The new Mama Cash
Women wake up the world
The time had come to create a new strategic plan for the next five years. In 2008, the international Board and the new Executive Director Nicky McIntyre, decided to ‘open up all windows and doors’. They announced a period of creative self-investigation. The results obtained over the past five years, and developments in the world of women’s rights, were examined thoroughly. Mama Cash wanted to form clear-cut and sharp criteria about which groups to support, and she wanted to become a more professionally structured organisation with a more influential international presence. While annual reports from previous years all had rather aesthetically pleasing covers, the first annual report produced under McIntyre’s leadership showed a powerful woman demonstrating and shaking her fist to a row of forbidding police officers in full riot gear. ‘Women wake up the world’ was the title of the report. The tone had been set.
With her previous five-year strategic plan She makes the difference, Mama Cash tried to create a more focused direction for her grantmaking policy. However, the number of groups receiving support was rather large: more than 250 groups per year working on diverse issues in nearly 100 countries received grants. Nicky McIntyre: ‘It became impossible for our employees to stay in touch with all those groups. As soon as we had granted a request, we would transfer the money. At the end of the year we would ask the groups what they had spent the grant on. The groups then had to go look for new funds. This way, the organisations didn’t have a chance to grow, and we couldn’t give them the support they needed. Groups were telling us that, metaphorically, their wheels were spinning in the mud, and they needed more than small one-off, project grants to get the traction to get out of the mud and achieve success’.
The network of local advisors to Mama Cash, that had been built up since the 1980s, had become disconnected over the years. It could not engage deeply enough to help execute the new strategic plan. It needed to be reformed.
Also, over the years the landscape of women’s funds had changed: with support from Mama Cash, The Global Fund for Women and other funders, national and regional women’s funds were now mobilising resources and making grants in their own countries. These women’s funds maintained a finely-woven network of contacts with feminist organisations and helped to finance the activities of those organisations, and they were often more connected with local groups and movements than Mama Cash.
More money for fewer groups
Mama Cash’s new strategic plan for the years 2009 – 2013, titled ‘On the Move for Women’s Rights’, stood for clear-cut choices. While in the years before, Mama Cash’s Programme Team and grantmaking had been structured by region, they were now reorganized into four themes: Body, Money, Voice and Women’s Funds. Mama Cash would finance fewer groups—under one hundred per year—with more money. Also, she would provide multi-year funding in order to allow women’s, girls’ and trans groups more time to develop. The money would be mainly flexible, core support to promote the development of organisations and cover costs such as salaries, rent and computers. These are expenses that few other funders will cover.
Nicky McIntyre: ‘We concentrate on feminist and women’s rights groups that are mainly in the margins of their societies. These are groups that are cutting-edge, using a rights approach and are able to take and make strategic opportunities to challenge the status quo. We decided to fund self-led groups. This means that if it is a group intended to benefit sex workers or women with disabilities or migrant workers, it has to be led by sex workers or women with disabilities or migrant workers. These groups tend to be the most excluded in their societies as well as in women’s movements’. (watch interview)
Because the number of groups supported has been reduced, Mama Cash’s Programme Team is able to provide grantees with other support. McIntyre: ‘We call this kind of support “accompaniment support”. In Spanish, acompañamiento means to “walk with”. It means asking questions that help a group or women’s fund to draft a budget or a strategy; it means connecting grantees to each other and to other funders; and it means being there for each other in a spirit of solidarity. It also means recognising grantees’ own leadership and expertise’. (watch interview)
Mama Cash also stimulates movement building. Grantees are connected to each other so they can identify common challenges and trade promising strategies for change. These connections help organisations and movements to grow in size and influence. One way to achieve this is by organising regional and thematic convenings.
Fight against discrimination, violence and isolation
Groups that received grants during this period are, among others, Voices of Women Media in the Netherlands. The group teaches media skills to asylum seekers, trafficked women, sex workers, women without residence permits and migrant women. This way these women are able to give a true image of themselves, against the stereotyping of the traditional media; Independent League of Yezidi Kurdish Women in Georgia, which fights against violence that is rooted in harmful cultural traditions and which challenges fundamentalist understanding of religious norms; the Namibia’s Women’s Health Network which campaigns against forced sterilisation of HIV-positive women. Mama Cash is also supporting the women of ATRAHDOM in Guatemala, which advocates for labour rights for factory workers and domestic workers on a national and international level; the farmers and rural land tenants of Peasant Women Society in Pakistan, who resist intimidation by the military and bang their laundry sticks during street demonstrations; and the women of Sentra Advocasi Perempuan Difabel Dan Anak, who fight against discrimination, violence and isolation in their communities, after becoming disabled overnight by earthquakes and volcanic eruption.
The new grantmaking programme is not the only modification Mama Cash has made since 2009. With the new strategy Learning for Change, Mama Cash has invested in developing methods of evaluation that are in accordance with her own vision and activities.
Mama Cash also wants to encourage other funds, institutions and governments to invest in women’s and girls’ rights. To this end, she developed the Influencing Philanthropy strategy. This strategy builds upon Mama Cash´s more spontaneous efforts that had emerged organically in the 1980s and 90s to advocate for women´s rights in the donor sector.
New knowledge with a new team
All grant requests had to be put on hold for half a year during 2009 while new procedures and criteria were developed for grantmaking and accompaniment. But other areas were affected, too. Human Resource Management was given a bigger role and continued to hire more specialised employees. Marjo Meijer, co-chair of the Board since 2007: ‘When you take on a strategy with a different approach, you will need people with new knowledge, a new team. Some staff employees were asked to leave, which was painful for them as well as for those who stayed’. (watch interview)
The Board also professionalised. It upgraded the Articles of Association, which still contained remnants from its previous all-volunteer status, into a state-of-the art document for good governance. And for the first time in her existence, Mama Cash formulated Board Regulations.
Transformation continued across the organisation. During winter months in the past, some employees could be seen wearing their coats at their desks because the heating system was malfunctioning. The main meeting room was also an acoustic disaster and leaks were plentiful. The landlord was pushed to make the necessary improvements to the building, and the offices, though still basic, were renovated. An unexpected bonus occurred when Mama Cash was offered free office furniture, previously owned by a bank that had gone bankrupt during the 2008 credit crisis.
Dramatic growth of income
Mama Cash is making the best of the opportunities at her disposal once again. Despite the 2008 credit crisis and the current euro crisis, her income has grown dramatically: from 4.7 million in 2008 to 7,7 million euros in 2012. Income from private donors shows steady growth, while these days about two thirds of her budget comes from foundations and governments.
Defend women who defend human rights
Mama Cash ended the year 2012 with a spectacular action in solidarity with the Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders. Mama Cash volunteers and staff dug into the earth with urban artist Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada to create an immense land-portrait of an anonymous woman activist covering a piece of land about two football fields in size. The piece was unveiled on International Human Rights Day, December 10, to launch an awareness campaign in The Netherlands called Vogelvrije Vrouwen, Defend Women Who Defend Human Rights.
Marjan Sax, one of the founders of Mama Cash: ‘Once again, I can be proud of Mama Cash. The fund still carries out the same ideals that we founders stood for in 1983. She managed to show that professionalisms can go hand in hand with radicalism and activism. All the more reason for Mama Cash to have a celebratory 30th anniversary in 2013, honouring all those women, volunteers, staff members, interns, Board Members, advisors and, last but not least, our donors whose contributions supported, and will continue supporting, women’s rights. I’m hoping for extra contributions by all of those who understand that women’s rights are essential for a better world’.