Turning the tide: new methods of cooperation (and philanthropy)


Carla López Cabrera


Mama CashDuring the 1980s the Central American region went through several armed conflicts. In the same period, social movements demanding justice became stronger.

Carla López

Carla López

The contribution of women was key to the changes taking place in Central America, but still those processes were quite androcentric in nature. Towards the end of the 80s, women began to challenge existing power relationships in public and private spheres. Women began to speak up on taboo subjects: gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive rights, abortion, household work. In Nicaragua, a significant group of women came together and declared their autonomy, planning their future without ties to any political movement or party.

In the 80s and 90s, international cooperation played an important role in funding social movements. Central American women achieved significant progress but also faced serious challenges and also important setbacks that forced them to reformulate their strategies. Women’s movements that are committed to human rights were consolidated.

In the new millennium, civil society and particularly feminist organizations began to feel how the support from international aid was being reduced; some donors were pulling away from the region but also in some cases the issues and strategies in the international donors’ agenda were not fully consistent with the priorities defined by local  organizations. In spite of the national and international recognition they had achieved, many of them began to experience the consequences of this. Even though the trend to ‘invest in girls and women’ continued to grow, the approach was of ‘women as a means for economic development’. However, the struggle of women’s activists has been for gender equality as a right.

The financial situation of women’s organizations became even more difficult in 2012/13, when key donors announced and implemented cuts or cancelled their funding for the region, including the Norwegian, Danish, German, Austrian, Dutch, Swedish and Finnish governments.

Fondo Centroamericano de Mujeres (FCAM) emerged as a vehicle to bring financial resources to the region. Our goal is to contribute to strengthening women’s movements through core and multi-year funding together with technical support. Our target groups are those having the least access to opportunities and led by those who are the most discriminated against, like young, lesbian, Indigenous, Afro-descendant and migrant women, domestic workers, etc.

In the last decade, women’s funds have proved we are an effective means to bring resources into the regions where we work, and to support grassroots groups. We are aware of the growing trend on the part of international aid agencies to concentrate funding in larger and more professionalized organizations. As women’s funds, we are able to meet their requirements and access those resources that otherwise would not come into our region.

As the only women’s fund in Central America and given the withdrawal of international aid, FCAM feels the need to diversify our fundraising strategies. A strategy in which we have become experienced in very short time is the ‘joint initiatives’ involving different allies from our region and sometimes also from other regions in the American continent.

It is true that joint initiatives imply complex processes, but they also provide important lessons and help to secure funding for the struggles of women’s movements in the region.

In six years (2008-2013), FCAM has been involved in five joint initiatives. In total, we partnered with nine women’s funds, seven organizations and three networks; jointly we raised US$10,349,000 and supported 251 groups in 16 countries, including 11 peer-learning workshops for groups across Latin America.

Our joint initiatives brought US$5,800,000 to Central America. The funds channeled by FCAM supported 127 groups and organizations directly, and funded 38 organizational strengthening workshops for our grantees. These resources have been invested in providing multi-year and core support as well as technical assistance for young women, lesbian, bisexual and trans women’s groups, women human rights defenders and groups advocating for domestic and maquila workers rights, and also funds for the safety, protection and self-care of women human rights defenders.

One of the joint initiatives we participated in was created to strengthen the lesbian, bisexual and trans (LBT) movement in Latin America. As part of this initiative, US$892,000 was disbursed as direct grants to 64 LBT organizations in 16 countries over a period of two years. With results.

Public debate on the legal recognition of gender identity has blossomed in Central America, and many local partners have now achieved access to high-level decision-makers and public policy forums. Grantees reported having developed 454 alliances over these two years with key actors, such as peer organizations, civil society leaders and government. Together, our grantees’ advocacy and mobilizing efforts contributed to important legal gains in the region. For example, Argentina instituted a new law on same-sex marriage; Uruguay passed a law on gender identity; and the ministers of health in Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico signed a resolution ensuring that trans people are admitted to hospital under their preferred name and gender identity.

The joint initiative also led to significant organizational change among local partners: changes in structure, strategic focus, physical installations, project planning, administration and monitoring and evaluation. 75% of local partners submitted project proposals to other donors and, by the end of the project, 50% of these proposals had been approved.

These joint initiatives have posed many challenges but we are convinced of their value and want to continue developing these partnerships. We have seen how they allow for the involvement of diverse actors who play different but complementary roles, keeping their independence and respecting their varied institutional procedures.

The joint initiatives have also allowed us to step in and begin to address the funding gap that emerged after other (larger) funders withdrew support from the region. Through these initiatives, we were able to fund important, larger, organizations and networks that we could not have supported otherwise, while also securing funding for grassroots groups.

At FCAM, we are convinced that this is a great strategy to support women’s movements and organizations working for human rights and social justice.

Carla López is executive director of Fondo Centroamericano de Mujeres (FCAM), a regional feminist foundation based in Nicaragua. FCAM mobilises resources to strengthen women’s movements and to support initiatives that promote and defend women’s human rights. This article is part of a series posted by Mama Cash sharing the perspectives of the local and regional funds that are its grantee-partners.

Tagged in: Central America Collaboration Fundraising Gender funding Women's issues

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