Radical Love: The Case for Funding Trailblazing Feminists Themselves
Philanthropy has always recognised the power of the individual. How could it not? Philanthropy by definition includes the work of individuals using their resources for “the love of humanity”, or in Philea’s words, “for the public good”. In some parts of philanthropy, this understanding of the power of the individual has extended beyond from whom the resources flow, to include to whom the resources flow. Arts and culture foundations, for example, regularly give out grants and prizes to individual artists.
Reconciling the roles of individuals within social movements
In social justice philanthropy, the role of the individual is more contested ‒ on both sides of the equation. Critiques about from whom resources flow include longstanding debates about whether individuals should be able to amass the levels of wealth that underpin their philanthropy in the first place, the ability of philanthropy to actually do good on balance, and the pros and cons of “philanthrocapitalism”.
Mama Cash’s own view that philanthropy can have a place in social change while at the same time being problematic, stems from our origin story: Our creation as a women’s fund was made possible by the philanthropic efforts of one of our founders, who was herself an anti-capitalist organiser. Marjan Sax chose to work with a group of fellow activists to channel her inherited wealth into supporting feminist activism around the world ‒ activism that itself sought to dismantle the systems that make it possible to exploit some for the gain of others. Today, Mama Cash continues to work as a foundation within philanthropy and with philanthropists to reimagine what efforts such as solidarity giving, reparations and resource justice can be and do “for the public good”.
Discussions about to whom resources flow and the role of the individual have been less contentious in social justice philanthropy, yet they are prevalent. Partly, it has been an ideological imperative: A feminist approach for instance invites us to break down “power over” in favour of “power with”, which implies challenging the notion of individual leaders and their “at-the-top” roles, and favouring collectives and those “at the bottom”. At other times, however, the resistance to funding individuals occurs because it has been difficult to convince funders about the importance of movements and collective action in social development and change, where they have been, it was felt, (overly) focused on individuals. For this reason, the effort to make this case has generated a strategic tendency to play down the role of individuals.
For the issue of women’s rights, for example, funders were for decades focused on micro-enterprise (small loans to individual women to start their own businesses), and measuring impact in the form of over-simplified metrics such as “number of women reached”. Funders struggled to understand the roles of social norm, policy and legal change in creating and maintaining sustained advances in gender equality, and why the metrics for tracking those types of changes needed to move beyond the counting of individual women and start looking at the health and strength of feminist organisations and movements. It has taken decades and significant resources to shift donor discourse so that it now acknowledges that women’s rights organisations and feminist movements are both a) critical to actually advancing gender equality and justice, and b) spectacularly underfunded nevertheless.
Learning from experience ‒ and changing
What does a well-resourced feminist ecosystem look like? How can we ensure that funding is responsive to the changing needs of women, girls, and trans and intersex people who are creating more just and joyous worlds? What are the limitations of the traditional philanthropic approaches to funding feminist activism? These are some of the types of questions Mama Cash explored as we developed our 10-year strategic plan, In Movement Together (2021-2030).
A key insight that emerged from our internal and external dialogues, discussions and deliberations was that the health and strength of feminist movements depend on a variety of different kinds of actors working collectively, and that a focus on groups and organisations misses the chance to support the catalysing and coordination work of individual activists. This was such an important reflection for us: We had intentionally stopped funding individuals and focused on groups for so long, and had consolidated this during a major previous strategic shift in 2009. Reviewing our learnings since then showed us again that we needed to change. We therefore decided that in our new strategic plan, we would deliberately support both groups and individual activists who are connected to feminist movements and contribute to social change. The result is the creation of the Radical Love Fund, Mama Cash’s newest participatory grantmaking fund that seeks to connect individual grantmaking to our broader movement building strategy.
Introducing the Radical Love Fund
Launched in August 2022, the Radical Love Fund supports individual trailblazing feminist activists who are coordinating or catalysing projects in their own right. With this Fund, Mama Cash aims to show how the work of individual feminist activists working independently (i.e. not part of existing collectives or organisations) or in informal networks have always been and will continue to be part of the bedrock of innovative, creative and groundbreaking activism as part of social movements that are leading change in our world. These leaders might be involved in any number of different kinds of visionary feminist work, such as creative enterprises, learning and documenting feminist histories and realities, facilitating networking that strengthens bonds across groups or movements, and building alternative ideas and practices we can all learn from.
Consistent with our commitment to sharing power and ceding decision-making authority to activists, the Fund is managed by a rotating group of staff and members of our Global Advisory Network, and decisions about the recipients of Radical Love Fund grants will be made by members of the Global Advisory Network, after the applications have been reviewed against our eligibility criteria. For the inaugural round, the Radical Love Fund accepted nominations from current Mama Cash staff, board and advisors to ensure that nominations are endorsed by those who are most familiar with the networks with which we work, along with our organisational mission and values. However, in the future Mama Cash intends to explore ways to further expand the Fund’s pool of nominators to include, for example, our current grantee partners.
By the end of 2022, the Radical Love Fund will grant 10 feminist activists single year grants of €10,000. Our hope is that grant recipients will actively and collectively engage with each other as a cohort to share and learn about each other’s work. If your organisation is already funding individuals or is interested to do so, please reach out to us. We would love to learn from you and explore ways we can collectively build more pathways for this kind of support ‒ to help us all strengthen how philanthropy can continue to support well all the amazing individual leaders that are changing the world.
 Philea’s website states: “Philanthropy refers to foundations, corporate funders and individuals using their own financial and non-financial resources for the public good.”, accessed 4 October 2022
 Paul Vallely, “How philanthropy benefits the super-rich”, Guardian 8 September 2020: accessed 4 October 2022; Morgan Simon, “Why giving your money away won’t change the world”, Forbes 25 September 2019: accessed 4 October 2022; Kavita Ramdas, Matthew Bishop and Michael Green, ‘Point-Counterpoint: Philanthrocapitalism’, Stanford Social Innovation Review, 15 December 2011: accessed 4 October 2022.
 Moosa, Z. and Kinyili, H., M. (2015) Big Plans, Small Steps: Learnings from Three Decades of Mobilising Resources for Women’s Rights. IDS Bulletin 46(4): 101-107: accessed 4 October 2022.
 For more on feminist concepts regarding power, see Srilatha Bhatliwala, All about Power
 See AWID’s decades-long “Where is the money for women’s rights” track of work, such as
 Proof that the discourse is now different can be found in the rhetoric around and content of the Generation Equality Forum and the launch of the Alliance for Feminist Movements that was one of its outcomes