Great Emancipators & Intermediaries: Ida B. Wells and Harriet Tubman


Written By: Millicent Cavanaugh | Co-Executive Director

Known mainly as a civil rights activist, journalist, and anti-lynching advocate, Ida B. Wells Barnett (1862-1931) also founded several organizations that were instrumental in addressing issues faced by the African American community.  When she came to Chicago and found that the YMCA, as well as settlement houses, would not offer support to African Americans, she became an intermediary.  Upon meeting Jessie Lawson, wife of the editor of the Chicago Daily News (the couple were wealthy donors to the YMCA) she informed her about the membership policy.  With funding from the Lawsons and several other donors, Wells-Barnett moved the Negro Fellowship League into rented space in 1910.  The organization started in part because the local YMCA did not allow black men to be members.  

Ida was a great example of the power and success of intermediary work.  Before Ida made her impact, however, there was Harriet Tubman, who literally robbed wealthy landowners of their enslaved workers, escorting the women, children, and men to locations of freedom, where they could have autonomy, prosper, and build safe communities.  A soldier in the Civil War, Ms. Tubman led a raid where more than 700 escaped slavery.  Her work might be likened to Robin Hood; her impact was, and continues to be, far greater.

Today intermediaries work in a similar vein – we redirect funding from philanthropies, effectively increasing resources that support the work of traditionally marginalized and underfunded BIPOC grassroots organizations, bringing a racial justice lens to grantmaking.

Every day, new social justice and community groups emerge, led by youth, people of color, members of the LGBTQI community, immigrants and other groups outside of traditional spheres of power.  They are bringing their leadership and much-needed vision to address long-existing struggles for equity in their communities.

Supporting these emerging groups – and integral to their important work – are intermediaries.  Rather than becoming an independent nonprofit immediately, many new groups choose to be incubated by a separate 501c3 – or intermediary – such as a grantmaker or fiscal sponsor.  These intermediaries often support a new group’s capacity to legally secure grant funding, develop strategy, and/or manage key back-office functions needed to do their work well.  In providing these supports, intermediaries help create flexibility and extra capacity for emerging groups to refine and implement their strategy, and test various organizational structures, with support from a more established organization.

Because of the significant role intermediaries often play in the development, sustainability, and impact of social justice groups, through creating authentic and equitable partnerships that support those who will bear the brunt of oppressive policy and politics, we at Global Foundation for Girls take our role as a global philanthropic intermediary seriously, and seek every opportunity to expand the impact that philanthropy and resource/capacity building can have on social justice issues, as we also work to mitigate the effects of severe and historical disparity.

Making A Change

At Global Foundation for Girls (GFG), we are active thought partners, serving global communities of birthing persons in order to advance and support the advocacy movement. We lead webinars and trainings for providers including doulas, social workers, childbirth educators, and more! To learn more about the trainings we offer, click here!

If you want to be part of the difference we’re trying to make across the world, make a donation or reach out and find out how you can help.