Funders must be agile, courageous and creative in COVID-19 times: How Mama Cash is supporting locally-rooted strategies amidst the global pandemic


Esther Lever and Susan Jessop


In the early days of the pandemic, Mama Cash knew that our first job, as always, was to listen. We reached out to grantee-partners to ask what they were experiencing. We listened and we learned in order to shape and improve our responses to the crisis.

Mama Cash supports groups around the world building strong feminist movements led by women, girls, and trans and intersex people. These partners work on under-addressed and contested issues, resist oppression in their lives and transform our world by building new realities every day.

Mama Cash’s funding is already flexible and the majority of the funding we provide annually goes out in multi-year, core funding support. These are important practices to uphold in times of crisis. In addition, we are taking steps to ensure that funding responsive to the crisis is available to the activists we support:

  • We set up a Recovery & Resilience Fund to support grantee-partners during the pandemic. To resource this, we have re-allocated funding from other budgets within Mama Cash and approached interested donors, so that financial resources to address immediate and longer-term needs go out to partners in addition to their existing grants.
  • We are contributing to The Global Resilience Fund for Girls and Young Women, a partnership between social justice funders to resource girls’ and young women’s activism through the crisis. This Fund supports girl and young women activists with flexible rapid response grants up to $5,000.
  • Within the Mama Cash-led Count Me In! consortium, we are offering additional funding to all CMI! partners that are sex worker-led. This extra funding recognises that COVID-19 and pandemic-related measures have made sex workers’ community mobilising, capacity building and lobbying work complicated and difficult. CMI! has provided additional grants and other funding to 46 sex worker-led groups and networks in 17 countries. CMI! has also created a fact sheet highlighting the impact of COVID-19 on sex workers, and how allies can be supportive.
  • We contribute to advocacy efforts to ensure budget for women’s rights is not cut and COVID-19 response funding is explicitly inclusive of gender.

We are also part of and support the broader community of women’s funds, many of which have developed locally-tailored responses to COVID-19, as well responses across countries and continents. As the urgency subsides, Mama Cash will need to identify how our funding and accompaniment support can hold space for grantee-partners as they adjust to the changing context.

We recognise that we also need to prepare for longer-term changes, whilst being mindful of the immediate, urgent situation affecting so many women, girls, trans people, and intersex people worldwide. Attention to collective care and well-being is important. We are reflecting on what partners may need after the initial crisis passes and global attention shifts away. We are also aware that local experiences of the pandemic differ (e.g., some parts of the world have already experienced multiple waves of the virus, while others are now in their first wave). This pandemic exacerbates existing crises and injustices, like the climate crisis, rising authoritarianism and economic injustice, and it seems virtually inevitable that COVID-19’s long-term impact will be significant and far-reaching.

A call to our fellow funders

There have been multiple calls from feminist movements for a feminist response to COVID. CMI!, the feminist consortium led by Mama Cash, has put forward a set of recommendations for actions governments and funders can take towards realising more humane, sustainable, just, and joyous futures.

Individually and collectively funders can:

  • Commit to global solidarity. While the short-term response is primarily local, our collective response will require transnational, global efforts.
  • Put women’s, girls’, and trans and intersex people’s rights and gender equality at the centre of COVID-19 responses. Protect and sustain gender-based violence services and the work of women human rights defenders, women’s rights organisations and feminist movements.
  • Use an intersectional feminist lens in policies and funding practices related to COVID-19. Reduce explicit discrimination and implicit biases towards women, girls, trans and intersex people and centre their specific needs, including an integration of intersections across race, ability, age, etc. Remove barriers that prevent women, girls, trans and intersex people from accessing resources and informing policies.
  • Maintain and increase funding commitments in support of women’s rights and gender equality and ensure women’s rights and gender equality are included in plans to address the impact of the pandemic, not only in the countries where funders are based, but also globally.
  • See this time as an opportunity to support visioning conversations among funders and movement actors. What futures are we building towards? What does liberation look like? What do we need to let go of? How do we need to work differently? And as Jenny Oppenheimer points out here, be accountable for going beyond talking to those we know and are comfortable with: ‘How can we build back differently if we’re mining the same seams? […] we really need to dig deeper and move beyond performative acts and focus on performative outcomes.’
  • Step up to fund movements flexibly and at scale and step back to cede and share power. Our actions need to go beyond conversations. It is imperative to centre the voices most often left out and excluded in the shaping of forward-looking work. As we wrote in the first blog, feminist movements are already visioning (i.e., online – #feministbailout, #feministrealities, #feministswantsystemschange, but also offline in their communities) and living the change that the world needs.

‘No going back to before’ means that now is the time to begin doing things differently. As Arundhati Roy has written in ‘The pandemic is a portal’, ‘Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.’

See previous blogs that address what grantee-partners are up against in the context of COVID-19 and strategies they are using to keep communities safe.

Esther Lever is Senior Programme Office for Influencing, and Susan Jessop is Senior Officer for Content Development at Mama Cash.

Tagged in: Covid-19

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