Fondo Semillas – 30 Years Cultivating Gender Equality in Mexico
Fondo Semillas is a feminist organization that works to combat the conditions of injustice and inequality of women in Mexico. The organization dreams of a country where all women, indigenous, mestizo, black, young, migrant, heterosexual, lesbian, trans, mothers, and students, have access to health, education, decent work, and justice, and are able to make their own decisions, so they can live a happy life.
To achieve these goals, Fondo Semillas has been financing women’s groups and organizations for over 30 years. The organization has directly benefited more than 733 thousand women and 2.7 million additional women, girls, boys and men, indirectly.
Latina Republic had the pleasure of interviewing Erika Tamayo, the Communications Coordinator and member of the organization’s Operational Team. Erika studied Communications at Ibero and has a 23-year professional experience in private initiative, government institutions and civil organizations. She coordinates the communication strategies for Fondo Semillas.
Latina Republic: How does Fondo Semillas support indigenous women in Mexico?
In Mexico, various types of violence against indigenous women are present. As an example, when it comes to sexual and reproductive rights, an indigenous woman is 3 times more likely to die in childbirth or postpartum than a non-indigenous woman. This is due to several factors, including lack of access to health and quality services in remote communities, and a diminishing number of midwives; a phenomenon triggered by the government’s push for women to give birth in hospitals and not through the assistance of a midwife. In some cases, midwifery practices are no longer being transmitted from generation to generation.
Even when indigenous women are under the care of a midwife, complications, like a placenta previa, or the need for a c-section, will require a transfer to a hospital, but sometimes husbands will not allow indigenous women to leave the community to be checked by a male gynecologist. In these cases, women can die during childbirth from complications.
These types of circumstances place indigenous women at a much greater risk than the rest of Mexican women.
Latina Republic: Among which indigenous groups does this problem occur?
A great variety of ethnic groups are present in Oaxaca, Chiapas and Guerrero. There are many other states in Mexico with indigenous populations where this custom is also prevalent.
Indigenous women in Mexico are affected by a triple form of discrimination: They are poor; they are women and they are indigenous.
Fondo Semillas has focused much of its financing on these populations.
In general, indigenous groups tend to have less access to other types of resources and financing.
Latina Republic: How does Fondo Semillas support Afro-Mexican women?
This is also a discriminated, marginalized and invisible population. For the first time in the current population’s census, taking place this month, a question will be included allowing Mexicans to self-ascribe as Afro-Mexicans.
Many Mexicans have historically believed that there are no Afro-Mexicans in Mexico. It has taken some time and some work to correct that historical narrative.
Fondo Semillas has financed organizations of Afro-Mexican women, who finally achieved constitutional recognition in 2019 and are now mentioned in the Mexican constitution, like the indigenous population.
Although, numerically much smaller, the Afro-Mexican population has been present in our country, but has not been recognized or named.
This community has a long history in Mexico, dating back to the slave migration that emerged centuries ago from Africa. Their descendants built communities in Guerrero and Oaxaca. Afro-Mexican populations are also present in Veracruz and Coahuila.
Latina Republic: How does Fondo Semillas support the Mexican lesbian woman? What unique problems does this group face?
In general, they are the least likely to access resources. Within the entire sexual diversity movement, lesbian activist organizations have been greatly marginalized. Gay men’s organizations have received more support due to the community’s link to HIV, which has helped them access financing.
In terms of marriage equality rights, same-sex marriage is legal in Mexico City, but there are only a few states that recognize it.
There are many Mexicos within Mexico. The Mexico in the center; the one in the north, and the one in the south, which is our poorest Mexico. The center tends to be much more conservative, for example, and reception to the subject of lesbianism is varied; but in general, Mexican lesbians remain a marginalized population.
In fact, in a recent survey on the subject, a high percentage of the population, (more than 50% polled) stated they would not want to live with a lesbian woman, or share a house with a lesbian woman.
Latina Republic: What led to the creation of a women’s fund?
Women’s funds, such as Fondo Semillas, emerged in the late 70-80’s as a response to the lack of philanthropic investment in women’s causes. Only 3% of philanthropy worldwide was destined for women.
The funds emerged as organizations sought to allocate funding for women’s groups, women’s-led groups and groups that were fighting for gender equality.
Fondo Semillas emerged in 1990 with the support of Global Fund for Women, an organization based in San Francisco that is one of the oldest and strongest women’s funds in the world.
Fondo Semillas was the first women’s fund in the global south.
Today, there are many more, both in Latin America, in Asia and in Africa.
In Latin America, there are about 9 -10 women funding organizations present in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and throughout Central America. The funds secure resources that support gender equality through different strategies and topics.
In the case of Fondo Semillas, we have 4 main programs: Body, Earth, Identities and Work.
Latina Republic: Where do the funds for Fondo Semillas come from? Who determines how the funds are used?
The funds come from different donors. The majority of funding comes from institutional donors and foundations outside of Mexico. The bulk of our resources come from international donors. Some donors give to support a certain program or project; other donors contribute toward general support.
Fortunately, we have a number of donors who give through flexible financing, which allows Fondo Semillas to decide where that money should be prioritized.
The influx in donor financing allows us to launch a call for applications, once every two years. The financing support that we provide generally lasts 18 months.
First Step: Registration of organizations
Each organization that seeks our support registers through a platform and explains the issues they are working on. That is the first step and it does not guarantee that they will receive financing, but they must complete this step in order to advance to the next stage.
We always receive a record number of registrations, with more organizations requesting support than we have funds available to support them.
As an example, during the last registration process we received 450 registered profiles from organizations seeking our support. Some of them did not advance beyond the first filter because their vision is one of assistance, and our vision is focused on social change.
More than 400 organizations made it through the second filter, and we are currently financing around 150 of them.
Second stage: Participatory selection
Frequently, organizations that make it to our second round are working on the same topic, but through a unique perspective. For example, some groups are working on the same topic of gender rights, safe motherhood; the labor rights of domestic workers; the rights of maquila workers; the defense of the territory; and so what they do is vote among themselves for the best group to represent that category; however, they cannot vote for themselves in this participatory, grantmaking process. Many of them know of the work that others in their field are doing, since they coincide in common spaces of activism.
Latina Republic: Who receives financing?
So the organizations that receive the highest number of votes during that participatory process are the ones that receive funding. For example, suppose that there are 20 organizations focused on labor rights, but Fondo Semillas only has financing for 12, the ones that get the highest number of votes receive financing. This elective system has two cycles of donations.
Previously, selection committees chose the grantee organization in a less horizontal process. But the commitment of Fondo Semillas is to return power to the feminist and women’s movement themselves; they have the expertise regarding the topics they lead and a depth of specialized knowledge that a selection committee may not have.
This change in the selection process was introduced so that funding groups who support the work of the organizations don’t dictate the agendas of the activist organizations.
Another great achievement is that Fondo Semillas offers grantees flexible financing, which empowers the groups to strategically sustain their work.
Fondo Semillas – A Unique Funder
Today, instead of supporting projects, we support the overall work of the organization. We know that organizations have many needs. Flexible financing allows groups to buy a computer, if they need it; or pay two months’ rent for their office, pay salaries, pay the electricity, or invest the funding into the strategic activities of the organization.
What makes this financing unique is the opportunity to allocate resources to items or costs that are generally not covered by foundations and that many times the organizations urgently need to sustain their work.
Latina Republic: What are the grant amounts awarded to selected organizations ?
The organizations that are selected receive between 200,000 and 700,000 pesos as a grant, which is about $10,000- $ 35,000, for a period of 18 months. The organizations present us with a work plan and describe how they plan to use the financing they will receive.
The Fondo Semillas’ Programs Team helps them refine the objectives set for that period of work; assess whether the goals are attainable, and review the importance of indicators that correspond to the objectives, and can measure the impact of what they do.
In the end, the organizations provide us with a financial and a narrative report.
Latina Republic: What happens after 18 months? Can they stabilize through other means?
The organizations have the option to reapply. Once registration opens for a new cycle, the groups have to re-register their profile. Something else that we have changed is that before there was a limit of 3 to 5 years of support for grantee organizations, but we realized that many of them need to be supported for a longer period of time to guarantee their financial sustainability, independent from Fondo Semillas.
We now offer the possibility of applying to renew support without a time limit, but it depends on the progress made by the organization, and the work that is being done. At the end of a financing cycle, an organization can reapply for new financing in the next grantmaking cycle.
Latina Republic: What are the guidelines to receive support from Fondo Semillas?
Applicants must apply as an organized group that has been working together for at least a year. A legal status is not required; they can be an informal group. We always privilege collective work.
We do not consider individual applications and work only with organizations and groups.
It is the organized women, themselves, who identify the problems they face as a group and propose solutions. Fondo Semillas provides them with economic resources, training, support and strengthening of their capacities. We help connect them to other donors, networks and alliances to ensure that their work has a great impact and is sustainable.
Latina Republic: If someone wants to apply to receive funding from Fondo Semillas, what general information can you give us? When is the next cycle to apply?
The registration of profiles for organizations interested in applying for the 2021-2022 donation cycle opens on March 2 and ends on April 19. All information can be found at http://www.semillas.org.mx and on our social media (FB, TW and IG: @FondoSemillas).