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Zeina Zaatari, Program Officer

Super Hero Donors: The Global Fund for Women

Did you know that women represent 70% of those living in absolute poverty? That 1 in 3 women will be raped, beaten or violated in the course of their lifetime? Or that maternal mortality is the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age? These are just a few of the unfortunate facts that surround the current state of International human rights concerning women. This week we put the spotlight on the Global Fund for Women, an organization aimed at funding and supporting important ideas, people and non-profit organizations dedicated to the betterment of womankind. To date, the Global Fund for Women has awarded over $58 million to 3,45 women’s organizations in 166 countries. You can only imagine how much this seed money has been able to alleviate injustices facing women. Read on as Zeina Zaatari, 34, Program Officer, shares with us info about the organization, important future goals and the people they are looking to connect with as we feature the Global Fund for Women in this week’s Non-Profit Spotlight.


Global Fund for Women






Zeina Zaatari
Program Officer, Middle East and North Africa




Sidon [Sayda], South Lebanon, Lebanon

Current residence

San Francisco, California


University of California at Davis
Ph.D. Cultural Anthropology and Feminist Theory

University of California at Davis
MA Cultural Anthropology

Iowa State University
MA Anthropology

American University of Beirut
BA Sociology and Anthropology

Work Experience

Global Fund for Women
Program Officer, MENA
July 2004-present

UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia
September 2006-March 2007

University of California at Davis

San Francisco State University

University of California at Davis
Teaching Assistant

Arab Forum for Social Science and Health
Program Assistant



About the non-profit

The Global Fund for Women is an international network of women and men committed to a world of equality and social justice. We advocate for and defend women’s human rights by making grants to support women’s groups around the world. We are part of a global women’s movement that is rooted in a commitment to justice and an appreciation of the value of women’s experience.

The challenges women face vary widely across communities, cultures, religions, traditions and countries. We believe that women should have a full range of choices, and that women themselves know best how to determine their needs and propose solutions for lasting change. The way in which we do our work is as important as what we do. This philosophy is reflected in our flexible, respectful and responsive style of grant-making.

The Global Fund makes grants to seed, strengthen and link women’s rights groups based outside the United States working to address human rights issues that include:

Ending Gender-Based Violence and Building Peace
Ensuring Economic and Environmental Justice
Advancing Health and Sexual and Reproductive Rights
Expanding Civic and Political Participation
Increasing Access to Education
Fostering Social Change Philanthropy

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

As a program officer for the Middle East and North Africa, I am responsible for setting up yearly plans of our work in the region and for managing the portfolio which entails a budget of close to a million dollars on a yearly basis. My day-to-day responsibilities usually include a bit of everything that we need to do to manage the Middle East North Africa portfolio. Generally, this means working with women’s rights organizations and activists, dealing with financial and banking institutions in the region and in the US, working with advisers and other such actors, building relationship with sister-organizations and other funders, preparing analysis of groups to fund, aiding development team in fundraising, and contributing to the growth of the organization and the MENA portfolio in particular.

It includes interacting with women’s groups on the ground via email, phone, mail and fax and building relationships of trust and mutual respect between GFW and women activists and actors in the MENA region. I also read proposals, follow-up with questions, and review a variety of written and visual material that groups send to us including final and other types of reports as well as newspaper clippings and videos of events. Our volunteer advisers in the region provide us with information on groups, issues, political context, and challenges to women’s movements in the region. I work on fostering a strong advisory council of local women’s rights activists located in the region who act as our ambassadors to the region. I organize conference calls with other funders to share and exchange grant-making strategies and best practices. I also produce a written analysis of the groups we are proposing to give grants to on a quarterly basis to present to our international board members.

Even though some or many may argue that most of the work is administrative, and perhaps not as exciting, I beg to differ. As there is nothing boring about reading inspiring stories of creative and amazing women who put themselves on the front line everyday to support and defend women’s rights and to know that you have in some way contributed to supporting those efforts. And there is nothing boring about reading the creative avenues that women organize, resist, and pave way to newer realities where equality and justice can prosper. In addition, I am able to travel to the most amazing places, interact with progressive and strong women that can easily dispel any myths or stereotypes of the meek and oppressed Arab or Muslim woman. Since one of our main goals is linking between different actors, it is always very exciting to work with organizations who are building a network or who are organizing a conference and be able to contribute to the speakers and the programs thus ensuring a diverse representation and that particular voices that may often be silent in such international convenings actually have the space to speak. Every day, I increase my knowledge of women’s rights, women’s issues, challenges, successes, changes in laws, practices, policies, etc. of women, but also generally of civil society. It is a very rich and engaging experience on a daily basis.

Most notable milestones

I was initially hired at the Global Fund for Women to establish the Middle East and North Africa program on its own. Very shortly after I arrived, I had to organize an outreach trip to the region for all board members, several staff members and donors. We divided everybody into smaller teams and each team was able to visit one or two countries and eventually we all convened in Cairo, Egypt for the Board Meeting. Collectively we visited Turkey, Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, Palestine, and Israel. The seventeen board members from different countries of the world all convened in Egypt after this trip. It was a significant accomplishment of exchange and learning of challenges, local contexts, issues, priorities, and strategies.

In addition, after working for two years on the MENA program, looking back at the increase in the number of organizations and proposals that we were able to provide support to, it was a significant milestone to watch the impact and relationship grow. Another important milestone was my participation in the Nobel Women’s Initiative first international conference on Women Redefining Peace: the Middle East and Beyond, where I talked on a panel about power and its impact particularly in relation to funding trends and policies in the region. However, I was also able to help with suggestions of activists from the region that we have come to work with and to see them and watch them engaged in dialogue, standing tall and speaking on behalf of their communities made me feel honored to be in their company and in the company of the five Nobel Laureates present Betty Williams, Mairead Corrigan, Shirin Ebadi, Jodi Williams, and Wangari Mathai. Their humbleness and serious engagement made me realize ever more closely the importance of the work that we are all collectively in the women’s movements of the trying to do.

As an organization, the GFW reached a major milestone with our Investing in Women campaign that raised 20 million dollars for women’s rights, to be divided equally between a 10 million dollar endowment and a fund to be spent over a three to five year period to ensure the sustainability of women’s groups in a world that is increasingly more hostile to civil society, equality and justice with the encroachment of economic globalization, militarization and war, and religious fundamentalisms.

What’s the niche?

Several things make our work unique and most of these are embedded in our values as an organization. For one, we provide general support grants which can be used by a group to cover operating expenses (including rent, staff time, etc…) and/or to cover program and project cost. We trust our grantees to make those decisions on their own and do not place any such restrictions on our funding. There are very few funding agencies that give any money for operating expenses.

Another thing is our flexibility and reflexivity. For example, we accept proposals from groups in any language and in any shape or format (including handwritten if needed) and we work with groups where they at. Some may be well-seasoned in the funding world and know how to prepare proposal and budgets, and some may be relatively new in a village somewhere with very little access to internet or computers. We are reflexive as we are in a process of continuous learning from our large network of grantees, advisers, and donors. We listen carefully to what are the issues and challenges outlined by groups on the ground and we do our best to respond accordingly.

Another unique quality is our ability to reach really grassroots level organizations and collectives in our seeding program. We are one of the few funders that provide small grants to relatively new groups that do not have a long list of other funders to vouch for and recommend and thus we are often a group’s first funder. Many groups are able to use the grant we gave and our name to leverage it and apply to larger funders.

What’s the biggest challenge?

The challenges are many in the work that we do. I will name few of the bigger ones. One is the large volume that the organization receives as a whole, an indication of the fact that out of international funding and aid (particularly in the US, but also globally) very little goes to women’s rights. It is a lot easier to get funds to “help” or “save” children or even to “save” women, but when talking about women’s rights and women activists themselves setting their own agendas, the dollar amounts dwindle.

As a foundation that raises all the money it gives away, we are burdened by this process doubly as we raise our own funds and as we try to leverage more funds for women’s rights globally by advocating for large foundations to support women’s rights. The increase militarization and war in the world globally and in the MENA region in particularly is a challenge to our work. Not only are women affected differently during wars and conflict, but often the ability to hold on to earlier accomplishments in the women’s movement are quickly lost.

As in the case of Iraq with a transformation from a secular system that provided women with many rights, even when not yet totally equal, to a system government by religious law and tribal patriarchal leaders; in addition of course to the violence by all involved parties (occupation forces, para-military groups and contractors, local army, local militias, and within the home). Another challenge for the MENA region is the fact that our organization is based in the US. The US’ foreign policy, including a long an continued support to Israel, the current occupation of Iraq, and the support to autocratic and oppressive regimes in the MENA, makes trust and relationship building more difficult. Groups often have concerns regarding agendas and funding sources; which we are always happy to answer with clarity, but nonetheless it does pose a challenge that we have to address.

What’s in store for the future?

The MENA program finished recently its three year initiative where grant-making was increased in terms of dollar amounts and in terms of grants and groups. The initiative allowed us to do concerted outreach to countries we have not had a chance previously to give grants to. Today, we give grants in Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Mauritania, Egypt, Cyprus, Turkey, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, and Israel. We work with advisers and with grantees locally. We have embarked on another three year initiative that aims to solidify and deepen the work that has already take place over the past three years.

It also aims to expand into other countries with strategic grant-making such as in the Gulf for example. We aim to support local and nascent women’s funds and other initiatives for regional collaboration. In addition, we are working with other donors to increase grant-making with a social justice in the region. As a whole for the organization, we are currently going through a strategic planning process to determine exactly this question. This will reflect on our growth and our role in the movement.

How did you get started with this work?

I have been involved in women’s rights as far back as I can remember. I did research on women’s activism in South Lebanon for my dissertation research as just one example of my involvement with the issues. I grew up under conditions of war and saw a lot of injustice around me. I was particularly aware of how women organized to transform this injustice. Later on in college, I realized how little does the Western world and in particular the US academic, media, political, and popular world reflect, in its writing, research, development and aid programs, media, and political discourse, this strength and power.

So, I started acting in teaching, writing and organizing. However, more specifically, I came to the funding world more recently when I joined the Global Fund for Women. Having been at the receiving end of the process, and having researched women’s groups at the receiving end as well, I felt I had a unique perspective and an opportunity to change the funding world. When I found the Global Fund for Women, I realized that there is a funding world out there, albeit small, that already has encompassed most of my values in its processes and mission. The rest is history as they say…

Best way to keep a competitive edge

I know everyone loves competition, particularly in this new world order. However I prefer to always think of collaboration rather than competitiveness. Specialization and a clear vision, I think, are key for both collaboration and competition. It is important that one knows their ‘identity’ as an organization, which it is well-defined and articulated to the world and to the staff and board. It is also important to occupy a particular niche (using market language), to know what you are doing and excel at it. These will make the lines of collaboration along with the objectives clearer and thus more tenable.

Guiding principle in life

Trust my instincts and think social justice and equality.

Yardstick of success

On the personal level, I think it is the ability and degree of impact one can make in individual people’s lives, and if one is lucky in a community of lives.

In the work that I do at the moment, it is also about impact but not necessarily one of quantity but of quality; witnessing the links that you helped foster lead to new connections, campaigns and coalitions is a clearly distinct impact.

Goal yet to be achieved

On the professional level in the near future, I would like to truly link women’s groups in the region together and with sister groups in other parts of the world and I would like to see more funders focus giving on women’s rights and social justice. Another goal is to see more individual giving from the “diaspora”/immigrant and communities of color to support our efforts in supporting women’s rights.

Best practical advice

Listen, learn many languages, respect, and be accountable.

Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture

A friend of mine recently told me: “You are in the perfect position politically and socially. You are able to survive living in the US by working on a daily basis in a women’s foundation whose politics is great and you are able to see the amazing work of many women in the region you identify with and are inspired by.”


I do not believe in allocating this status to one or two or even more named individuals. I think we meet during our lifetime so many people that mentor us in so many different ways. People of all ages, races, classes, sexual orientation, backgrounds that walk into our lives and teach us something about the world and thus about ourselves.

What motivated you to get started?

Several things including a desire to act as a bridge. Our president often says that the program officers act as a bridge between many worlds, cultures, languages, beliefs. We are constantly in a process of translation, whether talking with donors, or grantees, or human rights activists, or journalists. We occupy, at least two worlds, sometimes that which we came from (which may and in of itself be multiple worlds) and the one we live in the US and work in.

Another motivation was the disenchantment with the academic sector having been teaching there for years and years and a desire to do something more tangible.

Like best about what you do?

I think I mentioned it before. On a day when the news is terrible, and I am constantly checking the news website at work, listening to the radio, making sure loved ones are safe and okay in Lebanon and elsewhere; on these days when the world just seems to much to handle and the violence is escalating, I get to read writings of a young group or a seasoned feminist of their work and their ideas to change the world and I feel that truly “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.: (Arundhati Roy).

Like least about what you do?

Not being able to give enough of time and money. Additionally, of course, the power play of money and north/south relationship that I have to manage and walk through can sometimes get very tricky.

What have you learned during this work that suprised you?

I have learned that there are worlds within worlds and each field has its own demons and politics. It is something you know from the outside but you learn more clearly when you are in a daily practice. I have also learned that one learns from the least suspecting places. I learned that one, or more specifically rich ones, can be active or socially responsible via money.

What other movements are you involved in or interested in?

I am involved in Arab and Arab American issues and civil rights in the United States, anti-war work, Palestine struggle work, immigrant rights work, social justice movements in all of its manifestations in the race/gender/class struggles and of course gender and sexuality in the US as well.

At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I barely had a memory of age ten, as when I was nine Israel invaded my city and I lost part of my memory. Part of me remembers few things that I wanted to do, but I have no idea when I thought of each. At one point I wanted to be a journalist and another I wanted to be a dancer, and yet another a ship captain.

What was your first job?


Biggest pastime outside of work

Reading, hanging out with friends. I love going on wine tasting trips. I also like camping and hiking, but I have not done as much of those lately.

Person most interested in meeting?

This is hard, most of those that I want to meet are actually dead, like Edward Said, Antonio Gramsci, Frantz Fanon, June Jordan Queen Hatshepsut (Pharaoh), Zanubia (Queen of Tadmur in Tunis), and Alissar (of Tyre in Lebanon) because I have a ton of questions I would like to ask them about the world, their choices, and how they came to be so perceptive either as leaders or as writers.

Among the living, I think I would love to meet Arundhati Roy, Fatima Mernissi, and Ahdaf Soueif.

Leader in business most interested in meeting?

Not sure there is anyone that has caught my attention yet.

Three interesting facts about yourself

  1. I read a book in Arabic and one in English at the same time.
  2. I love dancing, I think it nurtures my soul.
  3. I dream of writing poetry.

Three characteristics that describe you

  1. Passionate
  2. Stubborn
  3. Assertive

Three greatest passions

  1. Palestine
  2. Poetry
  3. Women’s Rights

Favorite book

Among those I read recently:

“The Map of Love” by Ahdaf Soueif
“I, the Divine” by Rabih Alamuddine
“The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf” by Mohja Kahf
“Sharon and my Mother-in-law” by Souad Amiri

My all time favorite Arab writer is Abdelrahman Munif and I love his five-volume series “Cities of Salt.”

“The Wretched of the Earth” by Frantz Fanon
“Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New ‘War on Terror'” by As’ad Abu-Khalil
“Thinking Class: Sketches from a Cultural Worker” by Joanna Kadi
“Western Representation of the Muslim Women” by Mohja Kahf

I can add a lot more, but I will stop here!

Favorite travel destination

Everywhere I haven’t been yet.

Plus out of the places I visited: Ireland, Morocco, Algeria, Cairo, Damascus.

Favorite food

Arabic food, Thai, Sushi.

Who would you like to be contacted by?

We would like to be contacted by individuals or groups interested in giving financially to support women’s rights in the MENA region. We also would like to be contacted by donor foundations that are already giving in the region that would like to exchange and learn. We would like to be contacted by local (in the MENA) grassroots women’s groups interested in building a relationship with the GFW.


Interview by Nadia Abou-Karr
Introduction by Sumaya Kazi
Edited by Valerie Enriquez

Article published on Oct 1st, 2007 | Comment | Trackback | Categories »

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