In 2022, the national Brazilian women’s fund ELAS+ received a grant from Mama Cash’s Solidarity Fund to diversify its fundraising processes and governance and invest in digital security. The fund was established in 2000 and has gained a strong and innovative position in the Brazilian philanthropic sector. Fund Director K.K. Verdade tells: “Looking back, we started quite naively, penniless, in a kind of participatory grantmaking by and for feminist lesbian activists. Raising money proved to be quite a challenge. We did manage to find some earmarked money for specific projects, mainly from foreign donors, but that was obviously a pointless route. You get trapped in endless cha-cha-cha donations as we call it; charity, church, and children. With that kind of charity money, you can’t invest in real transformation, changing policies, or fighting for and safeguarding rights.”  

After those early years, Verdade and her colleagues realized, “We really need to become fundraising experts, learn to speak the funders’ language, and develop our own Brazilian way of raising resources for innovative activism.” And they succeeded. ELAS+ now has a substantial grantmaking budget available to support feminist activism, with half of it coming from Brazilian donors, including foundations, institutions, companies, and individuals. In 2022 the total amount of grants reached more than 4 million dollars. 

It’s quantitative growth to be proud of, but Verdade is even prouder of the strategic transformation that ELAS+ has undergone in the past two years. “Our 20th anniversary fell in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and the political-social crisis that has caused so much suffering in Brazil. A terrible time. For five years we have lived under a far-right political regime, and an avalanche of hate speech and violence against feminists, LGBT+ people, and Black activists. There are many violent people in this country. Every year, more LGBT+ people are murdered, there is a high rate of femicide, and instances of rape are skyrocketing. And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Various government budgets for social services were cut to free up money for vaccines. Brazil ended up in the top ten countries with the greatest economic and social inequality in the world.”  

That was when the fund decided to change its name from ELAS to ELAS+. “With the plus, we make it clear that we are there for women in all their diversity. With the plus we embrace all activists, not just feminist and lesbian activists, but also Indigenous activists, trans women, and both White and Black activists, to name a few examples. After making that decision, we turned to Mama Cash for support in the challenge of opening up our systems and resources to a broader group of activists. With Mama Cash’s help, we have started the process of transforming our funding mechanisms and diversifying our governance.”  

An important change is that ELAS+ now applies far fewer restrictions and conditions in its grantmaking processes. “In the past, for example, we used to request a focus on a specific theme, such as violence or health rights. Now, like Mama Cash, we work from the concept of radical solidarity. We place our full trust in activists to define for themselves what is needed. After all, we are talking about movements with many years of experience. Indigenous women in the Amazon have been resisting violence against their culture, language, and territory for more than 500 years. Black women endured more than 300 years of slavery and have been fighting against its consequences for centuries. Let’s embrace their expertise and not set boundaries in advance, but do everything we can to connect with each other. This also means allowing applications by phone or a handwritten letter to be accessible to activists in internet-deprived areas in Brazil.”  

ELAS+ made these changes while facing a toxic climate under a far-right government. “The government tried to criminalize us and block international donor support. In the lead-up to the November 2022 presidential election, we hired consultants to explore the possibility of setting up an ELAS+ structure in Portugal, in case a blockade became a reality. We have also invested a significant amount of Mama Cash’s funding in digital security, both for ourselves and for all the people we support and communicate with. But now, with the election of a left-wing government, we have hope again! Of course, there are still huge inequality challenges that need to be addressed, but at least we are not being muzzled. In fact, we are stronger than ever. The networks and activists we support embody the power of resistance.”