Mama Cash is a participatory grantmaker.

Since 2021 Mama Cash has been a fully participatory grantmaker..

What does that mean, exactly? There are different definitions of and approaches to participatory grantmaking, but at Mama Cash, it means we are shifting decision-making about our grants from our staff to the communities we aim to serve: namely women, girls, trans people and intersex people who are creating a more just and joyous world. 

Putting our values into practice

It is all too common to see non-profit organisations and foundations working for good causes doing so on behalf of the communities affected by a particular issue at hand, rather than consulting and involving them. And when programs reflect a funder’s idea of what the problem or solution is, rather than the experience and needs of those affected, they are less effective in actually addressing that problem.

Making decisions about how to support marginalised groups without their input also means that we are holding up – rather than challenging – the power hierarchies that enable inequality and oppression. When financial support is flowing primarily from the Global North to the Global South, for example, it’s still actors in the Global North deciding where the money goes and often, how it is spent.

Participatory grantmaking, on the other hand, is about sharing power. It turns the traditional approach of philanthropy on its head by recognising the communities we aim to serve as the experts on their own reality and the feminist movements more broadly. We have long worked from a commitment to forge strong and inclusive partnerships with those who share our vision and to remaining transparent with them in the process. Becoming a participatory grantmaker will enable us to embed these values in the process of grantmaking itself, sharing power and responsibility with the groups for whom the grants are intended.

As a result, we expect our grants to be more informed by and thus more responsive to the actual needs of feminist movements around the world. We also believe that by bringing applicants and activists together, they will have the opportunity to connect with and learn from one another (as well as learn about the grantmaking process).

Developing a model

Over the past few years – inspired by the Red Umbrella Fund, FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund, and other participatory funders – we have been building and testing participatory grantmaking programs. Our small-scale Spark Fund for feminist initiatives in the Netherlands, launched in 2018, makes decisions about grants via a rotating committee of local activists. More recently, we built our Solidarity Fund with, for and by our peer women’s funds. We carried out these pilots with the goal of eventually also implementing a participatory approach to the remaining – and largest – portion of our grantmaking.

The first phase of this work has been focused on research: understanding the various models in the field, and determining which model might be best for Mama Cash. We conducted extensive research by learning from a number of participatory grantmakers themselves. We spoke with some of our stakeholders from a variety of geographies and relationships to us – grantee partners, advisors, and allies – and received valuable insight and input. We considered deeply internally what opportunities and challenges this transition would bring. 

As a result of our internal design process, we developed a two step model for participatory grantmaking at Mama Cash. In the first step, our applicants will provide input and guidance on which issues to prioritise. Then, a committee reflecting the communities we aim to serve (also selected with the participation of our network) will make the final decisions on who our new grantee-partners will be. Mama Cash will continue to set the criteria for eligibility, and staff will screen applications to ensure the Community Committee only reviews eligible groups.

We are excited to have developed this model, which we believe will enable us to not only gather meaningful input from our stakeholders, but also be more reflective of the aims and priorities of the feminist movements that we serve.  

We are extremely grateful to everyone who shared their insights and input with us along the way, as well as our donors for their support – which enables us to adapt, change and grow as an organisation.

Becoming a participatory grantmaker is an ongoing process of development and learning. As such we welcome input from our community at all stages, and we will also seek opportunities to share what we learn from this process with you. 

Stay tuned!