On January 29th, 2009, a mere nine days after being sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. It was his first piece of legislation as President, and it set the stage for a presidency that has been visibly committed to equal rights for men and women.
Since that historic day over seven years ago, Obama has reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, signed into law the Affordable Care Act, created the Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault and the White House Council on Women and Girls, issued an executive order that mandated federal contractors to publish pay data according to gender and race in order to combat the wage gap, and this May, the White House will host The United State of Women, a three day summit in Washington DC that will tackle gender inequality across a range of issues, including education, health, leadership, and economic empowerment.
Like many who follow philanthropy, I pay attention to the Rockefellers. No family has done more to shape modern giving over the past century. But what are the Rockefellers doing these days to change the world?
For one thing, as most of us have heard, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund took the major step not long ago of divesting from fossil fuels—a move that received enormous attention, given that the family’s wealth is famously derived from Standard Oil. Less well known is that the Rockefeller Family Fund is also divesting.
One member of the Rockefeller clan deeply involved in these issues is Neva Rockefeller Goodwin, a fourth-generation Rockefeller who previously served as a trustee and vice chair of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. She is also President of the Mount Desert Land and Garden Preserve in Maine.
Here’s the story of how Emily Nielsen Jones and her husband, Ross Jones, discovered their niche of integrating a gender focus into their faith-inspired philanthropy. The Boston-based couple once funded Christian Union, an Ivy League campus ministry, to launch a new branch at their alma mater, Dartmouth College. They were impressed with the organization at first because of its interest in mobilizing students to engage in combating human trafficking.
But as Jones got closer to the organization and started asking gender-related questions, she uncovered that within its own organization, the Christian Union promotes what it calls a “complementarian” leadership structure, which excludes women from top leadership positions. Once the couple gained more awareness about this policy, which creates gender ceilings for both staff and students, they engaged in a dialogue to encourage Christian Union to reconsider its practices of limiting women in the organization.
“After much dialogue back and forth encouraging change, the organization remained resolved that it would continue to reserve top leadership positions for men. That seemed so contrary to the ideals of student life and equality presumed by Ivy League schools.”
On a very personal level, this gender incongruity at a new ministry at Jones’s own college struck a sensitive chord with her, at a time when she was engaging more globally and seeing how girls and women are still subjugated around the world. Jones says that “after a few years of patiently nudging and hoping for change, we decided to pull our funding.”
Jones is on a delicate mission to address these faith-based gender contradictions and work for change not only on a humanitarian level, but also on the deeper level of ideas and beliefs that continue to sanction a harmful consolidation of power in the hands of men. By having one foot in the world of gender-based philanthropy, in which best practices are still being developed and work is unfolding in new directions all the time, and one foot in the “faith pond,” as she calls it, Jones is buidling bridges to help faith-based organizations develop a stronger integration between their faith narratives and basic human rights for women.
Through the foundation that she co-founded with her husband in 2009, Imago Dei Fund (IDF), Jones is bringing heightened gender awareness to religious-based philanthropy and equipping faith-inspired nonprofits to align their own gender norms and practices with their stated humanitarian goals of freeing the world of slavery and injustice. Jones has many days when she feels frustrated. “The nexus of religion and social change can feel exasperating at times with so many regressive movements happening around the world.”
During our interview and subsequent email exchanges, Jones led me down many disturbing rabbit holes of contradictory policies and practices within organizations right in my own backyard of New England, as well as around the globe. “On the one hand, many of these organizations and ministries are trying to achieve humanitarian goals like freeing girls and women from trafficking and other forms of injustice, while they themselves are still caught in the same male-dominated social structure which lies at the root of these problems,” says Jones.
This is one reason I love writing about women leaders in philanthropy—many have a keen eye out for gender inequities embedded in a range of institutions. While I was aware of the way that fundamentalist religion subjugates women, Jones illuminated it in a new way—one that connects the problem with real steps that can transform gender norms within religious organizations and communities.
The strategy of IDF is to work from within the faith pond to shift from a male-dominated social structure to create more gender-balanced families, communities and organizations. For Jones, the desire to focus on supporting the ongoing process of “gender balancing” faith-inspired organizations grew out of seeing firsthand the “gender incongruencies” of so many evangelical development organizations doing important anti-trafficking and development work around the world, yet whose humanitarian goals were undermined by the same disempowering gender norms that are so oppressive to girls and women.
“As I started doing more engaged, hands-on philanthropy after we started the IDF, I was so excited to learn about and partner with some great Christian NGOS and organizations working to promote justice. Yet I hit this point of acute disillusionment where, in a short period of time, I uncovered so many gender inconsistencies.” Jones found these inconsistencies among many of the donors and foundations supporting these groups. Many of these organizations did not have any women on their boards, hosted all-male speaker panels, and did not invite spiritually mature adult women into the leadership.
The more Jones dug around, the more she found that many of these ministries are part of a coordinated neo-patriarchal movement led by an organization called the Gospel Coalition, which uses the antiquated word “patriarch” and authoritarian titles like ‘CEO’ and even ‘king’ and ‘priest’ to reclaim an all-male leadership norm.
“I kept saying to myself, ‘How could this be in the 21st century?’ Looking back, I can see that my own angst at the gender regressions happening in my own evangelical faith pond has propelled me to channel my voice and philanthropic platform to look for strategic and grace-filled ways to support an internal process of change in these organizations.”
In 2015, IDF made grants totaling roughly $5 million to 150 small, medium and large nonprofits, with grants varying in amount based on the capacity, size and mission alignment of the organization. Within the U.S., IDF has partnered with a number of organizations, including Christians for Biblical Equality, which works around the world to promote interpretations of the Bible that teach the fundamental equality of all genders and races. IDF has also partnered with Gordon College, and sponsored a study beginning in 2014 researching progress toward gender parity in evangelical higher education and nonprofits. This study is in its final phase and will spotlight examples of institutions that embody best practices of gender-balanced organizations.
On the global front over the past three years, IDF has prioritized funding indigenous-led efforts to engage faith leaders in transforming harmful traditional practices, beliefs and gender norms that consolidate power in the hands of men. As part of this work, Jones is co-authoring a book with Domnic Misolo, an Anglican pastor in Kenya, titled The Girl Child & Her Long Walk to Freedom: Putting Faith to Work, Through Love, To Transform Enslaving, Harmful Gender Norms At Their Root. The book-in-progress speaks to Jones’s hands-on, collaborative approach to IDF’s philanthropy, and how deeply she goes into the trenches to hear, support and amplify the voices of change agents who are enlisting faith to “co-create a more just, free, gender-balanced world”, the tagline of the IDF.
One point that Jones emphasizes about gender equity work is that even promising interventions like keeping girls in school and freeing girls from sex trafficking are not silver bullets. “Philanthropists need to invest in a deeper social transformation of the very ideas and beliefs which devalue and disempower girls and women in the first place, making them so vulnerable to human rights violations and enslavement,” says Jones.
Jones told the story of one young woman she interviewed for the book who left an indelible impression on her about the stark inequalities women still face. This woman was college educated and had been raised by her uncle in a traditional home in Tanzania, where girls get up early to do housework while their brothers sleep, and where they are expected to serve food on their knees to their brothers and father. After the young woman graduated from college, she returned to her uncle’s home and suffered an incident in which her brother beat her with a cane in public, because she didn’t make him food.
“A girl can go on to become a doctor or a lawyer, but when she sets foot in her own home, she is still expected to serve food on her knees,” said Jones of the young woman, who now has an impressive career within World Vision. “Her story embodies for me how critical it is that we work on changing the social norms about who has power.”
Jones regards Women Moving Millions and the Women’s Donor Network as a needed “social tribe” that engaged her when belonging to her “faith tribe” was feeing more tenuous. Being around all the inspiring women activists in these networks gave her more power and confidence to grow into her own mission. “They modeled for me the importance of using a gender lens, and gave me the language to bring into our philanthropy more internally and effectively.” She went on to describe how one of the founders of Women Moving Millions, Helen LaKelly Hunt, a leader in the women’s funding movement who, like Jones, also grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, was instrumental in affirming for her that funding at the intersection of faith and justice can yield powerful dividends for our world.
“Not exactly the most stellar picture of a ‘just faith,'” says Jones. “It is so discouraging that despite the lofty Biblical language of ‘letting justice roll down’ and inspiring Nelson Mandela quotes that talk about yearning for justice and not just charity, so many Christians and even Christian NGOs seem to not fully connect the humanitarian and theological dots.”
Jones has already communicated her concern to both organizations, and World Relief has “responded very receptively to the concern and reiterated its commitment to gender equality.” But Jones remains a wary and vigilant, given that World Relief partners with a range of churches all over the gender norm continuum, and still at times struggles with how to balance its own organizational commitment to justice for women in a larger faith context in which women’s leadership is called into question by partner churches. Shared Hope, which the IDF funded a few years ago to conduct a review of Massachusetts laws and policies around prostitution and sex trafficking, has yet to respond to her concern.
This is not the first time Jones has challenged the Justice Conference. At one of the early conferences, Jones discovered that World Relief’s church partner, the Antioch Church—led by Ken Wytsma, author of Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things—did not allow women to serve on its elder board. She confronted him about how contradictory this seemed with the ideals of the conference, and this has led to a friendly dialogue between Jones, World Relief, and Wytsma that Jones says “has been really constructive and has led to some positive changes in the right direction.”
Jones affirmed her support for World Relief as an example of faith-based work committed to justice and shared leadership of women and men in the Evangelical world.
Straddling the ponds of faith and women’s empowerment can be uncomfortable, but Jones has persisted and is getting traction. “It is mind-boggling to me, but somehow it is easier for people to go to the other side of the world to ‘rescue’ girls and women than it is to put a little skin in the game right in one’s own pond to gender-balance one’s own board, one’s own organization, and most importantly, one’s own beliefs about how we live together as male and female,” says Jones.
And while she acknowledges inspirational moments of transformation that can happen in faith communities, she remains a steely-eyed realist about the prickly nature of this problem. “Our world is still very much caught in a web of disempowering, subjugating gender norms laced with tradition and theology. We sometimes don’t see that the very ideas in our own brains and ministries are human rights violations waiting to happen.”
Now, Living Cities has announced a new Blended Catalyst Fund which will bring together $31 million in funding for distressed cities. This “impact investing debt fund” will address tough urban problems like affordable housing and homelessness, as well as catalyzing overall economic development and reducing poverty in the nation’s urban cores.
This is not the first time that Living Cities has led a collaborative fund to work on economic development in America’s cities. In 2008, the Catalyst Fund was launched by Living Cities using philanthropic capital alongside commercial capital from Living Cities’ members—22 foundations and financial institutions, including Annie E. Casey, Ford, MacArthur, and Surdna, working to “get results for low-income people, faster.”
But what’s really going on here? What’s the impact of women’s leadership in philanthropy in terms of (a) where resources are actually going; and (b) how things are done in the philanthrosphere?
These questions are important to the sector, but they also link up with the larger perennial debate over just how much change occurs when women start calling the shots. Philanthropy offers an intriguing case study in this regard.
Our own impression from IP’s ongoing reporting in this area is that there are good reasons for all the excitement about women’s leadership in philanthropy. In fact, this leadership has mobilized new resources to advance gender equity and does seem to be affecting how philanthropy writ large operates.
Let’s start with the new money to advance women and girls. After years of growth, women donor networks are now exploding, bringing more philanthropists to issues of gender equity and growing the ranks of women donors who are explicitly focused in this area. The rise of Women Moving Millions in recent years is a case in point; it’s now raised over $500 million for gender-related causes, with even bigger hopes for the future. At a local level, women’s giving circles and funds are soaring, addressing women’s unmet needs, such as economic security and domestic violence.
Meanwhile, there are more foundations on the scene with a strong gender focus. The biggest of these, by far, is the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, which is chaired by Warren Buffett’s daughter, and has massively ramped up in the past decade, with annual giving now on par with the Ford Foundation. Nearly all of that money funds sexual and reproductive health and rights. Buffett money also fuels the fast rise of the NoVo Foundation, which is is putting tens of millions of dollars toward gender work, with a big focus on women and girls of color—a historic flow of new money to an area long neglected by philanthropy.
Other major players, like the Clinton Foundation, are putting gender equity near the center of their work, while smaller funders like the Harnisch Foundation are tackling women’s empowerment in creative new ways. And, as we’ve reported, a number of funders—most notably the Ms. Foundation—have lately worked with the White House to bring more government resources to the table for young women of color.
At the same time, more mainstream foundations led by women are embracing the cause of gender equity. Corporate funders like the Walmart and the Caterpillar foundations—both with dynamic women leaders—are channeling new money into this field. We’ve also written about various efforts by tech and manufacturing firms to address gender equity in the STEM area. Maybe most significantly, as we reported, the Gates Foundation has focused more attention on women’s empowerment globally, a move likely catalyzed by Melinda Gates, who has lately emerged as a more vocal leader in this area.
The bottom line is that women leaders really are channeling big new money to gender equity. It’s not a mirage, and all the hype on this score is fully warranted.
What’s less clear is how much women leaders are changing how philanthropy institutions operate. Does having a Julia Stasch or a Judith Rodin at the top of a big foundation like MacArthur or Rockefeller make any difference in terms of how those places operate, or how much impact they have?
Little research has addressed this question. But what we do know is that plenty of research from other sectors suggests that women leaders do matter. For example, an article by researchers Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman in the Harvard Business Review suggests that women leaders across sectors “both public and private, government and commercial, domestic and international” are perceived as more effective. Other studies suggest that promoting women to leadership in the private sector has a number of business benefits. A landmark 2004 study, The Bottom Line: Connecting Corporate Performance and Gender Diversity, found that companies with women in higher leadership were more connected to their consumer base and experience better total financial performance. Since then, research has investigated the many critical differences resulting from women’s representation in leadership; businesses as mainstream as Ernst and Young are speeding their initiatives for gender equity.
A key finding of the research on gender and leadership is that women are often more collaborative and better at listening and engaging all stakeholders in ways that produce the best outcomes. That finding certainly tracks with what we see in the philanthrosphere, where many women leaders operate in more inclusive and community-oriented ways. It’s no surprise that women have built the most powerful donor networks in the sector, which requires a collaborative mindset—one at odds with a more insular, top-down (and, yes, male) approach to philanthropy that has resulted in some major missteps by funders.
There is much more to say on the topic of women’s leadership and philanthropy, and lots of research still to be done on its impact. One key institution deepening the conversation is the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the University of Indiana, which has produced groundbreaking studies on gender and philanthropy and has become a major node of conversation in this area. If you want to dig further into these issues, WPI’s trove of studies is a great place to start.
Meanwhile, we’ll keep doing what we can to explore one of the most exciting trends in philanthropy. In the months ahead, we will give particular attention to emerging women leaders who may be less well-known but who are making impact in different ways. Stayed tuned.
Source: Heft or Hype: How Much Do Women Leaders in Philanthropy Really Matter? by Kiersten Marek and David CallahanRead More
Coming up soon on Inside Philanthropy: interview with Emily Nielsen Jones, co-founder of the Imago Dei Fund! To get you started on understanding this amazing leader, check out this article she co-wrote with Musimbi Kanyoro about new ways funders are using a gender lens to choose where to put their money. From SSIR:
Philanthropists and for-profit investors alike today are apt to talk of using a gender lens when screening opportunities to fund social change. When my husband and I (Emily) began our foundation—the Imago Dei Fund—in 2009, I gravitated immediately to the idea of empowering women and girls. Little did we know then that it would grow into a powerful movement changing the face of philanthropy.
At the cusp of a new round of global gender goal setting, we find ourselves asking: Where is the gender-lens movement going, which now takes as conventional wisdom that gender balance is a lynchpin of global progress? The answer lies in moving beyond redress, mitigation, and even women’s empowerment programs—though these are still sorely needed—to more directly fund culturally led efforts to re-examine and transform underlying beliefs that systematically disempower females in the first place.