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Community and Autonomous Funding as a strategy for sustainability: a debate between women’s organizations in the Northeast

Despite the challenging social and political context, women’s movements in the Northeast have made progress in their goals to assert and defend rights. Linked together through collectives and organizations, these women are on the frontline, confronting structural inequalities and supporting the defence of democracy.  Operating in different territories and combining traditional and contemporary knowledge, they are seeking out new pathways to guarantee their autonomy, including direct management and sharing resources with local groups, through community or autonomous funds.

Providing continuity to activities aimed at strengthening the organizations involved in the Giving for Change Programme, a Virtual Roundtable Conversation was held regarding Community/Autonomous Funding as a sustainability strategy for these organizations.  The meeting was attended by 26 women from six states in the Northeast, including black women, female activists, indigenous women, female peasant workers, fisherwomen, blind women and visually impaired women.

The activity was jointly promoted by CESE and the Interstate Movement for Female Babassu Coconut Breakers (Movimento Interestadual das Quebradeiras de Coco Babaçu: MIQCB)/Babassu Fund (Fundo Babaçu) with the following objectives: to share experiences of the different funding formats collectively managed by North-eastern women, and to support reflections about the opportunities and challenges this instrument poses for organizational sustainability.

A number of women who manage funds shared their experiences, with contributions coming from Analba Brazão, from the Brazilian Women’s Coalition (Articulação de Mulheres Brasileiras: AMB)/SOS Corpo; Maria Nilce, from the ALVA Association/Revolving Solidarity Fund (Fundo Rotativo Solidário); Cristina Gusmão from the North-eastern Solidarity Fund (Fundo Nordeste Solidário); Sandra Regina Monteiro, Klesia Maria da Conceição and Marinalda Rodrigues da Silva from the MIQCB/Babassu Fund.

The presenters talked about the context from which these funds emerged, the communication efforts made to reach local groups, the way groups are supported during proposal development, and collective decision-making about the support to be provided. In addition, in-depth knowledge about local dynamics and the trust established between managing organizations and supported groups represented the differential of these initiatives.

For Marinalda Rodrigues, the funds are not only relevant instruments to ensure support reaches local organizations, but also a form of active partnership, in the sense of finding out about the local context on the ground.  As a babassu coconut breaker, she talked about the launch of the Babassu Fund’s grant funding, which took place at the beginning of the pandemic, and the difficulties administering projects because of health restrictions: “We maintained the strategic activities and also identified other needs to ensure support was feasible. We reallocated resources and adapted our activities,” she noted.  Proximity to the groups was essential to making these adjustments.

Michele Ferreira, from the Women’s Forum of Pernambuco (Fórum de Mulheres de Pernambuco), explained how this discussion has boosted women’s organizational strengthen and repositioned organizations in terms of international cooperation.  For her, donations through autonomous funds are more effective.  She described the forum’s experience as an example: “We had a project supported by the AMB, which enabled us to bring in more women at local and state level, and to expand our activities.  The funding led to a closer relationship with the AMB, which, through its local partnerships, was able to construct an intervention agenda with the cooperation agencies,” she noted, illustrating the efficiency and participation of the partner relationship.

Inclusion, resilience, struggle, courage, creativity – each woman relies on a range of ingredients. Diverse women, diverse experiences, but all motivated by the desire for political and economic autonomy for their companions and organizations.

“A diversity of experiences, each one different from the other, but all with the same sense of strengthening the struggle.  I come from a broader example, from the national movement, but it was also interesting to listen to more local experiences.  I already have some ideas for our next grant funding, based on what I’ve heard at this roundtable conversation,” Analba Brazão declared.

The Roundtable Conversation about Community/Autonomous Funds is part of the Giving for Change Programme, whose aim is to strengthen local organizations’ capacity to fundraise and mobilize support, as well as to intervene in debates about international cooperation.