Identity crisis and rejuvenation

Uitreiking Joke Smit Prijs. Lilianne Ploumen (foto hendriksen valk)

Lilianne Ploumen accepts Joke Smit Award (Foto Hendriksen Valk)

Growing pains
When Mama Cash reached puberty, her hormones started to race. The organisation had grown significantly. The 1995 UN World Conference on Women in Beijing had given her new vigour and inspiration. In 1996 Mama Cash was awarded the Joke Smit Prize by the Dutch government for her achievements in the field of women’s liberation. That same year, she received her first subsidy from Novib, a development organisation. Furthermore, from Johanna, a member of the network Women with Inherited Wealth, she had received a substantial donation that allowed her to establish the Central and Eastern Europe Fund in 1996. In spite of all this, Mama Cash faced a crisis. That year’s annual report stated that ‘Growth comes with growing pains’. Volunteers and staff started to voice their discontent about Mama Cash’s lack of movement. Was she still the thorn in the side that she wanted to be?

New initiatives versus maintenance
During the World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, Mama Cash was told that the models that the North employed to assist the Global South amounted to a new form of colonialism. This deepened the gap Mama Cash felt between herself and the groups in the Global South that she wanted to support.

The Culture Fund also started to question the way it assessed grant requests. ‘White women tend to focus on maintenance and consolidation instead of innovation’, reads the 1996 Annual Report. In other words, continuing to support the same initiatives was not what Mama Cash wanted, nor what she had done in the past. ‘Innovation can particularly be found with immigrant projects’. This approach was more to Mama Cash’s liking.

The ability to make a difference

Lilianne Ploumen en Jos Esajas

Lilianne Ploumen and Jos Esajas

Founder Marjan Sax clearly remembers the nagging doubts running in the organisation back then: ‘Partly thanks to Mama Cash, everyone had started to realise how important women are to the development process worldwide’. In the Netherlands Mama Cash had stood relatively alone on the frontlines of mobilising resources for women´s rights. Now others were joining her. Women entrepreneurs ran businesses, and organisations such as Novib and Hivos had developed their own women’s programmes. Marjan Sax: ‘Mama Cash had lost the ability to make a difference. We were not front runners anymore. It wasn’t clear how we could change that. What was it that Mama Cash should focus on?’ In July 1996 the doubts were put on paper and a working group started looking for new perspectives.

Change of generations

Afscheid Dorelies en Patty

farewell party Dorelies and Patty

The crisis was warded off by a change of personnel. In 1997, fundraiser Lilianne Ploumen became Mama Cash’s first Executive Director. She developed a list of priorities: work and care for the family; power and influence; gender specific health care; sexual violence; trafficked women and forced sex-work; and sustainable development. Mama Cash saw that innovation in the Netherlands was mostly coming from black women’s and young women’s groups. It was time for a change of generations. New and younger staff members were hired. Founders Patti Slegers and Dorelies Kraakman left the organisation in 1997.

Regaining strength
The new generation approached this crisis of identity from a different angle. Nancy Jouwe, Manager of the Culture Fund since 1998: ‘When I joined Mama Cash, the founders still had an active role. I saw them all leave. This wasn’t my crisis. I was part of the renewal, just like Lilianne Ploumen. The new women were the embodiment of Mama Cash’s search for fresh perspectives’. Lilianne Ploumen looks back at it as a period of profound change. As far as she is concerned, there was never an indication of there being a generation gap. (watch interview) After all was said and done, Mama Cash emerged with renewed energy from this crisis.