In a sense, the working groups (initially five or actually four) reflected the spectrum of the leftist movement of the 1980s:
Latin America working groupemerged from solidarity with the revolution in Nicaragua and other liberation movements in Latin America.
Africa working groupevolved out of solidarity with the anti-apartheid movement and other liberation movements in Southern Africa. .
- the emergency fund, which later became the
dritte Welt – Hier! working group("the third world at home"), was created because we wanted to provide political support in Germany for those (and other) movements in the Third World (as it was called then), and to call attention to the interrelationships between prosperity here and poverty there.
- committed parents at a school in Berlin-Kreuzberg, 40% of whose students had a Turkish background, organized joint trips to Turkey because they sought to improve how Germans and Turks lived together. This group developed into the
Er-Fahren working group.
- members of businesses that were organized as collectives generated the idea of supporting and developing alternative business and production structures with funds from Umverteilen!. That was how the Employee-owned Businesses working group, was founded. However, it was dissolved after half a year. That type of fund allocation was not compatible with the legal requirements of Umverteilen!'s status as a charitable organization.
- in 1988, shortly after the Foundation was established, the
Asia working groupand the Women′s Issues working groupwere founded.
There were many political changes in the years immediately following the establishment of Umverteilen!. The dissolution of the Eastern and Western blocs, the fall of the South African apartheid system, the strengthening of neo-liberalism, the increasing marginalization of migrants and the opening of the Berlin Wall all affected the working groups, which had to rethink and reorient their missions and their work.
For several years, there were calls for the establishment of working groups on Eastern Europe and the Middle East. But in the end, it was decided to continue with six working groups. Otherwise, the amount of money available for each group would have been so small that it would no longer be worth the effort.
Projects involving several working groups
A lot of things happened in the initial years after Umverteilen! was established. For the first time, many people actively working for the Foundation had the opportunity to carry out projects they would never have been able to do without its funding. So we did not limit our work to processing grant applications submitted by others, but also developed our own initiatives. In the first five years, three major projects were launched that were financed by all the working groups, with one working group overseeing each of the projects:
- Kurdistan Press 1987-1989): a biweekly nonpartisan cultural magazine in Kurdish and Turkish, published in exile in Stockholm and supported by the Swedish Ministry of Culture ((dritte Welt – Hier! working group) ) € 150,000
- Neem tree 1987-1995): subsidizing a cooperative in Nicaragua in developing ecological pest control methods ((Latin America working group)) 585.888 €
- Meeting center planning began in 1990, in operation since 2004): Afacan, a venue for young people′s intercultural encounters in Turkey ((Er-Fahren working group)) € 1,022,000
In addition, special political events triggered the formation of ad hoc groups which were given budgets of their own. These groups were comprised of members of various working groups that provided funding quickly and unbureaucratically for certain actions compatible with the Foundation′s objectives:
- 1988 IMF ad hoc group: founded on the occasion of the International Monetary Fund′s Annual Meeting in Berlin, expenditures € 25,000
- 1991 Special Gulf War fund:: managed by the dritte Welt – Hier! working group and the Er-Fahren working group, approx. € 12,000
- 1992 bis 1996 Anti-racism ad hoc group: established in response to the firebombings in Rostock-Lichtenhagen and Mölln, expenditures totaling € 300,000
- 2003 Anti-Iraq war ad hoc group: established in response to the Iraq war in 2003, expenditures € 10,000
- 2007 G8 ad hoc group: established on the occasion of the G8 summit in Heiligendamm, expenditures € 28,000
Allocation of funds to the working groups (Steering Committee)
The working groups′ autonomy in distributing funds has always been important to us. Nonetheless, the working groups needed to be networked with one another, to exchange information, to support and criticize each other, and be subject to an outside perspective. And they were to decide jointly how the money was to be distributed to the individual working groups, and which issues should receive priority. The Steering Committee was created for this purpose, with representatives from each working group. The Board of Trustees allocates the total funds to be distributed to the Steering Committee, which in turn appropriates them to the individual working groups. Unfortunately, networking the working groups did not work quite as we had imagined – undoubtedly in part a structural problem of Umverteilen! that we did not recognize at the time. The Steering Committee did set priorities at first (major projects, ad hoc groups), but there was hardly any critical discussion of the working groups′ activities – the groups were very different from each other and were busy dealing with their own internal problems. So the available funds were almost always simply divided by the number of working groups. Since the groups did not always have the same needs, some working groups carried forward large sums from one fiscal year to the next, while other groups had greater needs. This system was changed in 2003. Since then, at the end of each year, the working groups must return monies that have not been spent or budgeted to the pool of funds to be allocated the following year.