The First Responders: Women in Mexico Turn Disaster into Opportunity

The First Responders: Women in Mexico Turn Disaster into Opportunity

No one was prepared when earthquakes rocked Mexico in September 2017. But grassroots women leaders knew what to do. They responded swiftly—focusing on the needs of the hardest-hit and most isolated rural communities.

Our partner Semillas—Mexico’s first and only women’s fund—transformed the shock of the earthquake into an opportunity to strengthen community resilience and attract new funding to women’s rights groups. Semillas quickly realized their unique position to respond to the earthquake given their connections to grassroots women’s groups deeply rooted in the affected communities. They also recognized the need to develop a long-term reconstruction strategy—unlike traditional aid efforts focused only on short-term solutions.

But Semillas needed support to realize their vision. When the earthquake hit, Semillas had limited resources available, as the funds in their existing rapid response program were already allocated. They also needed help to get the message out loud and clear to the donor community in Mexico: that women are at the heart of crisis response—and investing in Semillas was the best way forward to rebuild Mexico.

Semillas turned to Global Fund for Women, and we immediately provided them a three-year grant. They used the first year’s $20,000 to develop a comprehensive fundraising strategy and campaign—enabling Semillas to raise $950,000 from both local philanthropists in Mexico and international foundations. In the first three months alone, Semillas raised more than half of the funds. With these resources, Semillas created a new initiative designed to support grassroots groups stepping up to fill in the gaps left by relief efforts—both immediate and in the long-term.

Laura García, the Executive Director of Semillas, says, “It’s not about the funding itself. It was the timing and the general support that allowed us to reach a much wider audience of new donors—donors who we didn’t think were ever going to support us.” Global Fund for Women’s flexible support and trust provided Semillas with the fuel needed to shake up traditional approaches to crisis response. Because of Semillas’ influence, for the first time, people in Mexico appreciated the importance of women’s leadership in responding to natural disasters, and stepped up to fund their critical work.

Our partnership with Semillas illustrates an important lesson: the whole can be more than the sum of its parts. Together, Semillas and Global Fund for Women exponentially expanded support to the marginalized communities affected by the disaster by ensuring that locally-led women’s organizations in those communities had resources for recovery and rebuilding.

Grantmaking Snapshot

Global Fund for Women provided $139,000 to 5 grantees in response to the Mexico earthquake crisis. We employed a two-pronged approach providing a 3-year $60,000 grant to Semillas; and a total of $79,000 to 4 grantees. Our grantee partners met the overlooked needs of women and girls in the most remote areas of Mexico—such as in Chiapas and Oaxaca—ensuring funds were not only focused in Mexico City which absorbed most of the relief aid. :

  • Ciarena provided immediate relief to women who lost their homes in Juchitan de Zapoteca—particularly for the elderly and single mothers.
  • Comité de Mujeres worked with indigenous communities around the Isthmus of San Mateo del Mar to rebuild community brick ovens that are used for local food production as well as a source of needed income
  • Consorcio Oaxaca supported women in Oaxaca City who were psychologically affected by the earthquake with healing and self-care sessions.