Why These Two Funders Are Linking Up to Advance the Frontiers of Social Inclusion

The Arcus and NoVo Foundations are heading into new terrain on equity and inclusion. With Arcus as the lead funder investing $15 million over the next five years, and NoVo and other partners committing another $5 million, these funders are seeking to bring in from the margins transgender people excluded from many of today's opportunities, and who face higher rates of violence, unemployment, and homelessness.

The statistics on violence faced by trans people are a startling reminder of how not fitting into gender norms can bring instability and lack of safety in daily life. According to this 2013 study from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, transgender people face much higher rates of sexual violence, as well as police harassment and brutality. The data also shows that transgender people of color face even worse odds in terms of these problems.  

A 2015 study by Funders for LGBTQ Issues called TRANSformational Impact provides more alarming statistics, including that 90 percent of transgender people report harassment or discrimination in the workplace, and 41 percent of transgender people have attempted suicide, compared with 1.6 percent in the general population.

All of which explains why funders have been paying more attention to trans issues. The report estimates that funders gave approximately $13.6 million in this area from 2011 to 2013. Additional grantmaking has occurred since then, as we've reported, particularly by Arcus.  

Now the funding focus on trans issues is set to grow further. 

The new Trans Global Initiative spearheaded by Arcus and NoVo has several targeted goals, including developing more awareness of transgender people in order to foster more acceptance and support in public life, increasing jobs and other opportunities for transgender people, and doing critical groundwork in the field of philanthropy to increase the number of funders taking on gender identity issues as a priority in their funding.

Arcus has been at the vanguard of work for transgender people since its inception, and has made more than $10 million in grants for this population since its founding in 2000. The foundation has a powerful and well-connected board in philanthropy that includes Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, and other long-serving philanthropy professionals committed to equity.

The NoVo Foundation has also incorporated advocacy for trans populations into its work for the past several years, and is an important coalition builder in the expanding networks that seek to address equity for different populations. As well, this is a foundation with increasingly deep pockets, as it receives big chunks of Berkshire Hathaway stock from Warren Buffett, the father of NoVo co-president Peter Buffett. The value of such shares, which also comprise the bulk of NoVo's endowment, has soared in recent years. All of which explains NoVo's growing ambitions of late. 

Another recent initiative that NoVo partnered with, Grantmakers for Girls of Color, brought together a critical mass of four funders, and established an online hub for the growing body of research on this neglected population.

The Grantmakers for Girls of Color initiative is a pioneering effort that likely propelled the President's Prosperity Together Initiative, a $118 million dollar pooled funding investment established by the White House and primarily funded by state-based women's funds.


In the next year, the Global Trans Initiative plans to set up operation and add more stakeholders to this movement. The fund plans to issue an initial request for proposals focused on the United States in 2016, then expand its reach globally in 2017. As bad as things are for trans people in the U.S., they are far worse in many other countries, as Arcus knows well. The foundation has become a leader in recent years in the global fight for LGBT rights, leaving other funders, particularly the Gill Foundation, to take point in battles in the U.S. NoVo also has a strong record of working globally, so you see the logic of this partnership on several different levels. 

Today, transgender issues are impacting our lives in more and different ways. In a setting in which I volunteer to work with children, we recently witnessed and supported the transition of a young girl to a male identity. It's a process that can go well when there is strong family and community support, but this kind of support is not the norm in today's world. The Global Trans Initiative should help foster understanding of this unique population's needs, and accelerate the push to address another gap in equity.

Related: Where is this New Funders Partnership for Young Women and Girls of Color Headed?