MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: Meet Andrew Spieldenner of MPact
We recently sat down via Zoom with Andrew Spieldenner, Executive Director of MPact: Global Action for Gay Health & Rights, to learn more about the organization and its work. Spieldenner joined MPact in March 2021 and has worked as a nonprofit leader and an academic professor for nearly a decade, focusing his research on the intersection of health and intercultural communication surrounding HIV and the LGBTQ community.
Q: Can you tell us about the history of MPact? What would you like the other FCAA members to know?
MPact Global Action was founded as the Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF) in 2006 at the International AIDS Conference. Its mission was to organize and highlight the impact of HIV on gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men. As the organization developed, we saw the need for a global organization to be able to support grassroots organizing and regional organizing happening all over the world. We started by supporting community education and facilitating convenings where people could organize together.
As MPact developed, we unofficially became a funding intermediary and gave out sub-awards. Then, we officially began facilitating funding from philanthropy, corporate social responsibility, and other sources in order to elevate and resource the work that’s being done on the ground in various communities. Today, that work continues, and it’s actually gotten much deeper and richer.
Advocacy is also a large part of our work. We work at multiple levels, including nationally and in the global space, with organizations—such as UNAIDS, WHO, PEPFAR, and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria—to really highlight the issues that gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men face.
Since MPact started, the community has changed, and we have changed with it. We proudly embrace queer, non-binary, and trans men in particular. When it comes to gay funding, trans funding, or HIV funding, the needs of trans men have continued to be ignored by a lot of organizations.
Q: What does your work as an intermediary funder look like, and why is this type of funding important?
There are many organizations that are under constant threat because they’re gay organizations, or they’re HIV organizations, or they’re organizations that receive funding from certain funding sources. Sometimes, if organizations do receive that funding, their government starts surveilling them and watching their employees. These are real challenges, and that’s where MPact can help as an intermediary funder.
MPact is seen as a neutral party. We’re there to support the organizations and ensure they have the right administrative capacities to be able to implement their funding. We teach organizations where funding is more flexible for their capacity needs. Many organizations, especially globally, are taught that they have to provide a service. Part of what we do is explain how funders want them to build community—not just provide a service to the community, but actually be part of changing the dialogue. We encourage organizations to conceptualize their community context and communicate that with funders. For example, you’re not just handing out PrEP to someone—you have to make sure they can safely come into the clinic and that they live in an environment where they can have a job.
Q: FCAA was incredibly proud to partner with you on hosting a listening session on the funding landscape for key populations during AIDS2022. What was your biggest takeaway from that meeting, both as a funder and an advocate?
As a person living with HIV, FCAA has invited me to speak about things like networks, stigma, and racial justice before. Those invitations led to really powerful conversations that I felt shifted funders’ perspectives on the power of networks of people living with HIV and the importance of racial justice in HIV. So, when I became Executive Director of MPact, I was really excited to see what kind of work MPact and FCAA could do together. I reached out to FCAA, and we came up with this idea of doing a listening session with key populations at the AIDS Conference, since we had all these people from around the world attending.
Some of the things that came up during that session surprised me. As a gay man living with HIV, I assumed I already knew what all the key population issues are. But when the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD) pointed out that, as we talk about country ownership of PEPFAR and The Global Fund, we have to remember that some of these countries hate key populations. These governments are okay with sex workers, queer people, and people who use drugs disappearing. So, as country ownership becomes a more powerful narrative, we also have to be conscious that some of these countries simply don’t want to respond to HIV among all of the people who live there, particularly key populations. That really surprised me and came forward really strongly.
I also found it fascinating when everyone talked about the challenges of getting core funding. Core funding shouldn’t be an innovative thing, it should be the standard. That was pleasant to hear, because it reinforced what I’ve seen in my experience as an executive director.
The funding data presented during the listening session was also super important. Many of the people who attended had never seen a data presentation like that, and it confirmed their own understanding of the funding portfolio. It also shed light on how certain organizations get more funding, simply because of where they’re based. The data shows us that HIV resources are narrow, and the players at the head of the table are making decisions that have huge consequences in the HIV space. It makes clear what some of the challenges are going to be in the next 5 to 10 years.
From a community-building point of view, everyone who attended that session felt like they were heard. We immediately met afterwards to talk about what happened and how excited people were. It was a moment when people felt they had access to people who could make the case to funders about what people are experiencing on the ground. That was incredibly important because, as US-based organizations, we have access to different funders that the organizations in that room have no access to.
Q: 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 does HIV-informed grantmaking mean to you?
When I saw “HIV-informed grantmaking,” I immediately understood what it was. It wasn’t about getting people on pills. It was about understanding the context that people living with HIV face, as well as those most vulnerable to disease acquisition. Putting people on pills doesn’t stop them from getting murdered, it doesn’t stop them from being harassed by the police, it doesn’t stop them from being imprisoned or help them stay in school. HIV-informed grantmaking means considering the context for how people experience their HIV vulnerability, their healthcare access, and the stigmas they face. It also means centering people living with HIV, sex workers, people who use drugs, queer folks, and people in correctional settings.
Q: What is MPact looking forward to in 2023?
We’re looking forward to highlighting how being a key population member, particularly an MSM or a trans person, has changed in different parts of the world following the pandemic. COVID disproportionately damaged our communities, which were already fragile; it’s important to educate philanthropy on these impacts regionally and make funders aware of the community organizing that’s currently happening and where resources are needed. In many parts of the world, communities banded together out of necessity because their governments failed them. MPact plans to bring those stories forward in a way that is new for funders.