Fund for the Global South

A flood of requests

CEDEP Women's-Forum, Aids preventie Ghana 1996

CEDEP Women’s-Forum, Aids preventie Ghana 1996

The number of grant requests from the Global South (Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East) increased significantly at the beginning of the 90s. That is why in 1991, a separate Fund for the Global South was created within the Mama Cash Culture Fund. Now the flood of requests could be considered with the necessary expertise. In 1994, the Fund for the Global South officially spun off and became its own fund under the umbrella of Mama Cash Foundation.

Market research
The women of the Fund for the Global South were looking for ways to spend Mama Cash’s money as effectively as possible. They researched the activities of development organisations such as Hivos and Novib in the field of empowering women. Compared to Mama Cash, these were giants whose first concern was to deal with poverty. At the time, gender issues had a low priority for them. Additionally, they were too big to deal with the needs of small, new groups in the Global South. Awarding small grants was very labour-intensive and therefore relatively expensive for them.

The development organisations tended to set their priorities using measures of wealth developed by the IMF and the World Bank, with the result that organisations from supposedly richer, developing countries were not eligible for funding. Mama Cash strongly opposed the guidelines of the IMF and the World Bank: ‘We know for sure that even in more affluent societies, women’s groups always lack sufficient resources’, the annual report 1994-1995 states.

Pick up where other funds leave off
With this knowledge in hand, the Fund for the Global South defined her niche. Her motto became ‘Pick up where other funds leave off’. Mama Cash did not restrict the number of countries to which she granted funding. The Fund for the Global South decided to grant small subsidies of up to 10,000 guilders (4,800 euros) to small, new groups promoting women’s rights that had difficulty receiving financial support from other sources because of their radical views. For instance, the f und made grants to initiatives promoting the sexual and reproductive rights of women, demanding protection against violence and rights to inherit land , as well as to cultural programmes, such as information centres, magazines, and radio broadcasts. Grantees had to be autonomous and acting independently, free from the demands of governments, religious organisations or political parties.

Word of mouth

Mama Cash workshop in Beijng

Mama Cash workshop in Beijng

Because Mama Cash appreciated the value of international exchange, she also provided travel budgets to women’s groups from the Global South so that they could meet each other, and other activists, at international congresses. At first, most requests came from Latin America’s traditionally large and active feminist movement. In Latin America, Mama Cash acquired recognition through word of mouth. Beginning in 1995, she actively advertised her services at the UN World Conference on Women in Beijing and in Asia and Africa in order to stimulate grant requests. This had its desired effect: by the end of the 1990s, the number of requests from these parts of the world had increased.

Fake requests
It was impossible to evaluate every single request thoroughly from Mama Cash’s office in Amsterdam. ‘We couldn’t even always check whether the requests came from existing groups at all’, Will Janssen, Manager of the Fund for the Global South in the 1990s, says. ‘Some requests turned out to be fake. They would copy half of our brochure to reinforce their request’. Founder Lida van den Broek: ‘At a certain point we received a lot of requests from India for projects for blind people. We thought: this can’t be right. As it turned out, these were fake requests. This sometimes would happen if a group found out there was money to be had’.

Network of advisors
To ensure that Mama Cash had local, national and regional expertise, the focus moved to extending the international network of advisors. International advisors could provide information about the groups requesting support, about the local circumstances, and about the role and influence in that area of the group involved. During the mid-1990s, the network consisted of about 80 advisors. Ten years later, the number had grown to almost two hundred.

Despite receiving information from advisors, in practice, the criteria of the Fund for the Global South were not always appropriate, especially when it came to Africa where there was a gap between the criteria set in Amsterdam and the requests from local women’s groups. The Fund for the Global South received fewer requests from this continent in any case, and the majority were rejected. This led to critical questions about the fund’s own criteria and priorities.

No women’s rights on an empty stomach
An examination of all requests received between 1994 and 1997 revealed that many proposals were rejected, because women wanted to use the funds to generate income instead of to change the world. The researchers concluded: ‘Given the often poor circumstances, this was logical, no women’s rights on an empty stomach’. Inadequate communication also played a role, and often Mama Cash did not know the women’s groups requesting money. The researchers recommended that Mama Cash drop the criteria of ‘generating income’ as a basis of rejection and start working with local development organisations.

Lin Chew, a Board member of the Fund for the Global South in 1994: ‘When receiving such requests, we would look to see if they would contribute to strengthening the position of women. We would ask them if it empowered the women involved, even if this empowerment happened within their families’. (watch interview)

Tightening up criteria
Near the end of the 1990s, the character of the financial support offered by the Fund for the Global South changed. Mama Cash’s preference for short-term commitments and small grants was not sustainable over time. ‘Was there a point in giving small subsidies to five women’s groups focusing on similar issues? Or should we support one group with a large sum?’ Will Janssen wondered. ‘Many organisations kept coming back to us. We thought that we should organise our support in a different way. We started supporting some women’s groups for several years. Other grants were thoroughly examined’. Because of the growing stream of requests, the criteria were re-examined once more in 2001. In particular, requests from groups that were most marginalised were granted: lesbian women, sex workers, women living in the countryside and indigenous women.

Money, moral support and status
Staff and volunteers of the Fund for the Global South were not just in charge of evaluating requests for financial support. ‘Prospective grantees often brought up good ideas, but had a hard time formulating them’, Will Janssen says. ‘We sometimes helped them write their grant requests. As far as the content was concerned, we stayed on the surface. If a group wasn’t able to formulate their mission, there was no point in investing’. Receiving funding from Mama Cash meant more than just getting money and moral support. Will Janssen: ‘Being recognised by an international fund such as Mama Cash gave an organisation status. This in turn generated more money in its own country or abroad’.

Groups supported
During the ten years of its existence, the Fund for the Global South supported over 1.200 groups and was of importance to the development of women’s movements in Latin America, Asia and Africa. In 2002, the Fund for the Global South merged with the Central and Eastern European Fund into the International Fund for a short period. From 2004, Mama Cash’s Programme Team started to focus on individual regions: Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Europe.