Mama Cash – Interview im Original

Sarah van Brussel

Sarah van Brussel

General Questions (Sarah van Brussel):

Each year you support about 100 organizations, networks or women’s funds. Could you tell us about the decision process? Do organizations usually apply for a grant or is one of the members of the management team suggesting them?

We receive a lot more applications than what we can fund each year, so Mama Cash’s Programme Team needs to make some tough decisions. We give priority to the organisations and groups that are the most marginalized, in their societies, but also within the women’s rights movement itself. For many of our grantees, we are their first international donor.

Since 2014 we work with a time-limited application window for first-time applicants. We wanted to respond faster to applicants, be more transparent about what funding was available and applicants’ chances of success, and ensure all new applicants had a more equal chance of being considered.

In my opinion, one of the key factors that make Mama Cash stand out in comparison to other women organizations is that you provide not only financial help to your grantees but also non-financial support. Could you tell us about that?

Activism is hard work. Sustaining this kind of work in the long term requires more than just money, vision and hard work. Activists groups also need to meet each other, share their experiences and organise with others of like mind. Sometimes they also need partners who will ask the questions that will help them focus their strategies or use their resources more efficiently.

In providing accompaniment support, Mama Cash collaborates closely with grantees to help them think strategically about their capacity building needs. This includes addressing needs related to safety and security, advocacy, fundraising capacity and communications.

Sometimes we provide this support ourselves, but sometimes we use peer-to-peer training if one of our grantees or partners is well placed to do this. For example, in 2013 we made a grant to our sister fund Semillas in Mexico to provide fundraising training to six of our grantees from Central and Latin America.

We also use Convenings as an important tool for learning: See our video.

In your thematic portfolio you describe that four topics emerge again and again when working with women’s organizations: Body, Money, Voice and Women’s Funds. Why do we still fight the same battles although different in context? Would you say that the women’s movement as a whole didn’t develop as much as necessary over the last 30 years if we are still facing the same problems?

No, quite the opposite. It has been shown time and again that the women’s movement has brought about some incredible change. The fact that we are not there yet, says more about the enormity of the problem, than about how much has been achieved.

Over the past 30 years the work of women’s rights movements has led to nothing short of revolutionary changes in public attitudes, law, governance, and in the private sector and civil society. Women’s movements have changed how we think about gender and the meaning that we ascribe to it, and they have transformed how we understand violence, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and what counts as work.

Some examples:

  • The injustices, exclusion and discrimination that used to be accepted are now unacceptable. For example, violence against women and girls is better understood as a social and political problem (rather than a private, individual one) and rejected by the majority of people as ever being justifiable.
  • Cases of justice or equality that we once thought were exceptional have today become more commonplace. For example, women hold positions of leadership in politics, business and social movements which has changed perceptions of what women are capable of and can accomplish. Also, policy and legal protection for women’s rights are more prevalent. For example, anti-discrimination policies and laws offering protection in the workplace, educational institutions and beyond.
  • Women, girls and trans people who were often spoken for by others  are demanding to speak for themselves. Now many different groups of women, girls and trans people are organising autonomously, to speak in their own voices and address the issues that concern them. Many of these individuals see themselves as belonging to their specific movements (like Indigenous movements) as well as to (broader) women’s movements.
  • We used to center on protecting women from harm. We are now more focused on the positive aspects of rights, securing freedom for women, and recognising their power and agency.

More about the achievements of the women’s rights movement here:


You aim for long-term-partnerships with your grantees. Could you tell us about one grantee in particular you accompanied for several years and how that cooperation works?

ATHRAHDOM is a great example of a group we have supported for several years. When ATRAHDOM applied for funding from Mama Cash in 2009 it was the first time it had applied for funding from a source outside Guatemala. The group had previously sustained its work with its own resources and support from its allies. ATRAHDOM explains: “The Presidential Secretary of Women started referring to us on labour rights issues. We started a regular exchange and advised the Secretary, and then we got the courage to request financial support. In September 2009 we received a $3,000 grant from the local UNIFEM office for a series of workshops on violence and harassment against women in the workplace for community-based organisations in the outskirts of Guatemala City. We started negotiating with the government for small funds, too. And it was as if money attracted money, because we heard about Mama Cash, applied, and received our first grant from a donor outside Guatemala. This was December 2009. It was a turning point for ATRAHDOM. Our political significance grew. We became stronger and our team grew, we had our office space and we were respected.” ATRAHDOM’s annual budget grew to 114,000 euro by 2013 with funding from six institutional donors in addition to Mama Cash.

In 2009 ATRAHDOM had no paid staff and most of the work was done by the five founders. It also had no office. One of the board members owns a small hotel and the group had its offices and conducted its workshops there. At the beginning of 2009, ATRAHDOM organised a fundraiser with feminist allied organisations and trade unions and was thus able to purchase office equipment. Today, ATRAHDOM has 11 part time paid staff members, plus volunteers. It has invested considerably in building the capacities of staff, board and volunteers by training all staff and volunteers to represent and speak on behalf of ATRAHDOM in meetings.

In the organisation’s own words: “Mama Cash’s support was there from the beginning. It was thanks to this support that we were able to grow. The value of the support goes beyond the money. Mama Cash has always been there. Seeing us. Supporting us. This makes us feel noticed. It has also helped us feel secure. You have always enquired how we are and this has been especially important in times we received threats. We are seen and noticed.”

ATRAHDOM found Mama Cash’s support especially important in building the organisation’s capacities in the areas of advocacy and resource mobilisation. The group has participated in various Mama Cash grantee partner meetings, the regional feminist encounter in 2011, and the feminist encounter ‘Venir al Sur’ in 2012. It also participated in an initiative of Mama Cash and partner Semillas to support six grantee partners in Latin America to strengthen their resource mobilisation capacities and strategies. The five-day training took place in 2013. Since then ATRAHDOM has significantly increased its income.

What would you say were the main changes in Mama Cash when Nicky McIntyre became the Executive Director in 2008?

Nicky has taken Mama Cash from a Dutch Fund that makes grants internationally to a truly international women’s Fund that is based in the Netherlands.

Under Nicky’s guidance Mama Cash has  also changed her grantmaking strategy from supporting many groups with small grants ( the ‘ let many flowers bloom’ approach), to supporting fewer groups, but with multi-year, flexible core support.

You have a very international team which brings different point of views to the table. How important is this diversity for your work?

It is vital. Our international staff bring a wide variety of knowledge, backgrounds and experiences to the table that enrich every aspect of our work. Diversity is one of our core values, so it is important that we walk the talk. We embrace and encourage respect for diversity in our organisation and among our partners. This includes actively promoting the rights of lesbians, bisexual women and trans people, adolescent girls and young women, women living with HIV/AIDS, indigenous women, migrant women, sex workers, women living in poverty, women from ethnic or religious minorities, and women with disabilities.

It also makes for fascinating and enlightening lunch time conversations at the Mama Cash office 😉

How many of your grantees do you visit in their home countries and how approachable are you for your grantees? Does any grantee have a certain partner in Mama Cash who they can contact and who will present their needs to the Board?

We try to be as approachable to our grantees as possible. We have regional programme associates who can speak at least some of the languages in their region. The programme officers for our portfolio are in touch regularly with their grantees. The board is not involved with grantmaking decisions (they are only involved at the strategy level), the decisions are made by the programme team.

We most frequently meet with our grantees at international conferences and convenings (organized by others or by us), so we make optimal use of our travel budget. If a grantee happens to be based near them, we try to visit them. Most of our contact with our grantees takes place through Skype and email. We prefer to spend our funds on grants, not travel to visit all our grantees.

Marjan Sax established in 1983 that one person can make a huge difference. What would you say to women who would like to support women’s groups around the world but don’t believe that they have the power, the funds and the opportunities to do so?

The courageous organisations that stand up for women’s, girls’, and trans people’s rights possess abundant energy, vision and ambition. All they need is funding, supportive networks, and access to learning opportunities so they can maximise the impact they have and transform their communities and nations. This is why a donation can make a tremendous difference to small groups.

Our grantees shows us all the time that small groups and initiatives can make a tremendous difference. From a group of teenage girls in Malawi who were instrumental in banning child marriage, to a group of HIV positive women in Namibia who won an landmark court case against the state for being sterilized without their consent in state run hospitals, to a Trans Rights group in Chile who successfully advocated for a gender recognition law. We firmly believe that change starts at the grassroots.

We would also say that those little groups are not alone. They are part of a movement, of not only other grassroots groups all over the world, but also of like minded donors and funds.

Please tell us more about your project “Organize an Event” in which people can start their own initiative and raise money?

Activism takes many different shapes and forms. Many of our supporters not only want to raise money, but to also publicly take a stand for women’s rights. That’s  why they start their own initiative to raise money and awareness of women’s rights. From dinner parties to 80 kilometer hikes, from book sales to boot camp trainings, from freezing new year’s swims in the North Sea to art auctions, our loyal supports have done it all. We are incredibly grateful, because not only are they able to raise more money for women’s rights this way, but they also spread the word about Mama Cash and the fantastic work of our grantees.


Zohra Moosa

Zohra Moosa

Questions for Zohra Moosa:

You came to Mama Cash from Action Aid (UK) where you were their Women’s Rights Advisor for three and a half years with a clear focus on women’s rights. What are the main differences in your work between then and now?

Mama Cash is focused on women’s, girls and trans* people’s rights all around the world – and does not come from a ‘development’ approach, but rather a human rights and social justice approach in the first instance. So that is one big difference. Another is that it is an explicitly feminist organization, lead by women; women’s rights isn’t one of the issues we work on, it is central to every part of our mission. And finally, Mama Cash is a funder of feminist activism and movements and not an organization that has its own projects to deliver or implement in other countries.

You’re a permanent blogger for Britain’s famous feminist blog “The F Word”. Would you say that blogging and social networks as a whole are gaining more and more importance since online media is in non-democratic countries harder to control than print media and TV? Will political change in the future be more and more rooted in social media?

I think feminists are creative and will use any and every means to advance our efforts. Social media is definitely a useful tool for many, in many contexts, these days. It can be used to raise consciousness, build shared political agendas, and organize collective action. And it can be a way for activists to connect over divides that would otherwise pose major barriers to this collective action. This is true for countries in Western Europe as well as elsewhere around the world. But it is just that – a tool. Political change will always be rooted in the collective agency and action of people, using a variety of methods and tools.

Could you tell me about one particular experience with mama Cash in which you not only saw on paper what a difference your organization made to a particular project but felt it/ saw it in the lives of the people involved?

This year I had a chance to visit with a couple of groups (ATRAHDOM:, and SITRADOMSA) we support in Guatemala that are working to advance the labour rights of women in the country and around the region, including domestic workers, garment workers, agricultural workers and home-based workers in industrial sectors. I had a chance to learn more about the training and support they provide to these women workers, both practical skills building around understanding the legal frameworks and their rights and also strategic movement building, supporting women to organize and demand change for themselves and others.

What does a “typical day at the office” look like for you?

It’s usually quite a mix of things, which is nice. It will include some work on our grants, approving funds to groups and other women’s funds for example and/or supporting the team I work with to think through an element of our ‘grantmaking and accompaniment’ or our ‘strengthening women’s funds’ strategies. Today, for example, I have been speaking to colleagues about what kind of accompaniment (the word we use for our capacity building support) we want to provide to our grantee-partners. I’ll likely also have some work to do related to fundraising, since a big part of what Mama Cash does is raise the income we then channel to groups and movements. We are not like some other foundations that have existing endowments; rather we raise our full income every year. And finally, I’ll usually be thinking about third major strategy, which is influencing the donor community. A big part of that is ensuring we can capture and share the impact we have through providing core, flexible and longer-term funding to some of the most innovative smaller, self-led, and marginalized groups of women, girls and trans* activists around the world.

According to your experience, what is right now the country/region which makes it most different for women to live a self-determined life?

There is no simple answer to this as it really depends on which ‘women’ you mean. There is no country in the world where women generally, and certainly not every woman in that country, can live a self-determined life. But, the good news is that in every country in the world there are women who are actively resisting this status quo and working to envision new futures for themselves, and for every other woman, girl and trans* person.