What led you to focus your work on financial resilience in women’s rights organisations?
I have been part of social movements since my teenage years growing up in the Netherlands – but I was impatient, I always felt that we weren’t making progress fast enough. After completing my Masters in Development Studies and spending seven years with Oxfam Novib, I was keen to know what social movements could borrow from the corporate sector’s emphasis on “getting things done”. So I did my Masters in Business Administration. In a class with two women and 50 men, I was the only “non-profit” type. I felt like an undercover agent and loved it.
At the time, in the early 2000s, many WROs were trying to figure out “the money thing”. Where was the money, and how could we access more of it? When I became the executive director of Mama Cash, an Amsterdam based feminist foundation promoting women’s rights globally, I went through my own steep learning curve around resource mobilisation. I learned a lot from my American peers, whose way of relating to money and approach to fundraising was quite different to that of my peers in Europe. They helped me see money not as a means to an end but as an integral and creative part of realising rights and justice. My focus shifted from raising money to instead establishing relationships with donors and funders around shared purpose, passion and the exchange of ideas, connections and information.
I learned to see how valuable I was to them, as a source of information, inspiration and connections. This paradigm shift made fundraising much less scary and intimidating and a whole lot more interesting. And a whole lot more successful.
After leaving Mama Cash, I started Spring Strategies to support CSOs in realising ambitious goals. Our work on financial resilience soon became our fastest growing programme. Financial resilience is a big issue that keeps many CSO leaders up at night.
We use the term resilience to emphasise the importance of being proactive and dynamic in engaging with the funding landscape. Given that this landscape is constantly changing, and is in many places in a state of disruption, it is important to think and plan ahead. Think about governments that restrict CSOs from receiving foreign grants, or the way aid priorities have become increasingly tied to trade. We believe that those able to find inspiration in this disruption can turn challenging external contexts into real opportunities. And it is exciting to see how CSOs globally are responding to this challenge by creating new financing models.