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June 8, 2021

‘Mama Cash is my first love, it has to be part of our legacy'

 Former Mama Cash Executive Director Ellen Sprenger got to know Mama Cash when she was a university student in the 1980s. A friend made the introduction, and Ellen says she felt an immediate affinity. As she tells the story today, “I just knew that I had found my people!” Ellen’s belief in Mama Cash has never wavered. When she and her partner, Joanna Kerr, the former executive director of AWID and of Greenpeace Canada, decided to draw up their wills, there was no question: Mama Cash had to be included as a beneficiary.

Ellen continues: “I became a donor then, when I was still in my mid-twenties. At the time, I thought: ‘Hey, I’m a student; I have no money! I’ll give later when I have a salary.’ But my friend, who was already a Mama Cash donor, said, ‘It is more than just the money, it is about being part of a movement. You have to share what you have.’ I saw that Mama Cash was supporting the activists on the frontlines where change needed to happen. Those activists see risk-taking as part of life, and they push boundaries for greater justice in the world. I knew I had to be part of that.”

During the 1990s, Ellen had her “first big job” at Oxfam-Novib. In 2001, she had recently completed an MBA, when she heard that Mama Cash was looking for a new Executive Director. She recalls that it felt like her body was on fire. “I thought, ‘wow, what if I could lead that organisation?’” She decided it was time to leave Oxfam and step fully back into feminism. “You know, Mama Cash was feminist, very informal, I think the Mama Cash team at the time might have been a little cynical about my MBA, but I still got the job,” she laughs. “Maybe being a lesbian neutralised the MBA a little bit.”
“I was the ED at Mama Cash from 2001 to 2004, and those were wonderful years. I learned a lot about embracing the fun-loving, creative part of myself. Thinking about Mama Cash just makes me smile. Just listen to the name: it’s audacious, creative. I think of the Feminist Festival a couple of years ago at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, with the amazing talk by the Guerrilla Girls. You walked into the museum and the first thing you saw was a huge circle of women sketching a naked man. I saw men who were really shocked! But that is something that Mama Cash does so well: integrating the playful with the damned serious; integrating head, heart and gut. I think of the Emma Goldman quote, ‘If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution’. To me, that is the Mama Cash spirit. And I think the world needs more of that: more Mama Cash."

“Mama Cash is irreverant, but we were serious, too. Serious about raising money. One of the things that was so exciting about Mama Cash, and still is, is the commitment to growing the pot of funding for feminist activism. Mama Cash encourages people to put their time and effort and money together to keep our movements well-funded and healthy, like with the legacy programme. I love how Mama Cash is committed to increasing funding from individuals to support feminist activism globally. It’s definitely the way forward.”

When Ellen and Joanna sat down to write their wills, they agreed on the issues they were most passionate about: the environment, Indigenous People’s rights and gender justice. “That’s where the bulk of our money will go. It just felt coherent for us to give it forward in these areas. And when we thought about the organisations we wanted to include, I said, ‘Mama Cash is my first love, it has to be part of our legacy’.”