The Web of Transformation
The heart of the RFF is a network of partners - an evolving ecosystem of transformation. This network connotes a forest whose roots are Global South organizations, interconnected with the trees and vast panorama that comprise the network of funders, advocates, researchers and organizations at the regional and global levels. We are proud to share a vision for the future of funding across this network with partner organizations and our Global Advisory Council members.
Riva Kantowitz, Ph.D.
For more than 20 years Dr. Kantowitz has worked with human rights, humanitarian and peacebuilding organizations around the world. She now focuses on effective support to grassroots social change via partnerships and innovative funding approaches. In addition to founding RFF, Dr. Kantowitz is a Senior Advisor at the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation. She also holds an appointment at New York University’s Center on Global Affairs and serves on the Board of several NGOs. From 2011-2017, Dr. Kantowitz established and led a team at the U.S. Department of State, providing strategic direction and oversight to a global funding portfolio promoting human rights in conflict-affected countries. Prior to that, she lived in Istanbul, Turkey where she co-directed Sabanci University’s Program in Conflict Analysis, and in Chimaltenango, Guatemala, working with municipal officials and community members on governance and peacebuilding. She has been an adjunct faculty member at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University and at the Center for Migration and Refugee Studies at the American University in Cairo. Dr. Kantowitz was a Fulbright Scholar in Guatemala and earned a Ph.D. from Columbia University in Social Psychology and International Affairs (2006).
I first became fascinated by the power of communities to organize themselves as a summer health volunteer in Costa Rica in 1990, supporting local health promoters to vaccinate kids and teach women about breast cancer. I later worked in the devastated Eastern seaboard of Honduras after Hurricane Mitch, awed by the way in which local communities, led by teachers and municipal officials, organized themselves to rebuild one home and school at a time in villages razed to the ground.
Growing up in Seattle, Washington, I was particularly influenced by my hometown’s long connection to activism and protest, history of counterculture in everything from coffee to music, and deep ties to other parts of the world, including the Pacific Rim and Central America. Drawn to social change and influenced by the above experiences, I went on to center my career on the power of communities and collective action. I was stunned by the injustices some communities face and often overcome, spending my first summer of graduate school working with the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina – the lauded group of mothers and grandmothers who spurred a movement to address forced disappearance by advocating for information about their children and grandchildren captured during Argentina’s Dirty War. I then worked for several years with the Berhorst Partners for Development, a departmental public health organization in Chimaltenango, Guatemala, accompanying leaders and community members as they better understood and addressed decades of trauma and resilience wrought by a devastating war.
Over two decades of practical experience working with international institutions and grassroots NGOs in humanitarian emergencies and fragile, violence, and conflict-affected countries, I watched these organizations try to piece together funding – or worse, have to fire staff and shut down programs – because the international community had decided that Colombia and not Kosovo was the priority, or that funding police training was more important than the psychosocial effects of violence. From 2011 – 2017 I managed a portfolio of donor funds in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the US Department of State (DoS) to support civil society organizations working in violence-affected countries. Many people – my DoS team included - constantly scramble to address these funding gaps, but the reality is that despite decades of talk, support to local action isn’t a systematic priority for the international community – and the system is wearing and prohibitive no matter where you sit. I left the DoS with a determination to do better to support local actors, often working in some of the world’s most difficult and dangerous situations.
My search for new revenue streams and strategies led me, tentatively, into the world of finance. As I got further into this work, it became clear to me what others have known and been working to address for a long time - the challenges are not only about money and the tools that generate new money. While more resources for local actors are needed in an absolute sense, money is really a proxy for our values and priorities and one piece – a big piece – that drives the current power dynamic between the international community and local organizations. Radical Flexibility Fund was borne out of this need.
Lauren is the Founding Partner of Radical Flexibility Fund and also provides global advisory & strategy services, allowing her to draw on more than a decade of experience and her lifelong learning journey to more effectively and collectively finance social change outcomes. In addition, she serves on several boards including the Arab Foundations Forum and is a Strategic Advisor to Resilient Energy and Infrastructure, as well as an Expert Advisor on the World Economic Forum’s Partnering with Civil Society in the Fourth Industrial Revolution Initiative.
Lauren created Candid’s (formerly Foundation Center) first ever global strategy and programming, successfully turning one of the U.S.’s oldest domestic non-profits into one fit to serve the international philanthropic community. She has worked with the multilateral sector including The World Bank, looking at how best to leverage land to structure urban regeneration private-public partnerships and the OECD on its Financing for Sustainable Development strategy to modernize ODA as well as with UNESCO in Paris, and the United Nations Office of the Resident Coordinator in Timor-Leste. In Australia, Lauren worked in the private and public sectors in sustainable urban and economic development.
Lauren holds a Master’s Degree in International Development and a Bachelor’s Degree in Planning from RMIT, as well as a certificate from the Overseas Development Institute and London School of Economics in Conflict and Humanitarian response.
I have worked at the intersection of financial flows and sustainable development for over a decade, with the goal of bridging these sectors to advance social change through more effective financing. Structuring and leading teams and strategic partnerships to put people at the center of innovative development approaches and outcomes are at the core of what I love to do. Being adaptive to different contexts in the world while building relationships with a diverse range of donors and partners has enabled me to support local organizations to achieve long lasting impact
Growing up in rural Australia, at a time and in a place where challenges to human rights were considered issues facing other geographies, and DEI was not yet an acronym, my closest friends, my neighbors, as a young child were Australian Nigerian and Australian Filipino, the only non-white Australians in our rural community. They had unique stories, and this led me to wonder about where their families had come from, what they had experienced and how this made them feel - from escaping war in Nigeria to seeking out a more economically prosperous life in ‘the lucky country’.
Situationally aware because of these friendships, I was also influenced by my aunt who was redirecting her career from sheep farmer and local government public health worker to humanitarian. I knew her as a strong independent persona coming and going to and from distant city names that intrigued me. She would share photos of the faraway communities and people with whom she was dedicating her heart, spirit and efforts – those communities, the faces in the photos looked just like my Filipino and Nigerian friends.
These two situations, similar and connected yet placed within different contexts, began to give rise to questions and inspiration to search for meaning. I began to realize that the lottery in life I had won was simply by virtue of geography. I was lucky. I happened to be born in the safety and abundance of Australia to two working class parents - this was the privilege I had been given, and with that came the responsibility to put that to use for others.
This belief was magnified when I went on my first UN mission to Timor-Leste, a young nation with a long history, and only a short flight from my home country. I began to learn of the vibrancy and pain of the Timorese on my daily drive to work with my taxi driver who fled to the mountains for 90 days with his wife and newborn child as people around him were being slaughtered. I also learned from my colleague who had PTSD from the war and was giving all he had to build this brand-new nation despite the ongoing nightmares in his head. Just an hour away, these resilient humans struggled while my fellow Australians safely relaxed on the sun-drenched beaches.
Since then, my work has introduced me to incredible and innovative people around the world who do not have the support and resources they need, and yet, continue every day to try to make the future brighter for themselves and the generations to come.
The power of people and community – witnessed through these formative experiences - is what inspires me every day.
I believe that complex societal issues cannot be solved by individual organizations or in silos. I am passionate about the need for greater collaboration, shifting power to locally-led social change, and leveraging a broad range of financial instruments to achieve long-lasting sustainable outcomes, across the development, peacebuilding and humanitarian spaces. In my work, I creatively approach partnerships and multi-stakeholder collaboration through a global and local lens while balancing big picture vision with attention to detail. I am an experienced developer of organizational and programmatic strategy, and bring trusted advisory skills and knowledge, alongside convening power and expert facilitation skills where I ensure that all needs are captured, and challenges are voiced and understood. These skills were learned and honed by working with local organizations and engaging with people around the world where I quickly realized that my role was and continues to be one of acting as a connector between people, policy and ideas, looking for synergies and empowering those voices by leading from behind.
Ebba Berggrund is a second-year master's student at Columbia University's School of International Affairs, majoring in economic development and minoring in management and gender studies. Ebba is a fully sponsored scholar by the Dr. Tech. Marcus Wallenberg Foundation's scholarship in International Industrial Entrepreneurship, and she has focused her studies on private sector involvement in furthering development outcomes. Ebba has a professional background in both the private and not-for-profit sectors. Prior to joining Columbia University, Ebba worked for AFS Intercultural Programs, an international education NGO, where she spearheaded the development of the organization's private-sector and philanthropy-sponsored programs. Before joining AFS, Ebba was a management consultant for PwC Sweden, working with clients in the private and public sectors. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Political Science from the Swedish Defence University and has also studied economics at Mid Sweden University.
Global Advisory Council
Dr. Akwasi Aidoo
Dr. Akwasi Aidoo is a Senior Fellow at Humanity United and was the founding Executive Director of TrustAfrica, a foundation dedicated to promoting equitable development and democracy in Africa. His previous positions include head of the health sciences program of the International Development Research Center in West and Central Africa, head of the Ford Foundation’s offices in Senegal and Nigeria, and director of the Ford Foundation’s Special Initiative for Africa. Dr. Aidoo also serves on several boards including: Human Rights Watch, International Development Research Centre, and the Centre on African Philanthropy and Social Investment at Wits Business School at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. Dr. Aidoo was educated in Ghana and the United States and holds a doctor of philosophy degree in medical sociology from the University of Connecticut.
Bruce Rabb is a lawyer who works primarily with organizations engaged in sustainable economic development, human rights, and economic justice. He is Secretary and a Director Emeritus of Human Rights Watch, and serves as Co-Chair of its LGBT Advisory Committee and Vice Chair of its Middle East North Africa Advisory Committee. He also serves on the Boards of the National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ), Cinereach, Asia Catalyst, and International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. He is a Fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Law Institute, and the New York City Bar Association where he serves on the Council on International Affairs.
Carolina Suarez is the CEO of LatImpacto, the Latin American Venture Philanthropy Network, and has more than 14 years of experience in the fields of private social investment and philanthropy. As an expert working with the social sector, she has played a strategic role in the international arena, promoting effective transformations by knowledge sharing and building effective partnerships. She is a reference on strategic approaches to philanthropy; Carolina is frequently invited to participate in high-level discussions regarding private social investment and has published many articles and publications about these topics internationally. Carolina is a lawyer from the Universidad del Rosario in Colombia and with an LLM in International Trade Law from Bond University in Australia.
Hibak Kalfan is the Executive Director of Network for Empowered Aid Response (NEAR). NEAR is a network of southern local and national NGOs who have come together to reshape the global response to economic, human and environmental threats. Kalfan has more than 14 years’ experience and worked with several stakeholders in the Humanitarian, Media, Development and Government sectors in the Horn of Africa and Middle East. Kalfan began her career as the founder of The African Future (2007), a non-profit organization hoping to improve the education and healthcare in Somalia. She has since held several senior positions within Internews, World Bank Group, ACTED, and Relief International among others.
Hope Lyons is a consultant providing philanthropic advising services and working with nonprofits, foundations, and businesses to center people and mission in their processes and evaluation work. Hope brings twenty years of experience across the nonprofit sector, most recently at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund where she served as director of program management, overseeing the Fund’s program operations and philanthropic stewardship grantmaking, with a particular focus on community philanthropy. Hope serves on the board of CharityNavigator and has actively volunteered her time across the sector in a range of partnerships including the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy and the Racial Equity in Philanthropy Fund, and co-chaired the International Grantmakers Network at Philanthropy New York. Hope holds a BA in economics and international studies from Johns Hopkins University, a Master in Public Administration from New York University, and served with the Peace Corps in Romania.
Michael Kaminer is a writer, editor and public relations professional whose writing has been published in outlets such as The New York Times, Barron’s, Business Insider, and The Washington Post. His writing features travel, real estate, food, culture, and the arts. As an editor, Michael has edited and written the Observer’s PR Power 50, a widely followed industry ranking. Prior to his journalism career, Michael launched the PR agency Michael Kaminer Public Relations, whose clients included organizations like Bloomberg, The Webby Awards, Out magazine and Muji. After 15 years of consecutive growth, he sold the firm in 2006. Michael continues to advise clients on positioning, messaging, and strategy. Michael has also advised non-profit and progressive organizations including The Workers Circle, The Alliance for Positive Change, The Forward, Out Professionals, and The Water Trust as a board member or consultant.
Moukhtar Kocache is an independent adviser to nonprofits and philanthropies and has worked with cultural organizations, councils, museums and nonprofits in Europe, MENA and the US since the early 90's. He serves on several boards for organizations such as International Media Support, Open Society Foundations and American Friends Service Committee. In 2015 he founded Rawa Creative Palestinian Communities Fund, a community-led participatory funding platform that supports innovative community development initiatives throughout historic Palestine and advocates for improved and more just philanthropic practices and development aid. From 2004-2014 Moukhtar served as Program Officer at the Ford Foundation's regional office in Cairo where he worked on developing and sustaining arts and culture spaces, networks and service infrastructure, and the emergence of institutional philanthropy in the region.
Roderick Jones is the executive chairman of Concentric Advisors, a company he founded. Prior to becoming the executive chairman, Roderick served as CEO for Concentric Advisor for seven years, growing the company to become one of the largest and most influential privately held security firms on the United States' West Coast. He has worked with several high-growth Silicon Valley companies on a range of strategic, security and human rights issues, as well NGOs and frontline human rights defenders. In 2016, Roderick also co-founded and became the initial CEO of Rubica, Inc., a cybersecurity company providing advanced protection to individuals through localized network security. Roderick began his career at Scotland Yard's Special Branch focused on international terrorism and the close protection of a prominent British cabinet member. Roderick holds a Master's degree in History from the University of Cambridge.
Sigrid Gruener is Programme Director at the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation with a focus on Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace and heads the Foundation’s Office in New York. Prior to joining the Foundation in 2013, she spent 10 years working as a practitioner, trainer and researcher in the field of development, peacebuilding and conflict transformation for organizations such as International Solutions Group, Relief International and Columbia University’s Center for International Conflict Resolution in Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Timor Leste and Panama. Sigrid earned a Master in International Affairs from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
Is this you?
Reach out to us if you are passionate about these ideas and are interested in joining our Global Advisory Council.
Partners in Change
'NEAR', which stands for Network for Empowered Aid Response is a movement of local and national civil society organizations from the Global South with the bold ambition of reshaping the top-down humanitarian and development aid system to one that is locally driven and owned.
Topl is an impact technology company building a blockchain to help organizations prove their ethical and sustainable practices. Topl fills the gaps damaged by trust and by being the first impact-specific blockchain every line of the code is written for a distinct purpose, to prove your impact and make it sustainable.
NYU Peace Research and Education Program (PREP)
NYU PREP works at the intersection of higher education and peacebuilding. PREP aims to give support to local actors and academic institutions to generate local knowledge and lead education and programming as they rebuild the social fabric of their communities in the wake of years of violent conflict.
Peace Direct supports local people to build peace; individuals who are local to a conflict or challenge have a clear vision of what needs to be achieved. Peace Direct also publishes Insight on Conflict, providing information on local peacebuilding organizations, advocating that international development prioritizes the views and leadership of people and organizations in the countries affected.
Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF) is an organization working on growing community philanthropy globally as a central pillar of people-led development. By emphasizing local resources and capabilities, GFC supports a global movement of vibrant, resilient, and locally owned and directed community philanthropy organizations, the mobilization and channeling of resources and progressive social change.
LINC is a small US-based business that assists local and international organizations to design projects effectively, increase institutional capacity, forge lasting partnerships, and measure impact. Through engaging committed and capable local organizations LINC takes a practical approach to increase international development effectiveness and sustainability.
Resonance is a global mission- and results-oriented consulting firm that delivers market-based solutions to address the world’s toughest challenges. Resonance works with changemakers in both the private sector and the international development community to solve pressing development and sustainability challenges, strengthen supply chains, and generate market opportunity through partnerships, enterprise development and innovative finance solutions.
Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data
GPSDD is a global network of partners from governments, the private sector, and civil society organizations who are joining forces to take action, galvanize political commitment, build trust, and spur innovation in the booming data ecosystems of the 21st century to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.