Kate Raworth has written a very compelling article about the need to redesign economies to address inequality. The change requires relinquishing old economic thinking, which said something like, “Inequality has to get worse before it can get better in a growing economy,” and replacing it with new thinking that builds on “a network of flows” which are distributive by design.
Instead of focusing foremost on income, 21st-century economists will seek to redistribute the sources of wealth too – especially the wealth that lies in controlling land and resources, in controlling money creation, and in owning enterprise, technology and knowledge. And instead of turning solely to the market and state for solutions, they will harness the power of the commons to make it happen. Here are some questions that 21st century economists have already taken on to help create an economy that is distributive by design:Land and resources: how can the value of Earth’s natural commonwealth be more equitably distributed: through land reform, land-value taxes, or by reclaiming land as a commons? And how could understanding our planet’s atmosphere and oceans as global commons far better distribute the global returns to their sustainable use?Money creation: why endow commercial banks with the right to create money as interest-based debt, and leave them to reap the rents that flow from it? Money could alternatively be created by the state, or indeed by communities as complementary currencies: it’s time to create a monetary ecosystem that can fulfill this distributive potential. Enterprise: what business design models – such as cooperatives and employee-owned companies – can best ensure that committed workers, not fickle shareholders, reap a far greater share of the value that they help to generate?Knowledge: how can the potential of the creative commons be unleashed internationally, through free open-source hardware and software, and the rise of creative commons licensing? Technology: who will own the robots, and why should it be that way? Given that much basic research underlying automation and digitization has been publicly funded, should a share of the rewards not return to the public purse?
Do you, like me, live in a city where girls softball teams have names like “The Dolls” and very few women make it into elected office? Then you might want to join this call being held by It’s Time Network next Tuesday, May 2nd at 3 PM EST. This will be an opportunity to learn about how to take action in your local community to protect and advance women’s rights.
It’s Time Network brought together a number of important organizations to formulate their Mayors Guide: Accelerating Gender Equality including the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women, Institute for Women’s Policy Research Center for American Women in Politics, Jobs with Justice, Forward Together, Equal Rights Advocates, Global Fund for Women, Women Donors Network, Girls Inc., MomsRising, The Grove Foundation, St. Vincent De Paul Society of San Francisco, Astrea Foundation and Women’s Earth Alliance.
The Mayors Guide is the first ever “how to” manual for mayors who want to focus on improving the status of women and girls. It spans 11 issue areas and provides general recommendations, as well as specific recommendations for each of the 11 issue areas.
One of the first steps that the Guide recommends is going to the U.S. Factfinder site of the Census Bureau and learning about your home city, so you can correctly identify the gender equality issues in your locality.
Number two on the list is to ask your city to establish a permanent commission on the status of women. Friends with legislative experience in Cranston, has this ever been done? If not, we will need to look into it.
So that’s why I’m planning to dial into the call on Tuesday. The call will also help participants to connect with people in their local area and develop networks of support to carry forward this agenda.
For some more recommendations to chew on as you consider calling in, here are the rest of the general recommendations from the Guide:
Adopt a city ordinance on The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Establish a permanent Commission (or Department) on the Status of Women in your city.
Fully fund that Commission.
Commission a Status of Women and Girls report for your city to establish a baseline from which to set measurable goals and specific actions.
Create a city task force for women, composed of private sector, nonprofit and government members to support the Commission and/or to stand in its place until one is developed.
Strengthen relationships between nonprofit organizations and government agencies and provide more opportunities to partner.
Analyze, identify and change existing policies that discriminate against women and girls.
Ensure gender equality is embedded in the culture and goals of your administration and is reflected in your messaging.
Report on gender and racial diversity for city hires to ensure gender equality at every level of staffing, including top positions.
Look at tax benefits and incentives to support and encourage the private sector.
Use traditional women’s venues (i.e. women’s colleges, community centers, etc.) for conducting outreach, advocacy and convenings.
Utilize multiple sources of funding for women’s programs and initiatives, including private funding, foundations, municipal bonds, federal tax credits, federal grants, state grants, general-purpose city funds, etc.
Engage people across political lines to build a collaborative and inclusive approach.
Engage leaders at the grassroots level to ensure broad representation and perspectives.
Create annual awards and establish annual improvement levels for those who accelerate gender equality.
Ensure women and girls have equal access to quality, affordable education.
Encourage STEM education for girls, women and mid-career women.
Betsey McKinney and the It’s Time Network are doing groundbreaking work with researching and creating this structure for bringing gender equality to cities across America. It would be amazing for our city to make these recommendations a reality.
From Emily:At Imago Dei Fund, we are honored to discover inspiring people with ideas that make cool things happen in the world. One such example is Courtenay Cabot Venton, the author of this post and an economist working in global development, who has spearheaded the development of an app being used around the world through a web of partnerships. This app helps people develop“self help groups” in impoverished places, making use of technology to empower and uplift their members. In many ways, Courtenay’s story of creating this app to empower women shows how the very nature of empowerment is changing.
I met Meseret for the first time in Nazareth, a town south of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. Meseret is a member and leader of a Self Help Group (SHG) approach that I had been asked to evaluate. We were sitting in a small room, rain falling on the tin roof, as she told me about her journey with her SHG. It is a story that will stay with me forever – and inspired me to develop tools that could help to share this approach with as many people as possible.
Self Help Groups (SHGs) are groups of 15-20 people – mostly women – who come together to save, invest in small businesses, and support each other and their communities. By saving together they are able to lend to each other for small business activities. But more importantly, by working collectively, the women feel empowered to create change in their communities. What’s more, the approach tends to go viral once seeded, with existing groups helping to set up new groups.
Determined to do something more, I pulled together a team and we collectively developed an app that would help facilitators to strengthen and spread the Self Help Group model. The app is designed for the facilitators of the groups, and digitizes the weekly content that they use to run a meeting; we could see the potential for an app to help to deepen and strengthen the spread of the approach.
At the time, I had no idea where this would lead, or if we would be successful. With seed funding from private donors, we started small and developed a prototype. That led to catalytic funding from the UK government. Three years in, we have funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a vision for a digital platform to help scale the Self Help Group approach globally.
The Inspiration: Meseret’s Story
Meseret came from a poor family, but they managed to get by. Her parents supported her and her four siblings to go to school, and Meseret had plans to go to university. That all changed when her father unexpectedly died when she was 14. Meseret had to work in the evenings after school to help support her family. Her mother wanted to marry her off to an older, wealthy man, but she resisted and married Belay, her childhood sweetheart, when she was 18.
The next year they had their first child – a daughter named Kalkidan – and moved to Nazareth to find work. They slept on the floor of a rented room. They had no money or food, and Meseret was struggling to nurse their baby. Belay would bring home the lunch that he received at work, and they would share that one meal.
Some of the local women invited Meseret to join their Self Help Group. They were meeting each week and working together to save, start small businesses, and create change in their community. Meseret was skeptical – she was very poor and didn’t see how she could change her life. Nonetheless, she began to save a small amount of money – as small as a few coffee beans a day – and quickly realized that by working together with the women in her group, she was growing in confidence.
When she applied for a local government job – and got it – her husband began to beat her. She was disrupting the traditional role for women, and he didn’t like it. He finally gave her an ultimatum – him or her work. She chose her work. She knew that she deserved to be independent, to honor the education given to her by her parents, and to provide for her children.
Her Self Help Group was her lifeline. Meseret’s savings and income grew, she was able to buy a small house, and send her daughter to school. But more importantly, the women had become her family. When I ask Meseret how long she thinks her Self Help Group will stay together, her first response is a confused expression. Then the smile creeps across her face, and she begins to laugh. “We will be together forever. We are sisters.”
Disrupting traditional approaches to aid
As an economist, I have been asked to evaluate many different types of projects – from water to health to education. And while there has been a lot of success, there has also been a lot of failure.
I have lost count of the number of times that I have been in poor communities around the world, and witnessed perfectly constructed schools, standing out amidst a horizon of mud huts, but with no teachers or teaching materials…
Hospitals with no medical supplies…
Water pumps that are no longer delivering clean water…
The Self Help Group approach instantly caught my attention. It was the first time, ever, that I sat in a village, speaking with a group of people affected by poverty, and not a single person asked me for assistance. Quite the opposite, they were talking over each other, overflowing with examples of the ways that they were creating change in their communities, bursting with ideas for how to do more.
The approach disrupts the ways that we typically provide aid to poor communities. First, it believes in the power of the poor as change agents themselves. It breaks the cycles of dependency that are so rife in many developing countries. Change is truly grassroots, led from the bottom up, as opposed to activities being driven by external agents. And it’s scalable – once seeded, Self Help Groups can become viral, with rapid replication, often growing organically as SHG members from one group seed a new group.
Self Help Groups unleash transformative change. At the heart of the model is a focus on empowerment. Women have worked collectively to stop female genital mutilation, and have run campaigns to ensure that people with HIV/Aids are taking their anti-retrovirals. They have stopped child marriages from taking place, opened preschools, and advocated with local governments. They are driving change in their communities that we could never hope to do from the outside. They are transforming poverty from the inside out.
Building an SHG Digital Platform
When I returned from that first trip to Nazareth, I knew that I wanted to do something to help to bring this approach to more people. I started by talking to as many people as I could about the Self Help Groups, and a partnership started to emerge. Tearfund, the relief and development agency that was implementing the SHG model in Ethiopia, understood how the process worked. One Hen, a US non-profit that works with youth around starting their own businesses, offered to incubate a pilot. Code Innovation, a company that develops technology solutions in developing countries, saw the potential to build an app that would help to strengthen the SHG approach.
I was incredibly lucky that the concept resonated with a couple of private donors – friends of mine who don’t even work in the international development space but could see the potential and had a heart for seeing women empowered.
And so we embarked on building our first iteration. The app focuses on content – it provides a facilitator with the materials that they might need each week as they meet with the Self Help Groups. It gives them games and resources, at their fingertips. While mobile phone use is growing rapidly in developing countries, the cost and availability of data can be a blockage, so the app works entirely offline, making it accessible even in very poor and rural locations.
The first version of the app was enough to catch the attention of the UK Department for International Development (DFID), who gave us catalytic funding to scale our pilot by 1,000%, expanding to Tanzania and adding a new implementing partner. The process is heavily driven by user feedback, and we were able to start to respond to some of the facilitators’ requests by adding in significant amounts of content and functionality.
Last year, the project secured funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. We just held a co-creation workshop in Nairobi with 18 implementing partners across Africa and as far afield as Haiti. We have over 200 groups in India who are using the app – despite the fact that we have never seeded nor sensitized any Indian partners.
The journey has been intense. I am so grateful to friends who provided the seed funding at the early stages when I was trying to develop the concept. But it was daunting to accept their funds, knowing that even the best projects can fail. I knew that the project would be far better served by bringing together a group of partner organizations who collectively delivered the expertise that would make this fly. But institutional donors were reluctant, wanting to fund a single dedicated organization – we were lucky to have partners like the Imago Dei Fund who valued our collaborative approach. And navigating the team’s different ideas and ways of working stretched our boundaries repeatedly. The team worked tirelessly, well outside the bounds of our funding, to get this project to each next step.
I am still pinching myself. It is amazing to see a concept grow into something that can help to bring the SHG approach to more and more women, and hopefully strengthen and deepen that process. Every step has felt like a leap of faith – and every step has been worth it.
From Emily: In so many ways, the creation of this app embodies the collective empowerment that so inspired Courtenay when she first heard Meseret’s story. Empowerment comes in many forms but at its core happens by creating vehicles to unleash the human spirit to change the world. You can’t empower someone else – it comes from within each of us but doesn’t happen in isolation. We find strength when we gather together to create a better world. Kudos to the whole team which came together to create this new app! If you want to find out more about Courtenay’s work or reach out to her, you can connect via her website at courtenaycabotventon.com.
It’s like the biggest play group ever, but political. On Tuesday, May 2, parents and babies from every state are converging on Capitol Hill and urging Congress to “Think Babies.”
Whenever there is a new initiative for babies, you can be sure there is a lot of woman power behind it. Man power, too, to be sure. But let’s face it: women still change more diapers, read more stories, and attend to more preschool dramas than men.
There is no doubt that women and entire communities benefit when babies are well taken care of. So this should be an important march, with a powerful feminist message: babies matter. Think Babies.
From ZERO TO THREE, the organizing leading families in advocating for policies that support the littlest humans:
This Strolling Thunder event, organized by ZERO TO THREE, aims to increase legislators’ recognition about:
1. The importance of brain development in the first few years of life;
2. How a child learns and grows;
3. How investments in babies and toddlers are critical to our nation’s future; and
4. Why Congress must Think Babies when it acts on legislation.
“The greatest opportunity to influence a child’s life happens between the ages of 0 to 3, when brains grow faster than at any other point later in life,” said Matthew Melmed, executive director of ZERO TO THREE, a national nonprofit organization that works to ensure that all babies and toddlers have a strong start in life. “When families have the support they need to nourish the critical first few months and years of development with quality interactions and connections, we can stave off challenges down the road,” he added.
Parents will deliver that message directly when they stroll around the Capitol and visit with their Senators and Representatives. The goal of the meetings is to emphasize why making young children’s potential a national priority benefits the country, and impacts everything from economic development to military readiness.
Investments in programs and policies that support early brain development yield significant return on investment in the long run. Research shows that quality early childhood programs that begin at birth can deliver a 13 percent per year return on investment through more years of education, more employment, and better adult health.
But families without the social and economic resources to provide their babies and toddlers with positive, nurturing experiences are at a disadvantage. Nearly half of America’s babies live in or near poverty, which can undermine brain development. Giving all babies a strong start in life increases graduation rates, improves the quality of the workforce, improves health, and reduces crime.
To create that strong start, ZERO TO THREE is calling on Congress to focus on three key areas:
***Support paid family leave policies and options, so all parents have the time to build strong early relationships with their children without sacrificing their financial stability.
***Increase access to quality, affordable child care for all working families that provides babies and toddlers with close relationships with caring adults and strong early learning experiences.
***Build up mental health supports in primary pediatric care and early childhood programs to effectively support child development from day one.
The mothers, fathers, and caregivers taking part in Strolling Thunder represent a wide swath of Americans. They come from some of the country’s biggest cities and small rural towns. Their broad racial, ethnic, and economic diversity illustrates the widespread public demand for further federal support in early childhood programs.
“To help all children grow up as healthy as possible, we must give families and babies the support they need from the start,” said Kristin Schubert, managing director at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which is supporting the Think Babies campaign. “Healthy physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development throughout childhood is a fundamental part of building a national Culture of Health.”
Following Strolling Thunder, ZERO TO THREE will continue to educate the public and policymakers on the need for federal improvements in a wide range of supportive policies, including by mobilizing advocates across the nation.
Great private wealth is nothing new, but reading David Callahan’s The Givers will convince you that there is a different game at play today, with staggering fortunes and unprecedented elite hubris. Some fortunes are so big, and growing so fast, that even a dedicated philanthropist can’t give the money away fast enough. To cite just one example, Michael Bloomberg was worth around $5 billion when he became mayor of New York in 2002; he’s now worth more than $45 billion. With this figure in mind, the over one billion dollars he has given Johns Hopkins University to date doesn’t seem so big. Still, it’s an astonishing sum for most of us to contemplate. And that’s not all. Bloomberg has also given hundreds of millions to reduce smoking and traffic deaths globally, and combat climate change.
Bloomberg is one of many of the ultra-comfortable profiled by Callahan who have signed the “Giving Pledge,” which is championed by Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates, and according to its web site is an effort to address society’s most pressing problems by inviting the world’s wealth holders “to commit to giving more than half of their wealth to philanthropy or charitable causes either during their lifetime or in their will.” This is a global effort, and even within the U.S., philanthropy is now more geographically diverse than it once was. The old-line family foundations were primarily located in a handful of cities in the Northeast and Midwest. Now, massive philanthropic fortunes on the West Coast, and in the Mountain West, Texas and the South are in play.
Callahan also highlights the growing role women are playing in philanthropy. In high octane couples like Bill and Melinda Gates and Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, the women are often taking the lead in foundation building and directing giving. We are no longer in the era where the lady of the house would host a white glove luncheon at whose conclusion she would hand over a check to her hubby’s alma matter. Callahan devotes relatively little space to the role of women in philanthropy, but they do figure prominently in the “Networkers” chapter. The Women Moving Millions network has sought to increase giving to promote gender equity by providing a platform and forum for female donors. This idea of tapping into female wealth and expertise—having women fund women—is particularly important, for as Callahan notes, while some prominent family foundations are controlled by women, often they are not funding female-centered causes.
Callahan is focused on a new breed of philanthropist in The Givers. They are wealthier than their predecessors, and willing to spend their money now, while they are still alive. They often have a technocratic bent, and a sense of “hyper agency,” the belief that they can change things for the better. Callahan remains ambivalent about these mega wealthy givers: he is thankful that they wish to use their great riches to improve society, but worries about what it means for the great mass of Americans who do not have such wealth, and whose inability to affect change makes them feel increasingly marginalized.
The Givers is convincing in its argument that Gates, Buffett et al. are a different kind of philanthropist than existed in previous generations. These people are also rich characters, in both senses of the word. Chuck Feeney may be the best example of the “giving while living” philosophy: he gave away roughly six billion dollars and closed his charity in 2016 because it was out of money, just as he had planned decades ago. Now in his mid-80s, he lives like a retired DMV employee, not a tycoon who amassed a fortune in the duty-free shopping business.
For those working in the philanthropy sector, The Givers (Alfred A. Knopf, $28.95) provides plenty to chew on, although Callahan is not addressing the field as a whole; his focus is on super wealthy activist donors. Much of the giving by family and corporate foundations, and wealthy (but not crazy rich) individuals remains far more modest in scale. Such organizations do not suffer from having so much money that they can’t dole it out fast enough (a real problem at the top of philanthropy pyramid) nor need they be overly worried about the implications for democracy of their $250,000 grant to support a women’s shelter, or protect a modest chunk of wetlands.
One of the reasons mega donors hold such sway is not just their great wealth, it’s also because government is increasingly limited. The combination of interest payments on debt, pension obligations, and Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid spending is giving all levels of government less and less wiggle room. None of these outlays are going away, and will if anything increase substantially. This means that even if there was the will for activist government, there probably wouldn’t be the funds anyway, at least not the way American government is currently run. Into this breach step the new philanthropists, who can provide a jolt of cash, energy and new ideas to fix everything from schools and cultural institutions to parks and dirty air.
Today’s mega-philanthropists don’t fear failure. Callahan quotes Eli Broad who says, “Neither Bill Gates nor I have to worry about getting fired. We take big risks in pursuit of big rewards.” If an urban school district is in trouble, the thinking is it’s better to go big (like Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift to Newark’s schools) and try to turn it around within a few years, than to spend decades nibbling around the edges with incremental gifts.
People who have made their money as tech “disrupters” tend to bring that upset-the-applecart philosophy to the philanthropy world, and Callahan notes the daring approach to giving championed by new billionaires like Napster co-creator Sean Parker. Parker has backed innovative and unproven initiatives in cancer research that government entities like the National Cancer Institute deem too risky. This approach may be in the DNA of tech titans who made their fortunes not by slow empire-building, but by risk taking, innovation and trying to do what others are not.
One of Callahan’s knocks against philanthropy is that there can be a large measure of self-dealing involved, with a hazy boundary between philanthropic and other work. Callahan acknowledges this tendency, but that is not the thrust of his book. The biggest risk, he writes, is “not that the mega-givers will make mistakes or feather their own nests. Rather, it’s that their rising power will push ordinary Americans to the margins of civic life in an unequal era when so many people already feel shoved aside by elites.”
Callahan keeps coming back to that central question: is it a good thing that a super elite is using their great wealth to put their own stamp on society? One would say yes, better to try to improve the world than buying another island, castle or airplane. On the other hand, that kind of gross private consumption is just that, private. Callahan’s concern is the way in which great wealth allows an unelected elite to have great influence on the public sphere. The super wealthy choose what areas to bestow with their largesse, and then lay out a plan according to what they think best. If that means $100 million for charter schools, then so be it. Is that the best way of increasing student performance in a poor urban school district? Well, the person with the $100 million thinks so. This could be an area where the rising power of women donors may be salutary. If women philanthropists seek greater cooperation with their grantees than do their male peers, the impact of top-down solutions that disempower local communities may be blunted. Callahan cites the example of Boston’s Karen Pittelman, whose foundation to help low-income women in that city followed the lead of the beneficiaries of the grants, rather than the other way around.
Callahan is not overly worried that the givers are too conservative or too liberal, although he does note that the new rich often tend to be fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Issues like the Iran nuclear deal and the Affordable Care Act had well-heeled backers both for and against, liberal and conservative. The philanthropic world, Callahan notes, is pluralistic: if Bloomberg and Soros tilt left, and the Walton and Koch foundations to the right, perhaps it all comes out in the wash.
Perhaps, but the more ideologically driven the giving (as opposed to say funding research into curing a specific disease) the scarier the implications. Callahan cites Tim Gill, an early software billionaire, who has given $300 million to further the battle for LGBQ rights, including marriage equality. Gay marriage went from being a fringe issue in the early 00s to being adopted as the law of the land in 2015. Yes, certain states passed laws against it, and there were referendum failures, but in a short period of time same-sex marriage became a reality, something that even some of its backers had doubted would happen so quickly. I had assumed that LGBT activism, combined with a generational shift in attitudes, had produced this result. No doubt this was true, but it turns out that the substantial funds that Gill and several other very wealthy LGBT donors injected was essential in changing public opinion, and winning several key state battles. In this case, I say great, progress has been made, and good on Gill and likeminded donors for changing the lives of millions of people for the better. But of course, if someone can work to fund ideas that I like, they can also fund ideas that I don’t like, and that is certainly happening. As Callahan notes, “There’s something heroic about wealthy crusaders who aim to spend down their fortunes to improve society—that is assuming you like what they’re doing. If you don’t, that sense of urgency can be unnerving.”
Wealthy conservative donors are more active in seeking to change public opinion, and hence public policy, than are liberals. They do so through PACs, but also through think tanks like the Peterson Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the darling of brainier conservatives, the American Enterprise Institute. The idea is that conservative values can bubble up through these entities and ripple through the media, academia and government, and promote conservative values and policies. What that means in practice is that grass roots heartland conservatism is often being stoked by behind the scenes billionaires with a different worldview, and net worth, than prevails among the 99.9 percent.
It’s not within the purview of Callahan’s book to analyze a system that makes it possible for a couple (Zuckerberg and Chan) to be so rich that they can pledge $45 billion in stock to improve the world, although he does touch on it. As Callahan notes, that sum is greater than the combined wealth of the bottom fifth of the United States’ 125 million households. No knock on the ultimate power couple, who are obviously smart and seemingly well-intentioned, but it does give one pause.
Callahan portrays a world in which we need the resources of an ever richer top-end to prop up the sliding fortunes of the country’s lower income tier. Fortunes made on Wall Street are particularly troubling: the amount of U.S. income derived from the financial sector has dramatically increased in recent decades at the same time as the wealth gap has widened. A favorable tax and regulatory climate has enabled a small number to enrich themselves incredibly, perhaps creating, or least not ameliorating, some of the conditions the billionaires now try to address through their giving.
Naturally, it is easier to identify a problem—the pitfalls of having an activist donor class with billions to spend—than to solve it, although Callahan does offer some suggestions in the book’s final chapters. Accountability and transparency are key, and he advocates casting more light on who is funding what, and how foundations spend their money. Callahan also suggests reining in deductions for giving that is political or ideological in nature, basically tightening up the IRS 501(c)(3) rules so that they are interpreted more narrowly. He also recommends that more resources be devoted to scrutinizing the tax-exempt status of groups that claim such a designation, since the IRS is understaffed and seemingly undermotivated in this area.
At heart is a serious and perhaps unanswerable question: is the public sufficiently benefitting from the work of philanthropic entities to make up for the large amount of revenue lost through their tax-exempt status? Naturally, this is a red-hot potato in the philanthropy world, and most would prefer not to have the conversation at all. Callahan is sympathetic to the idea that greater government oversight of philanthropic foundations, and restrictions on giving for policy and advocacy, could have a number of negative effects, but he suggests the current rules were formulated in a different time and place, and need updating.
Ultimately, Callahan argues that philanthropists themselves must become more mindful: they need to be more rigorous in evaluating their effectiveness, and engage more deeply with grantees, as well as with the broader community in which the giving occurs. Much of this is already happening, although Callahan notes that it is often the older foundations rather than the new mega-donors who are soliciting input from the grassroots. Other ways to democratize the process, and improve outcomes, include having boards include members of the grantee community being served, as well as a greater number of women and minority group members.
Callahan concludes that while big philanthropy is a net good, it will continue to butt up against egalitarian values; even if there are reforms, the few will still have oversized power relative to the many. Ultimately, to lessen the influence of the very rich, government will need to be better funded and change its priorities (getting a handle on healthcare costs and defense spending to free money up for areas would be a start). Given the current political climate, such changes seems improbable, and maybe the best to be hoped for is more rigorous self-analysis by philanthropic foundations: Better heal thyself, charity barons, because there is no doctor in Washington who going to put you on a regimen toward greater accountability, transparency and engagement with the communities you serve.
The Givers is a thought provoking book and is a must for anyone working in philanthropy, regardless of the size of the enterprise. Even if many in the philanthropy space are already highly cognizant of the dilemmas that Callahan lays out, and are heeding his prescriptions, The Givers still offers plenty to think about, as well as fascinating tidbits like Barry Diller’s $130 million pledge to renovate New York’s Pier 54 into a park and performance spaces—Diller Island—over which he and wife Diane Furstenberg would exert control.
A subject for a future book might be U.S. philanthropy in an international context. The U.S. has a long philanthropic tradition and a higher rate of charitable giving than prevails in many countries. One reason is that Americans are more religious than citizens of other wealthy nations and give to their churches. Another is probably the combination of incredible wealth among the top one percent of Americans, and the relatively low level of services that the U.S. provides its citizens. Germans are more highly taxed than Americans, and the public sphere in Germany is thus better endowed. As such, there is no doubt less need for U.S.-style philanthropy, and the very rich have less to give because of the big tax bite. But what do the super philanthropists of Germany, Canada, the U.K., Japan and Australia look like? Surely there must be some. Are there similar concerns there about the power these givers wield, or is the U.S. phenomenon unique? I suspect it is, although it would still be interesting to learn what France’s Liliane Bettencourt and family (worth over $42 billion according to Forbes) are up to charity-wise.
University of San Diego’s Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice just announced a call for application to its Women PeaceMakers fellowship program. The 10-month fellowship will bring on four women peacebuilders to work in high conflict areas internationally, engaging with four international peace partners on the goal of reducing violence in the community. Each fellow will also be followed by a Peace Researcher who will “document her peacebuilding journey, and specifically, how she engages the security sector.”
Each year, an urgent peacebuilding issue is identified and participants are selected based on their work in that area. During the 2017-18 academic year, the program will focus on Women PeaceMakers working with the local security sector (police, military and other state security forces) to advance peacebuilding, human security, and women’s rights in pre-, during or post-conflict settings. The guiding question that the fellows will work on is:How can Women PeaceMakers and international partners build more effective local/global collaborations in their peacebuilding efforts to engage the security sector?Examples of civilian-led engagement with the security sector to ensure legal mechanisms are upheld and human rights are protected include the following:● Efforts to enhance accountability (e.g. civilian-led reporting mechanisms and efforts to combat impunity);● Facilitation of security sector reform (e.g. civilian-supported disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration campaigns of certain military, police or militias);● Building community-security partnerships● The work of former female combatants to reintegrate and rehabilitate fellow fighters
There are several components to this fellowship, which is free for participants. More information on the fellowship and the history of the Women PeaceMakers program is here.
Given that Walmart is the largest employer in America, second only to the government, the fact that they are taking an active stance in addressing women’s empowerment is particularly important.
We want to make sure Walmart’s grantmaking gets talked about here on Philanthropy Women because they are such a large and influential company, not just in America, but globally. Because of their size, their ability to influence both the economy and the culture is great, and will likely have a growing impact on issues related to women as time goes on.
Before we get into the specifics of grants that Walmart is making for women, it’s important to acknowledge that Walmart has recently made a number of broader investments that impact women positively. In April of 2016, Walmart raised its minimum wage to $9, and then bumped it up another dollar in February of 2017 to $10. This is a huge step in the right direction that impacts millions of women’s lives, and the lives of their families.
Another important step Walmart has taken that impacts women positively is its $100 million investment over five years for career-building initiative aimed at entry-level workers. This funding is super important to women, who generally comprise a majority of low-wage, unskilled, and uneducated workers. This $100 million is aimed at four frontiers: mapping career paths in retail; pre-employment training; training and credentialing to move from entry-level to middle-skill jobs; and zeroing in on specific cities that need more retail workers to move into middle-skill jobs.
One of the seven organizations to receive funding from this $100 million initiative in its first year was Dress for Success, which received $2.58 million in 2016 to work with women in 30 different states, providing pre-employment training. Another key Walmart goal for this $100 million is to ensure that at least 25 percent of spots in their career development programs go to women. The full list of recipients is here.
In 2011, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation announced a set of goals to help transform the lives of women and their families called Walmart’s Global Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) Initiative. WEE aimed to increase the use of women-owned businesses by Walmart, and to empower 1 million women through training, diversity, and inclusion in the supply chain.
Fast forward to 2016: Walmart Continues its Support for Women’s Funds
A review of Walmart’s 2016 990 turned up these grants nationally:
Large National Grantmaking for Women’s Empowerment (over $100,000)
New York Women’s Foundation: $1,010,440.00
Washington Area Women’s Foundation: $1,100,878.00
Women’s Foundation of Greater Memphis: $850,000
California Women’s Foundation: $600,000
Women’s Foundation of Minnesota: $900,000
Women’s Foundation of Mississippi: $650,000
Women’s Funding Network: $275,000
On the global level, Walmart’s 2016 990 reported these large grants related to women’s empowerment globally:
Large Global Grants for Women’s Empowerment
Global Women’s Economic Empowerment Factory Training at Swasti in Bangalore, India: $1,121,233.00 (this grant was distributed on 1/24/2014)
Workability Improvement Program for Unemployment Women in Beijing, China: $1,499,192.00 (this grant was distributed on 11/10/15)
Walmart also made a significant number of grants at the $25,000 to $100,000 level across the United States. It supported groups including Fresh Start Women’s Foundation in Phoenix Arizona, reporting a $60,000 grant in 2016 to that group. Walmart also reports supporting Latin Women in Action out of Chicago with a $40,000 grant, and a group called New Economics for Women in Los Angeles received a $50,000 grant. They also made dozens of $1,000 to $10,000 grants to the Northwest Arkansas Women’s Shelter.
(Caveat: This list of Walmart’s grants related to women’s empowerment is by no means exhaustive or comprehensive. I have likely missed some big women’s organizations who may not be as easy to find by searching the 990.)
During the 2014 fiscal year, charitable giving increased significantly for Walmart and its foundation. Combined, the two gave more than $1.3 billion in cash and in-kind contributions, including all of their efforts to fight hunger, empower women, and advance sustainability practices. The increase marked a new high for Walmart’s giving, surpassing the previous year’s total by more than $244 million. Global in-kind donations accounted for $1 billion of that total giving number, while $316.3 million was reportedly given in cash globally.
Let’s put that number in context — how much did Walmart make in net sales in 2016? $478.1 billion, a little less than it made in 2015. They gave in charity $1.4 billion, but they brought in about 400 times that amount in sales.
So that’s one point. They could give more than $1.4 billion out of $478.1 billion. They could, but they choose not to. That’s capitalism for you.
Another point is that Walmart’s giving seems to be leveling off as its net sales level off. Within the context of their overall giving leveling off, though, Walmart is still making strong investments in women’s funds and women’s empowerment organizations, as evidenced by the list of grants above.
It’s true: America’s biggest employer, Walmart, appears to have a growing interest in women’s equality. Just imagine if Walmart committed further to the cause. What if they gave grants to every women’s fund in the country? What if they invested more deeply in enacting a global agenda for women’s empowerment? What could this picture look like?
Since Walmart employs 1.5 million people in the U.S. and 2.3 million people globally, any move that they make in the women’s funding arena is likely to have big impacts. Let’s hope they start funding more women’s funds in America, and take things further with their global funding for women.
Is Walmart destined to help us turn the tide on gender issues? It’s possible, although unless they pick up the pace and start funding more women’s fund as well as other big initiatives for women worldwide, their impact on gender equality will be limited.
Rajasvini “Vini” Bhansali spoke to me by phone from Mumbai, India, where she was working and visiting family, the trip to her homeland compelled by a family illness.
“We attract donors and ambassadors that are thinking about local and global connections,” says Bhansali, Executive Director of IDEX (soon to be renamed Thousand Currents). Bhansali notes that 60 percent of IDEX’s budget comes from family foundations, 20 percent from individual donors, and 20 percent from earned income. Last year, IDEX recorded a 45 percent increase in new individual donors, and as it morphs into Thousand Currents, the organization has added staff positions, including a grants coordinator, a community engagement manager, and directors of “donor organizing” and “diaspora partnerships.”
Bhansali stresses the importance of IDEX’s mission to fund the underfunded — to grow those innovative grassroots groups that need more support.
Based in Berkeley, California, IDEX’s mission is to support women, youth and indigenous people in the Global South. The main focus of this support is directed at developing sustainable agriculture, building income, and addressing climate change. Essential to these goals is fostering women’s capacities to serve as leaders and agents of change.
IDEX (International Development Exchange) was started in the mid-1980s by returning Peace Corps members. The IDEX name came out of a desire to stress “exchange” as central to the organization’s mission – the idea that development should be collaborative and cooperative, rather than top-down and dictated from afar.
At the time of IDEX’s founding, the notion of an exchange between the rich and poor countries was “revolutionary,” says Bhansali; now, it’s gaining momentum and becoming increasingly mainstream. Regardless, a constant reciprocity of ideas and values with local partners still animates IDEX.
Bhansali describes the decision to change the name from IDEX to Thousand Currents as pragmatic: to avoid confusion with other IDEXs, which include an engineering and manufacturing company, an international diamond exchange, and a weapons conference. In fact, if you google IDEX, the International Development Exchange comes up fourth, so it makes good sense to choose a name that more closely matches the mission. Thousand Currents feels like a better fit for an organization that has funded more than 500 community-led initiatives in Asia, Latin America and Africa.
Born in India, Bhansali lived in various parts of the country before coming to the United States as a scholarship student at the University of California, Berkeley. “I didn’t have a game plan,” admits Bhansali about leaving India at age eighteen for the U.S. While she considered pursuing a scientific career, she had always been interested in the intersection of civil society and development, and upon completing her degree, returned to India and worked in Rajasthan, a state in northwest India bordering Pakistan. Bhansali knows this area well, and it is a particularly difficult one for females, with few educational and economic opportunities, and high rates of female infanticide and domestic violence.
Bhansali returned to the U.S., this time to Texas where she worked for the City of Austin and the State of Texas, and earned a Master’s degree in Public Affairs, focusing on technology and telecommunications.
Bhansali’s next significant move was transformational: a two-year posting to Kenya serving as a management capacity builder with youth polytechnics. This work on behalf of the international anti-poverty organization Voluntary Service Overseas proved pivotal in solidifying her commitment to social change, self-sufficiency, and economic development among the world’s poorest communities, with a particular focus on women’s role in that struggle.
After her Kenyan appointment ended, Bhansali returned to the Bay Area, and in 2010 assumed the helm of IDEX (after having been the program director for a year). In addition to changing its name, over the last several years, IDEX has engaged in a process of reinvention. Part of this grew out of a post-recession downturn—which, Bhansali notes, affected many U.S. social justice and solidarity organizations—but much of it was about better defining IDEX’s relationship to its global partners.
Typically, a non-profit will itself try to measure whether it is meeting its program objectives and goals, or have a third party conduct such an audit. But IDEX took a different approach. “We had our grantee partners evaluate our effectiveness as an organization,” says Bhansali.
One message that emerged was that partner organizations wanted IDEX to become a more visible and vocal advocate for local influence and control over development initiatives. Alliance-building on the regional and national level is key in this regard. In short, the message from the field was that sharing and communication are important; not just around specific projects, but also to encourage an egalitarian development culture.
IDEX supports locally-rooted groups, movements, and collectives which lack funds. According to Bhansali, too often Western non-profits “are looking for the brand-new thing, instead of seeing what is there already.” New is sexy and commands headlines, but IDEX’s mission is to further develop the capabilities of women and other vulnerable populations by supporting under-recognized organizations employing grassroots-level solutions.
For this reason, IDEX doesn’t fund one-time projects, but establishes ongoing relationships lasting three or more years. One of their senior partners is Chiapas-based DESMI (Social and Economic Development for Indigenous Mexicans, an organization that IDEX has worked with since the early 90s. Another is GRAVIS, which has collaborated with IDEX since 1999 in helping Thar Desert peoples in Rajasthan, India generate their own social, economic and political opportunities.
The empowerment of Rajasthani girls and women is essential to fulfilling this mission, and it includes education and vocational training, as well as developing female leadership. Hands-on projects include drought preparedness for 20 villages, namely the construction of underground water tanks to improve water availability. Women and girls benefit greatly from this effort, as it is typically their job to carry water, often from long distances, to fulfill basic household functions. Other IDEX-sponsored initiatives in Rajasthan include seed banks, and projects to improve food security.
IDEX attempts to put the marginalized and excluded at the heart of development and social change efforts. Its initiatives include cultivating women and girls as leaders and change agents, and strengthening climate resilience, sustainable agriculture, and locally generated economic growth.
Naturally, small groups in poor, underserved and often remote areas don’t have websites, billboards and marketing campaigns alerting potential donors of their existence. “We have regional program directors who keep their ears close to the ground,” says Bhansali. Moreover, IDEX also gets “leads” from already existing partners to help in connecting with needy groups who are typically unknown outside of their immediate communities. “We are often their first international grant maker,” says Bhansali of such budding local organizations.
IDEX is part of a movement seeking to change Western attitudes and approaches toward giving and development in poor countries. The IDEX Academy, a week-long spring gathering at a Sonoma, California ranch, is part of this attitude-adjustment initiative. IDEX’s “Theory of Change” which rests on “Community Self-Determination,” “Organizational Resilience,” “Global Solidarity” and “Social Justice Giving” forms the curriculum of the academy. In addition to the retreat staples of learning, discussion and team-building, the varied attendees and faculty engage in art, performance, physical movement and nature activities. It’s all aimed at furthering a culture of collaboration in aid of global grassroots development and sustainability efforts.
Bhansali, who is also a board member at Greenpeace USA and the Agroecology Fund, and a member of the Advisory Circle on behalf of New York’s Women’s Building, says she feels a continual push and pull regarding her native India. This tension is perhaps not such a bad thing; after all, it is a continual dialogue, a back-and-forth with a spirit of collaboration that fuels IDEX’s (soon to be Thousand Currents!) ongoing identity development as an organization, as well as its ripple effects for communities in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
There is nothing quite like women’s networks to help make rapid-response grants. In an environment where women’s rights are being threatened by atrocious plans such as the Trump administration’s proposed ending of the Violence Against Women Act, we need more women’s networks to come forward like the Women Donors Network and push for increased funding to fight back.
Now, the Emergent Fund, of which the Women Donors Network is a founding member, has announced its next wave of rapid-response grants to community-based organizations resisting the Trump Administration’s regressive policies. This brings the total of grants already issued by the Emergent Fund to $500,000.
As we wrote in January, the Emergent Fund was formed by the Women Donors Network and Solidaire, in order to raise funds for grassroots organization to resist discriminatory policies being proposed and enacted by the Trump administration.
I interviewed Donna Hall about the Women Donors Network (WDN) this past year and was astounded by all this network of women funders has done, and is continuing to do. WDN is particularly nimble and responsive to community concerns and emergencies, so it is great that they are forging the path on new funding to defend vulnerable people in the coming years. The Emergent Fund’s momentum appears to be very strong early on, which is a good indicator of likely ongoing solid growth.
“Everything is on the line — the lives and safety of millions of black and brown Americans, and even our Democracy itself,” said Jenifer Fernandez Ancona, Vice President for Strategy & Member Engagement at WDN.
As one of the member networks of the Emergent Fund, WDN is helping support the Emergent Fund’s ability to combat issues like deportation and Islamophobia. “These local fights are critical to building national progressive power needed for bigger wins,” added Ancona.
The Emergent Fund is now a partnership between Solidaire Network, Women Donors Network, and Threshold Foundation. Governed by an Advisory Council made up of leaders who represent communities most affected by the new administration, the Emergent Fund is making sure resources and advocacy remain available for marginalized groups.
The grantees for this $500,000 in funding are:
Council on American-Islamic Relations, California Chapter (CAIR-CA) - $30,000
For Arab, Middle Eastern Muslim, and South Asian communities, the dangers they feared during Trump's campaign have become a nightmarish reality. In the 10 days after the election, nearly a third of the nation's Islamophobic hate crimes occurred in California. When the travel ban was announced, CAIR-CA was on the forefront of organizing protests at airports all across the country. CAIR-CA will use their Emergent Fund grant to support their immediate civil rights defense work, including legal services, know your rights trainings, and ongoing organizing.
NYC #FreedomCities Campaign - $25,000
#FreedomCities is a campaign developed by frontline leaders from the New York Worker Center Federation. New York City workers—immigrants and citizens alike—realize that Trump's attacks on immigrants are only part of a larger oppressive agenda that targets Muslims, African Americans, and other communities of color. #FreedomCities takes a comprehensive approach and calls for safety beyond policing. The Emergent Fund is proud to be #FreedomCities' first funder.
Brown Boi Project - $20,000
The Brown Boi Project is committed to changing the way that communities of color talk about gender. Brown Boi wants to ensure the growth of and robust commitment to gender justice during this time of crisis. Brown Boi will use their Emergent Fund Grant to host a four-day, rapid-response training to prepare leaders to resist the current attack on rights, integrate gender justice into direct action, and ensure that women and trans/gender non-conforming people of color are in leadership across our movements.
Southeast Asian Freedom Network (SEAFN) - $15,000
In the past few weeks, Southeast Asian refugee communities have suffered an onslaught of ICE raids that are tearing families apart. SEAFN organizers are currently coordinating with families and organizers on the ground almost every day, but there are too many communities strapped for resources. Southeast Asian Freedom Network will use their Emergent Fund grant to hire a coordinator to provide support to Cambodian communities facing deportations and to provide resources for local Cambodian community leaders who are actively fighting to free their people from unjust immigration detention systems.
#LeadWithLove - $10,000
#LeadWithLove began as a pledge by more than 100 movement leaders who have committed to accelerating the transition from a world of domination and extraction to one of regeneration and interdependence. #LeadWithLove calls movements to take bold action grounded in fierce love. #LeadWithLove will use their Emergent Fund grant to host a convening this year that will bring together leaders from across the climate, food, education, racial, gender, and reproductive justice movements. To learn more about the project, visit leadwithlove.vision.
JOLT - $10,000
Jolt is a Texas-based, multi-issue organization that builds the political power and influence of Latinos in our democracy. It has become a political home base for many immigrant youth, and their programs range from Latina leadership development to civic engagement and grassroots organizing. Jolt will use their Emergent Fund grant to continue their base-building work and support organizing in Latino communities in Texas.
Movement for Justice in El Barrio - $10,000
Movement for Justice in El Barrio was founded when Latina immigrant mothers joined together to address negligence and harassment from their landlord. Over the last 12 years, these women have organized around housing issues and developed a strong cohort of immigrant women leaders. Since the election, they have seen an increase in harassment and hate crimes against immigrants. And they are fighting back. Movement for Justice in El Barrio will use their Emergent Fund grant to host a series of bilingual encuentros, or workshops, to educate East Harlem's immigrant residents about their rights and how to protect themselves from ICE raids.
Blackout for Human Rights #MLKNOW 2017 Short Film Series - $3,100
Blackout for Human Rights is a collective of artists, filmmakers, musicians, and activists who leverage cultural activism in support of human rights. Blackout has held several high-profile events in the last year, including a #JusticeforFlint concert and #BlackoutBlackFriday. Blackout is creating a series of short advocacy films incorporating content from their recent #MLKNOW 2017 event held at the historic Riverside Church in Harlem. Blackout for Human Rights will use their Emergent Fund grant to produce and distribute their films on social media.
SpiritHouse Inc/The Harm Free Zone - $25,000
SpiritHouse Inc, a Durham, North Carolina based cultural arts and organizing organization, has worked with low-wealth families and community members to uncover and uproot the systemic barriers that prevent us from gaining the resources, leverage and capacity for long-term self-sufficiency. Spirit House will use their Emergent Fund Grant to support their Harm Free Zone, rooted in the belief that oppressed people can create accountable, self-directing communities by: healing from systemic racism, eliminating reliance on law enforcement, holding policy makers accountable.
Campaign for Southern Equality | Rapid Response Initiative - $10,000
The Campaign for Southern Equality advocates across the South for LGBT rights in all areas of life. Through our Rapid Response Initiative, CSE is working on the frontlines of the LGBTQ South, led by and for LGBTQ Southerners. Nimble and bold, we work for full equality - both legal and lived - from Mississippi to the Carolinas.
Melenie Eleneke Grassroots Re-entry Program of the Transgender Gender-Variant Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP) - $20,000
TGIJP is a trans-led, Black-led organization which centers the leadership of currently and formerly incarcerated transgender women of color. Both inside and outside of prisons--TGIJOP works to create a united family in the struggle for survival and freedom.
18MillionRising - $25,000
18MillionRising uses tech and pop-culture organizing to boost Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as a social justice force, nationwide. Leading Asian American civil rights organization — 18MR will use their Emergent Fund grant to continue their work on responding to hate crimes and developing tech for movement activists.
All of Us Initiative @ Organization United for Respect (OUR) - $30,000
OUR’s All of Us initiative will build multiracial communities of support and resistance among people working at Walmart. OUR’s All of Us project will deepen our multi-racial working class base in key areas of the country by connecting to people based on a shared set of values and class experiences and building unity around a vision of economic security. By developing cross racial relationships and exposing how White House policies that target people of color, immigrants and the safety net go against OUR shared visions and values, we will broaden the base of people working at Walmart who are committed to fight back around these policies.