Radically (Re)Imagining How We Support our Sisters
Purposeful announces $50,000 inaugural Feminist Scholar Award
The Purposeful Feminist Scholar Award provides a feminist leader in the Global South and in the diaspora with financial and other support to advance stories about the power of girlhood and the boundless possibilities of girl-led organising.
The award is designed to support those already making a significant contribution to the field of arts or scholarly activism in order that they might deepen a focus on adolescent girls and make a significant contribution to a body of work that amplifies their power.
Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah — Purposeful Feminist Scholar Award Winner 2023
African feminist and writer, Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah is the first recipient of the Purposeful Feminist Scholar Award. Celebrated for her recent book, The Sex Lives of African Women and co-founder of award winning blog Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women which started in 2009, Sekyiamah is a feminist powerhouse who is not afraid to address topics considered taboo on the African continent and beyond.
Purposeful witnessed Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah in action in 2022, as she facilitated a number of workshops at the Girls’ Summit which hosted 51 girls from over 15 African countries in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Nana created a supportive space for the girls in attendance to openly ask questions about sex, pleasure and their bodies, as well as reflect on their power and beauty. The session resonated with the girls and the Purposeful staff alike, with everyone eager to attend more of Sekyiamah’s sessions and read her book, The Sex Lives of African Women, which was released in 2021.
As she shared what she had learned over the years as a curator of stories and as an African woman navigating her own journey of understanding her sexuality, we could not ignore the impact that Nana had on the girls summit participants and on us as a team; this was a reflection of the potential her work holds to shape and make space for women and girls alike to expand their radical imaginations and allow themselves to dream, heal, contribute to shifting cultural conversations, mobilise and to document the stories of others like them on the continent who are so often ignored. Nana’s work shows that stories are powerful, and that sharing them can (re)shape our lives.
“I feel really privileged that an African based organisation has seen my work as worthy of being supported. Recognition always feels more special to me when it comes from ‘home’, and I want more philanthropic organisations, especially Black, and African ones, to step up and meaningfully support artists whose work spark social change and justice.” Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah
Looking to the Future
How do we make space for the bold and the imaginative in philanthropy? In the midst of restrictive processes and criteria for how we grant and what grants can be used for, where does support for the work of feminists such as Nana fit? All too often the existing structures and systems in philanthropy make the possibility of working in creative and collaborative ways with civil society actors seem impossible, so much so that such partnerships are not even considered and we default to that which is familiar. How much more could we achieve if we were able to think more broadly, be more responsive, and work more intuitively in the way we make grants.
The Purposeful Feminist Scholar Award falls outside the lines of typical funding allocations — in the form of $50,000 of unrestricted resources to individual activist scholars. The award is intended to offer the space and time they need to develop their own writings and other work over a 12-month time period, away from the burdens of institutional fundraising or commercial income generation. This approach is unusual, giving awardees the freedom to think creatively about the work they wish to produce. At the same time, the awardee and Purposeful work collaboratively to design a series of engagements with grantees and other allies in the Purposeful network in order to prioritise substantive dialogue between the artist/scholar and adolescent girl activists, ensuring their voices are centred in the work that is being produced through the award.
Supporting awardees in this way is not simply to encourage creativity, collaboration and intergenerational dialogue — it is a political statement about the way in which money can be moved in philanthropic spaces, highlighting that just because things have been done in a particular way, does not mean that is the only way they can or should continue to be done. As a movement-building hub, and as a political home for girls, it is our role to create new ways to move money to the places where we feel it will have a significant impact, even if those places are novel and unexplored.
Purposeful is a movement building hub for girls and their allies, rooted in Africa and working all over the world. We work to build the power of girls and their allies so that they can access the resources, networks and platforms they need to power their activism and remake the world for themselves. Since 2015 we have made over 500 grants to girls and young feminist activists across more than 110 countries.