why do we provide flexible (core and program) grants?

Firelight’s funding covers a range of needs that our grantee-partners need to be successful. We proudly fund what some call “overhead” because we know that core operating expenses are an essential part of running an organization. Our flexible grants – ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 – support organizational increases in technical and programmatic capacity as well as increases in ability to effectively manage resources.

The story of Tanzanian Firelight CBO grantee-partner Kwa Wazee illustrates the power of these flexible grants:


In Nshamba, Tanzania, long-term environmental, governmental, and health crises have eroded family and community strength, resulting in a proliferation of what have been defined as “skipped generation households.” In these households, an older person, usually a grandparent, is the primary caretaker for a child whose parents have passed away or were unable to care for the child.  Child in skipped generation households experience the compounding impacts of poverty, such as food insecurity, discrimination, risks to their mental health, and a heavy workload at home.

“We are working more than other children. In a ‘normal’ family, the father is clearing the bananas and the mother is cultivating and the child goes to the river. When the child comes back, the mother started already to cook. Work is shared between them. But a grandchild has to do everything.” – Kwa Wazee children’s discussion group participant

In 2003, born out of the need to respond to the stress put on grandmothers caring for orphans from the AIDS pandemic, community-based organization Kwa Wazee (“for the elderly”) began providing direct cash transfers to grandmothers caring for children orphaned by HIV and AIDS to offer a sense of security to these families. In 2005, Kwa Wazee evolved this support into the “Granny Project,” with the goal of providing additional psychosocial and income-generating opportunities to grandmother-headed households. Children also benefitted from psychosocial support groups that offered social-emotional support from their peers, opportunities for building skills, sports and recreational activities, and educational support. 

In 2011, acknowledging the need for a more structured, predictable, and secure future for children experiencing the stresses of living in skipped generation households, Kwa Wazee began its “Tatu Tano” program. This program taught young girls self-defense and boys that “Peace is a Decision.” This combination of programming redefined gender identities, allowing girls and boys to see each other as partners in their efforts to promote safety. 

Throughout this evolution, as Kwa Wazee’s first outside funder, Firelight crucially funded both the programmatic and core operating expenses of Kwa Wazee, allowing them to become more effective organizationally and programmatically. With this flexible grant funding, Firelight helped Kwa Wazee strengthen its child protection services – building the capacity of community-based child protection committees (CPCs), who play a crucial role of keeping children safe in the community. At the same time, Firelight helped Kwa Wazee grow as an organization – collaborating together on the creation of a variety of systems and tools used to track child abuse cases, on improving Kwa Wazee’s skills in child protection advocacy, and on basic organizational skills such as fundraising, strategic planning, and proposal writing.

Because of Firelight’s focus on both organizational and programmatic growth, Kwa Wazee’s budget grew from $36,000 when we first started funding them in 2007 to $280,000 when we made our final exit grant in 2016. As a result of this flexible funding, thousands of grandparents were better able to care for themselves and their orphaned children, and children began to more actively seek out the assistance of child protection committees – breaking the culture of silence around abuse.

“The decision of the Firelight Foundation to think in middle- to long-term funding cycles is the only effective answer to sustainability building, and makes Firelight so different from mainstream short-term funders.”  – Kwa Wazee Program Manager