The Spark Fund is a participatory grantmaking fund that supports self-led feminist activism in the Netherlands, Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao (the ABC islands) and Saba, Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten (the SSS islands) with small grants to both registered and unregistered groups. The Spark Fund was launched in 2017.
Mama Cash was formed at a kitchen table in Amsterdam over 35 years ago. And although we have worked internationally from the start, we also have a strong history of supporting radical feminist activism in the Netherlands. In recent years, we have given time, energy and resources to feeding those roots again with our Spark grants.
In addition to focusing on the roots, the Spark Fund offers something else. We can support groups, who work on urgent or contested issues in the Netherlands and the ABCSSS islands and might not have a long-term plan but who would receive crucial breathing room with a few hundred euros.
“How do you put the focus on what activists need, instead of what donors consider to be logical and necessary?”
Happy Mwende Kinyili, programme director at Mama Cash: “With the Spark Fund, we not only support women, girls and trans people and intersex people who fight for their rights in the Netherlands, the ABCSSS islands, but also examine how you can address the skewed balance of power in the philanthropic field. Because who actually determines which activism is important and worthy of support? That activism needs to assume the form of a demonstration or a protest, and that a party doesn’t count?
How do you put the focus on what activists need, instead of what donors consider to be logical and necessary? These are questions that have occupied Mama Cash for many years. We work to share power with the activists and organisations themselves, such as by providing core support and through the use of participatory grantmaking mechanisms.”
Learning by doing
In 2017, Mama Cash launched Spark with an initial amount of 10,000 euros, in a spirit of learning by doing. We established an advisory committee with activists from the communities the Spark Fund aims to support. For the first round of grants, they formulated the criteria together with us and proposed initiatives themselves.
The committee opted for those activists who are operating at the cutting edge, who urgently need money, but would perhaps pass up on a formal grant process due to it being ‘too complicated’. Anti-racism activists who have been challenging the Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) tradition for years or those who denounce representations of colonialism in museums. Young queer activists who create a place where they can feel at home together. Migrant queer groups who work towards ending the stigma and discrimination against them that exists in asylum centres and in Dutch society. These are all initiatives for which a small amount of money already makes a big difference.
Each year, the committee now made up of former Spark partners, comes together to ensure that the Spark Fund is accessible and responsive to the organising needs of those we strive to support. Since 2017, Mama Cash has made 61 Spark grants for a total of 96,150 euros.