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Meeting partners where they are in closing civil society contexts

By Refilwe Moahi, Programme Associate for Africa and West Asia. Mama Cash works with grantee-partners who are dealing with contested or under-addressed issues that don't normally receive more mainstream funding.

For example, we support LBQ groups working in countries where same-sex relationships are criminalised, or sex workers’ groups working in contexts where sex work is criminalised. Some grantee-partners are considered a threat by the government because they raise a critical voice. Many of these activists are subjected to increased surveillance. Because of the work they do, their contexts are by definition difficult. For all of these reasons, and more, feminist activists face lots of challenges to their mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health.

It's important for us as funders to respond to the needs of these groups working in restricted contexts, and to be flexible and adaptable to whatever their situation is. That’s why providing core funding is one of our key commitments. Core funding allows groups to decide how they want to use the money rather than us specifying a project. Grantee-partners are the ones who decide what is important to them, whether it’s project activities, salaries, rent, or some sort of training. Or maybe it’s strengthening certain skills and building knowledge that they need, or some sort of well-being activities within their organisation or in the way that they work. The point is that it is their decision to name the priorities.

 
Making sure that our processes and reporting requirements are manageable and meaningful for partners is also an important step that we can take to stay responsive. A lot of groups that I work with are mostly working out in their communities every day; they’re usually not sitting at a desk behind a computer all day long. If we try to control everything, if we're very strict in terms of how things should be, and about what we can and can’t support, there will be a lot of lost opportunities. So, we prioritise trust in our work with grantee-partners; it’s key that we trust their decisions.

We also build close and trusting relationships with grantee-partners by being in regular contact. We have progress calls every six months, and we also check in with groups when there are political, economic, or social events or crises happening in their countries or communities. This allows us to find out directly from the groups that we support or want to support, what they need and how best to support them. For me, this is the most important thing a funder can do.