate level? In 2017, sex workers were 13 times more at risk of contracting HIV and the sex workers’ rights movement received roughly 2% of total HIV philanthropic funding. That year, the total amount received by the sex workers’ rights movement had decreased by 26% compared to 2016. As donors, we need to do more and to do better now.

If donors are afraid to support sex worker-led networks or organisations or if they want to have a clearer understanding of sex workers’ rights, I invite these donors to get in touch with Red Umbrella Fund. We can support you in thinking through how to meaningfully include sex workers in your portfolio and provide better and more funding for sex worker-led organisations and networks.

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance and power of intermediary funders through their ability to move money quickly and efficiently to communities. What can philanthropy do to partner with and better support intermediaries? What can they do that other philanthropic institutions can’t?

It is interesting to note that a number of intermediary funders were created around the time Red Umbrella Fund was launched (2012: Robert Carr Fund; 2015: International Trans Fund). At the time, the creation of intermediary and community-led funds responded to the lack of grantmaking mechanisms meaningfully involving communities according to their needs and the lack of philanthropic actors having systems in place to be accessible to community-led organisations worldwide. Almost ten years after the launch of Red Umbrella Fund, these challenges remain.

Whilst Red Umbrella Fund grew rapidly since its creation, our annual budget has stagnated over the past couple of years. It is interesting to note that, in the last couple of years, interest for participatory grantmaking practices grew in the philanthropic sector. This interest was often dampened by the same administrative and internal burdens. Not all funders will be able to implement their own participatory grantmaking processes because their institutions, policies, and/or structures just will not allow for it.

As philanthropic actors discussed how to become more participatory, funding for sex worker-led organisations and networks decreased at a time when many sex workers lost their livelihoods due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On our collective path, the importance and power of intermediary funders was put in the background and taken for granted. However, intermediary funders can only resource communities as much as they are themselves resourced.

Rather than being seen as intermediary, we should be seen as central and crucial to ensuring that we shift the power to ensure good grantmaking decision, stronger movements and greater accountability.

Resourcing intermediary funders is an integral part of a funder’s journey to participatory grantmaking and shifting the power.

  • What is the Sex Work Donor Collaborative? How/why should FCAA members considering joining?

The Sex Work Donor Collaborative (or SWDC) is a network of funders that have come together to increase the amount and quality of funding to support sex workers’ rights. SWDC was originally formed under a different name – the Donor-Activist Collaboration for the Advancement of the Human Rights of Sex Workers – and was convened during a donor dialogue hosted in 2008 by Open Society Foundations, the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) and CREA in response to the lack of funding for sex workers’ rights groups. One of the key outcomes of the donor-activist collaboration was the creation of Red Umbrella Fund, the first global fund led by and for sex workers in 2012!

The SWDC’s membership is open to institutions whose primary activity is grantmaking . This includes private foundations, community foundations, family foundations, corporate foundations and giving programs, religious giving programs, public foundations, and other grant-making institutions. Membership is also open to individual staff members of such institutions.

Philanthropy has created silos that do not reflect our lives. Many sex workers are also mothers, people who use drugs, transgender, and many live with HIV. Even though your organisation does not focus directly on sex workers’ rights, if you are concerned about HIV/AIDS, you should include sex workers’ in your programming.

The SWDC can be a space to support you in maximising the amount and quality of funding your organisation provides to sex worker-led organisations and networks.

  • In FCAA’s latest strategic plan we highlight the importance of “HIV-informed grantmaking” in addressing the deeply ingrained injustices that the epidemic is symptomatic of.  What HIV-informed grantmaking mean to you?

HIV-informed grantmaking means providing grants in line with the latest rights-based information on the HIV pandemic and the structural barriers that create vulnerabilities to HIV.

With this in mind, the difference between the percentage of sex workers living with HIV and the funding going to sex worker-led organisations and networks is unacceptable.

As the data has repeatedly shown, we cannot expect these structural barriers (including stigma and discrimination) to disappear in a philanthropic setting because we have good intentions. As the HIV pandemic has taught us, the meaningful involvement of impacted communities and participatory grantmaking practices are going to be key in ensuring that important grantmaking decisions are HIV-informed and community-led.