Pragmatism and principles
Initially, accepting subsidies from the Dutch government and development organisations was not an acceptable strategy to Mama Cash. ‘Within the women’s movement we debated whether to collaborate with established organisations, or whether to keep our independence and do things on our own. As Mama Cash was part of the women’s movement, naturally we discussed these matters as well’, former Executive Director Lilianne Ploumen says. But more money was needed to finance the grant requests from women’s groups, and pragmatism triumphed over principles. Ploumen: ‘Our most important principle became maintaining our independence to decide on what we wanted to spend the money’.
Mama Cash was also reluctant to accept funding from U.S. foundations. Ploumen: ‘Did we want to be associated with them? We tried to define our boundaries as well as theirs in order to keep the freedom to spend the money the way we wanted’.
With regard to corporate funding, Mama Cash was even more scrupulous. Donations from Shell were not accepted. Former Manager of the Fund for the Global South Will Janssen comments: ‘We heatedly debated accepting a donation from the multinational Shell. Eventually, we refused their offer. Mama Cash supported women’s projects in Nigeria, where Shell was polluting the environment. We could not reconcile these two’.
Collaboration with development organisations
Lilianne Ploumen targeted many new financial resources. Being a former employee of Foster Parents Plan (currently Plan Nederland), she was well-acquainted with the world of development aid. In 1996, Novib was the first development organisation to subsidise Mama Cash’s support of women’s groups in the Global South. From that time onward, Mama Cash received substantial subsidies from organisations such as Novib, Hivos, Cordaid and Stichting DOEN. ‘Large development organisations saw in Mama Cash, with her detailed network of contacts with grassroots organisations, a way to reach small women’s groups. Also, these organisations liked to pass on the more radical projects to Mama Cash. Projects dealing with subjects such as sex workers’ rights and abortion, all issues that were more or less taboo in their organisations’, says Will Janssen.
Funds from the United States
From 1997 onward, Lilianne Ploumen and Will Janssen approached foundations in the United States. During their first visit to the United States, they met with the Ford Foundation and the Soros Foundation, among others. Mama Cash was known to U.S. funders as ‘that little radical fund from Holland’, and she was regarded with respect. Several foundations proposed collaborations and were willing to donate substantial amounts of money.
Beginning in 1998, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation agreed to donate 200,000 guilders annually (90,000 euros) to Mama Cash for women’s groups in the Global South for a period of three years. The Ford Foundation wanted to support the work of lesbian women in the Global South and women migrants and refugees in Central and Eastern Europe. The Packard Foundation donated 100,000 guilders (45,000 euros) to Mama Cash to distribute to organisations working on reproductive rights.
Take more risks
Will Janssen: ‘Since Mama Cash was a relatively small organisation, she was able to take more risks. If something happened to go wrong, any harm to the donors would be minimal’. Ploumen: ‘Those funds got others to work on issues that were off limits to them, such as sex worker or lesbian rights. During that time we established many connections with mainstream funds from which women worldwide still benefit. (watch interview)
Money from the Dutch government
Even though Mama Cash had initially refused to accept government money, during her directorship Ploumen soon decided to change this policy. ‘After all, government money was also our money’, Ploumen says. In 1999 the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs granted 400,000 guilders (190,000 euro) for the Fund for the Global South. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment gave 58,000 guilders (28,000 euro) for the Culture Fund and for organising courses on fundraising. ‘It was a win-win situation’, Lilianne Ploumen recalls. ‘The government and development organisations were interested in our plans. We were able to reach those women who could bring about the change the government was also aiming for’.
The trek to the Global South
As she promoted women’s rights, Mama Cash had formed alliances with the Dutch government, with development organisations and US foundations. The new resources allowed Mama Cash to support more women’s groups within her network. While up until 1996, all income had been raised from private donors, by 2000, about one third of Mama Cash’s income came from the Dutch government and large foundations. This represented not only a considerable growth of available general resources, it also meant that more money could flow to groups in the Global South. Ploumen: ‘The number of grant requests from the South kept on increasing. It was easier for us to raise funds for them than for groups in the Netherlands’. Becoming more internationally orientated, however, did have its disadvantages. Ploumen: ‘Mama Cash lost her place in the Dutch public debate’. (watch interview)
Part of the international women’s movement
The pool of resources and the number of women’s groups that received grants grew during Ploumen’s management. Was Mama Cash running the risk of becoming the feminist sidekick of development organisations? Founders Marjan Sax and Lida van den Broek do not think so. Van den Broek: ‘Rather the opposite was the case. Being regularly in contact with Mama Cash, employees of development organisations started to become more conscious of the importance of the empowerment of women’. (watch interview) Sax: ‘Mama Cash was, and still is a feminist women’s fund and continues to be part of the worldwide women’s movement, whose primary goal is to promote the autonomy and independence of women. Development organisations and human rights organisations used us to channel the voice of women in their work. This didn’t mean we had become a development organisation ourselves’.
During the period 1996 – 2000, Mama Cash granted 4,185,000 euro to 2225 groups. In the year 2000, 33 volunteers 33 volunteers and 21 part-time staff worked for Mama Cash.