Checking our donor agenda at the door

what is the role for funders in closing civil society contexts?

By Sophia Sakhanberidze, Programme Associate for Europe, Central and North Asia

Mama Cash supports local groups fighting for justice for their communities on the frontlines – their frontlines. They are the lead actors in securing social change, and they set the change agenda. As funders, we play a supporting role. At Mama Cash, it’s our job to support feminist activists in the best possible way, trusting them and the work they do. They know best, and we need to follow their lead.

This is especially crucial in contexts hostile to civil society activism. These contexts restrict activists’ freedom and affect groups’ resilience, their strategies, and activities, and often require them to adapt to fast-changing realities. The grantee-partners we support know best what is needed, and how to use resources to take the next tactical steps. For example, a group may decide that they need to project a de-politicised image in order to access funding that is focused on activities that seem less political or threatening, like service provision. They may also need to make changes in their plans when they experience, and need to respond to, political backlash. Again, it’s our job to understand the group’s realities and follow their lead. It’s important that feminist groups have the flexibility to pursue their political agenda and also to make sure that they can attend to their holistic security, which includes the breadth of their individual and collective needs for mental, emotional, spiritual and environmental well-being, as well as their need for physical and digital security.

We can support groups by making sure they have access to flexible resources. In order to survive and maintain their work, feminist groups are demanding core, flexible, and long-term support. In difficult political contexts, activist groups have to remain alert and flexible; they have to be able to quickly adapt their work and approaches. This is why providing core support is so important; core funding provides the crucial flexibility that groups working in closing space contexts need. In the end, it is just so important to be clear about what our role is. As a funder, we are here to support activists in their fight and make sure that the money and resources they need for their work keep flowing without too many requirements and without interruption.