Luminary Ladies: Site visits to + world headquarters, Amsterdam

My trip to Europe started off at the Humanity In Action conference in Berlin with social justice rock stars like Srdja Popovic from the Centre for Applied NonViolent Action & Strategies and Malika Hamidi, Director General of the European Muslim Network. Popovic was a founder of OTPOR! («Resistance!»), the student-led movement credited with contributing to the fall of Milosevic. Hamidi is an eloquent advocate and academic doing her PhD work on Muslim feminism. They inspired the 200+ attendees at the sold out conference on topics ranging from techniques for winning media wars to the theoretical and theological issues facing Muslim women in Europe. (Click here for a recap of the HiA Berlin conference.)

The activism theme has followed me to the Netherlands, particularly in terms of revolutionary “luminary ladies.” This morning I checked out the world headquarters of which provides sexual health services for women via ships docked in international waters, and this afternoon visited the offices of which has awarded over 24 million euros in direct grants to ambitious women’s, girls’ and trans’ rights organizations around the world.

It’s been quite a day. Here’s the report.


In Amsterdam I’m visiting Princeton classmate Rebecca Gomperts, activist and founder of Women on Waves, an organization providing direct mobile sexual health services for women via ships around the world.  WoW works closely with regional partner organizations and activists to ensure that their work supports local movements committed to providing basic sexual and reproductive health services to women in countries where such things are illegal.   One of the things I love about Rebecca is that her ultimate vision for  social justice is even bigger than WoW (which would be more than enough for most mere mortals, though not Rebecca).  Rebecca is as much a health rights activist as she is a legal social justice entrepreneur — scouting out creative loopholes in international law where new forms of justice and activism could take hold. This doesn’t preclude activism in her own “back yard” — Women on Waves might also start up some mobile health clinics right here in the Netherlands to serve women in communities who have a difficult time accessing health services in their own neighborhoods and native languages.

Rock on Rebecca — keep rocking the boat.


Through Rebecca I also connected with the folks from where Annie Hillar, Director of Programs, was kind enough to introduce me around and invite me to sit in on a lunch presentation from Anne Lim, the founding Executive Director of Mama Cash’s grantee Galang which works on grassroots community organizing with lesbians, bi’s and trans living in poverty in the Philippines.  Galang focuses on the importance of local, community-sourced activism and the intersection between economic and social rights in empowering these multiply marginalized populations.

As I was able to observe first hand today, Mama Cash is incredible for many reasons, not the least of which being that they are among the most dedicated international funders out there willing to provide long term, big picture strategic funding to complex social issues with no quick or easy solutions.


By spending some time with these inspiring, risk-taking visionaries, I was reminded today of how often philanthropy “plays it safe” instead of “playing big.”  Charitable money often goes after projects serving populations which make good annual report fodder — giving money to broadly appealing projects which pull at donor heartstrings in a photo, or can easily be counted and translated into a nice looking pie chart. I can understand why government development agencies like USAID or DFID would have to pander to the “Babies and Fuzzy Bunnies” factor, but can’t private philanthropy take more risks?

Philanthropy is getting better at counting, but is it getting better at accountability?

I’m not just talking about foundation “accountability” in reports to donors, board members and governments, but the greater moral and ethical accountability to the broad reaching scope of all those grandly stated missions.

We owe a great debt of thanks to funders like Mama Cash for boldly putting their money where their mission is and investing in social activists around the world like those at Women on Waves and Galang.


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