Empowering Women on a Grassroots Level to Create Lasting Social Change

Semillas (Sociedad Mexicana Pro Derechos de la Mujer) is a Mexican women's fund with over 25 years of experience partnering with local women's groups. The organization believes that the leadership of grassroots women in local development processes is essential to achieving lasting social change.

Semillas emerged from the Mexican women's movement in response to a need for new funders committed to supporting grassroots women's organizations. Inspired by women's funds such as the Global Fund for Women, Semillas became the first women's fund in the Global South when it was founded in 1990. Since that time, it has continued to play an active role in the international women's funding movement and has significantly contributed to the promotion of community philanthropy in Mexico.

Semillas aims to strengthen a national movement of grassroots women who are working to promote women's rights and gender equality. The ultimate goal is to improve the quality of life for marginalized communities throughout Mexico. Semillas works toward that objective through the following actions.

  • Providing seed grants
  • Improving the capacities of local women's groups
  • Strengthening alliances among grassroots women
  • Showing donors and other key actors how important it is to support social change initiatives led by grassroots women

For example, Semillas has long supported local women's cooperatives in Mexico in collaboration with several U.S.-based foundations. This has taken the form of seed funding, training, and alliance building aimed at linking the cooperatives with key actors and women's rights advocates in Mexico. As a result, a group of 10 women's cooperatives decided to form a network in 2016, which Semillas continues to support as part of its 2017-2018 cohort of grantees. This intercultural network of indigenous women seeks to improve its capacity to produce and sell high-quality, innovative artisanal products in local, national, and international markets.

Flor, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas

Flor has been part of the Jolom Mayaetik cooperative for five years. This cooperative includes 250 women from the highlands of Chiapas who produce high-quality textiles while also promoting the social and political participation of women in local communities.

Since 1990, Semillas' support of more than 800 projects has directly benefitted 640,000 women and indirectly benefitted 2.4 million women and children throughout Mexico. More than 50 institutional donors have trusted in Semillas, as well as over 800 individual donors. Semillas is currently supporting approximately 100 grassroots groups.

NGOsource's Role

Semillas first completed the equivalency determination (ED) process with NGOsource in 2014. Four more NGOsource grantmaker members took advantage of the work NGOsource completed for the initial ED and completed ED requests for Semillas soon after. Jenny Barry, Semillas' Head of Development, notes:

In recent years, Semillas has expanded its community to include a larger number of donors and grassroots grantees. Having the equivalency determination has allowed us to streamline administrative processes with U.S.-based donors, and as a result, we spend less time filling out paperwork and more time providing strategic support to local women's organizations in Mexico. Our ED status has also lent us significant credibility with potential donors, both in the U.S. and in Mexico.

The majority of the grantmaker members that funded Semillas with an ED through NGOsource benefited from the due diligence done by others and were able to receive ED certificates for Semillas immediately for only $250. This saved these funders significant time and cost.

For a full list of NGOs in NGOsource's centralized repository, please email Kevin Ryan at kryan [at] techsoupglobal [dot] org.

Bertha, Tumbala, Chiapas

In addition to training themselves on issues related to women's rights, the indigenous women that form part of the cooperative Mujeres Sembrando Semillas (Women Sowing Seeds) produce organic mushrooms as a way to earn their own income and provide a better quality of life for their families.

The Value of Trust in Local Leadership

Semillas attributes one of the driving forces behind their success to their trust in the knowledge and leadership of local women. They contrast their methods to those of well-intentioned NGOs attempting to improve living conditions in marginalized communities through externally designed programs. This trust comes from the belief that grassroots women are the experts regarding the needs of their local communities, and their voices must be heard and amplified. Semillas has confidence in local women to propose viable solutions to pressing issues such as inequality and poverty and helps them to obtain the resources, training, and alliances they need to achieve lasting change.

We thank Jenny Barry, Head of Development of Semillas, for her contributions to this post.

Top photo: "Ana & Citlalli," Guaquitepec, Chiapas

Ana is the founder of Sbejel Antsetik, a cooperative made up of Tzeltal Mayan women in Chiapas. The members of the cooperative sell local products such as beans, corn, and coffee to promote their own economic empowerment and also ensure that their families have healthy food to eat. Here, Ana and her daughter Citlalli are making tortillas by hand.

All photos used with permission from Semillas © 2017. Photographer: Mark Tuschman, 2015.