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What We Learned from the LEF’s First Round of Funding

When we launched the Legal Empowerment Fund (LEF) in 2021, we knew we were embarking on a remarkable venture. Legal empowerment—a powerful, people-centered strategy to effect lasting change through the law—seemed tailor-made for this global moment. Amid seismic shifts, we recognized an opportunity to resource severely underfunded grassroots activists and organizations, take legal empowerment strategies to scale, and close the global justice gap.

In January 2022, we put out a monthlong call for proposals from grassroots organizations using legal empowerment strategies to enhance access to justice. We strived to make the process as easy and accessible as possible. Applicants could apply in five different languages (Arabic, Spanish, English, French, and Portuguese), and applications could be submitted in writing, or voice and video format.

The response confirmed what we already knew: grassroots groups urgently need more funding. We received over 4,800 grant applications from activists in 153 countries. In all, groups requested more than 233 million dollars in funding. The staggering need underscores both how many people are pursuing legal empowerment strategies worldwide and how scarce funding has been.

Two thematic areas saw the largest number of applications: gender justice, and climate/environmental and land justice. This is not surprising. Around the world, women’s rights are under attack. Yet groups working on gender justice remain severely underfunded. Similarly, although there have been many funding commitments made to address the climate crisis—the single largest common challenge we face—very little of this money makes it to grassroots organizations working on behalf of marginalized communities who are disproportionately vulnerable to the effects of climate change.  

After a participatory application review process, the LEF’s grant selection committee—made up of legal empowerment activists, practitioners, and experts from around the world—identified 49 remarkable organizations to make up our first cohort of legal empowerment grantees. They will receive multiyear flexible funding to support their work on issues ranging from gender and climate justice to migrants’ rights.

Now more than ever, with peoples’ rights under threat around the world, we need to build power from the ground up. Grassroots legal empowerment groups are helping communities know, use, and shape the law to build more just and resilient communities and societies. Moreover, these frontline activists are tackling the erosion of the rule of law from the bottom up. The impact of their work can be dramatically amplified and expanded, but only if we seize this moment to resource the legal empowerment field and enable these groups to achieve systemic change.

Help us close the global justice gap. Donate today.

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