Saheli has survived financially on the basis of its work finding support in the environment. We have all along systematically tried to take cheaper options for all our needs. Our volunteers still spend their own money to keep the place going. Today, if we do not have a fancy office, equipment, a large shelter, more full timers and a report without advertisements, it is because we have chosen not to rely on institutional funding.
This year we have been barely able to make ends meet and therefore thought of this souvenir as one way to improve our financial situation. When we started collecing advertisements, many people expressed serious doubts, because we were not familiar enough with the corporate world. Nor did we have any patrons. Among us, few have jobs in the commercial world, most of us having opted out of it. We went from door to door, discovering new supporters, new contacts, all on account of our work which is recognized for its worth.
The start of the souvenir work itself was very moving. One day, Kamla and Rehmat, from the Nizamuddin Basti, dropped in while we were planning the souvenir. They expressed shock at our financial state and immediately gave two rupees each as their contribution.
Since then a number of supporters have made collections from their offices and neighbourhoods; friends have helped us get advertisements, helped with paper and printing, helped us meet the cost of our cultural show. In all, we have raised 100,000 in the past three months in cash, and have found innumerable new supporters from the most unexpected quarters.
We reached this state of financial crisis because of several reasons. Among them, the most significant are inflation and an increase in our activities.
From the beginning it has been our major concern that the direction of our work be determined by our collective wisdom and now by the funding policies of donor agencies or the government. We have always been aware of the fact that the interests of funders do not necessarily coincide with that of women. We also did not want to become dependent on a few sources of funds which depended on a smart project proposal and a smarter report, with or without any basis in reality.
This meant raising funds from individual donations. It also meant that our work had to find continuing supports. This process of reaching out gave donors an opportunity to give us ideas, criticise our work, and give us referrals to other resources. We found this to be a very positive way of collecting funds for our work.
Initially we made use of government funds for running our short-stay home, but found the attitude of the government far from satisfactory. The same government which gave fiats to cricketers, found it impossible to even rent us a small flat. There was a keen desire on their part to supervise our work rather than support it. So we stopped taking these funds. We took support from a foreign donor agency to run an income-generating project when funds from the government failed to materialize, for rehabilitating the victims of the 1984 riots. This was a larger project with an annual expenditure of two to three times Saheli’s annual budget. This project had high potential for making us dependent on the donor agency because of our commitment to the women we were helping. However, this dependency did not have to last for long as the women were given employment by the government. Another time, funds were taken to organize a creative workshop. We still feel that we should not take institutional funds for the day to day work and survival of Saheli. Our approach is more flexible for short-term or one time expenses, such as organizing a workshop or purchasing essential office equipment.
Present support and needs
Our main source of funding has been a network of concerned individuals who have supported Saheli over the last seven years. Donations range from Rs 2 from Basti woment o Rs 100 from middle class working people, donated on a monthly basis. Their contributions stem from a desire to support the cause of women’s liberation and from an understanding of the need to support full-time workers with a subsistence living. There is no attempt to influence organisational goals by any donor. These continue to be determined by the Saheli collective. On our part, we make a concerted effort to keep our supporters informed of issues confroting the organisation as well as the movement.
Ideally, we need a network of at least 400 people contributing Rs 25 a month, on a regular basis. This is an objective towards which we are working. In the future, we hope to adopt strategies which enable us to raise funds on a more sustained basis and leave us free to devote energy to struggling for rights.