Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work in Cranston, Rhode Island, and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.
Jacki Zehner, chief engagement officer of Women Moving Millions, wants to see corporations—particularly financial services firms—put their money where the research is when it comes to gender equity, and more specifically, women’s empowerment, inclusion, and leadership. Why? It is not only in their best interest, but key to economic stability and growth.
Zehner is one of a new breed of philanthropic leaders who transitioned from a successful career in business, bringing that knowledge and experience with her. She knows the gap between talk and action on gender equity in corporations well. Though Zehner’s career was made in fixed-income trading, rising at Goldman Sachs to make partner in 1996, her passion was women’s issues, and that passion led her to a position in the firm’s executive office where her role was, in part, to champion diversity and inclusion.
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.
You can’t get much closer to the epicenter of creativity, social justice, and women’s empowerment than the Harnisch Foundation (theHF). Through its focus on empowering women and girls of all backgrounds, its innovative grantmaking toward women and media, and its latest Funny Girls grant initiative that teaches resilience and leadership through improv, theHF’s work spans some of the most relevant and important missions in philanthropy today.
How did Ruth Ann Harnisch rise to her current position, with an amazing career in journalism and media under her belt, as well as 17 years at the helm of a foundation carrying out many unique and creative initiatives for women and girls?
The field of gender lens investing has been on the runway and waiting for take-off for a while now, yet barriers, like the lack of corporations carrying out women-friendly policies and practices, continue to be a problem.
Meanwhile, some funders are right on top of the issue, pushing hard to understand and grow the field of investing with a gender lens. One prime example is the Wallace Global Fund, which provided a grant to the Criterion Institute in the fall of 2014 to create a report that surveyed gender-focused investing. Wallace is a longtime supporter in the arena of women’s empowerment, and also a lead player in the philanthropy divestment movement.
As part of its research on and development of gender lens investing, Criterion held “convergences” — four of them, once a year, in Simsbury, Connecticut. These meetings served as incubators for defining and consolidating the field of gender lens investing. The convergences also helped develop new language for the work, such as seeing gender lens investing as an “opportunity” rather than a “screen,” and shifting from “counting women” to “valuing gender in finance.” And while these changes may sound semantic, they represent much larger shifts to investment theory and approach, which produce significant results.
If you spend time reading about women and philanthropy, you will invariably come across Helen LaKelly Hunt. Along with her sister, Swanee Hunt, these two feminist philanthropists are major players in the women’s funding movement, which hit the big leagues in the past decade as high-net-worth women began to make gifts of over $1 million dollars to fund causes for women and girls.
While researching for her dissertation on the origins of American feminism, Hunt discovered that 19th century women didn’t fund the suffrage movement. Instead, they funded things like their husband’s alma maters, churches (where they had no voice) and the arts. Years later, when women began pledging and making million-dollar gifts to women’s funds, Hunt captured that history in a book called the Trailblazer book, which was circulated to other women donors. This compilation of women’s testimonies helped catalyze the founding of Women Moving Millions.
So this is news that everyone can use, but I particularly thought of philanthropy for women and girls and how they might cash in on the matching funds for Facebook-generated fundraisers on Tuesday. From the press release:
This Giving Tuesday, people are looking for ways to give back and do good. For that reason, we are thrilled to share Facebook’s recent announcement for new tools that will allow everybody to raise money for, or donate to their favorite charities.
Facebook expands its Fundraisers to include 750,000 US nonprofits to donate to:
Everybody can now support causes they care about this holiday season by creating a fundraiser on Facebook! Fundraisers allow supporters to set up a dedicated page to share their story, tell others about a nonprofit’s mission and rally around a fundraising goal – just in time for the season of giving! The over 750,000 US-based registered non-profits which focus on causes like animals, health, education to arts and culture make it easy to do good no matter what you support. The process is easy:
Ten years into her signature philanthropic endeavor, Lumos, author J.K. Rowling has grown increasingly vocal about her disdain for developing world orphanages that do nothing to address the underlying needs of children and families.
Readers here at The Chronicle of Social Change know about the damage that child welfare systems can do to children, but perhaps even more damaging are money-driven orphanage systems, where children can suffer extreme neglect and lifetime attachment issues. And parents, often because of poverty, are deprived of the opportunity to raise their children.
“Globally, poverty is the no. 1 reason that children are institutionalized. Well-intentioned Westerners supporting orphanages perpetuate this highly damaging system and encourage the creation of more institutions as money magnets,” tweeted Rowling in late August, when expressing her fury at a voluntourism charity that was offering young adults the “CV-distinguishing” opportunity to volunteer in an orphanage in Moldova, where they could “play and interact” with children ”in desperate need of affection.”
The murder of two women joggers in the past week has focused new attention on sexual violence against women. Over the past few years, this issue has been on the agendas of several key sectors of society—including universities, which have grappled with campus sexual assaults; professional sports, where top players have stood accused of attacks; and the military, where rape is common.
Philanthropy is another sector paying attention, with new sources of funding appearing in recent years.
Last year, we mentioned that a documentary on campus sexual assault, The Hunting Ground, had inspired a funding effort that includes resources at NEO Philanthropy, an intermediary that works with both funders and nonprofits. It’s not clear how much money that effort has raised, or what these funds have been used for. What is clear that the film brought major attention to campus sexual assault, an issue that has drawn in other funders, too—most notably the Avon Foundation, as we’ve reported.
Here’s some good news this week, in case you need a little cheering up: The Obama administration hosted the first-ever United State of Women Summit in Washington, D.C. With Michelle Obama and Oprah headlining the event, this convergence included many old and new fighters for gender equality including Darren Walker, Gloria Steinem, Matt McGorry and Amy Poehler.
President Obama and Vice President Biden also participated, with the president drawing wild cheers from the crowd as he announced in classic Obama style: “I may be a little grayer than I was eight years ago, but this is what a feminist looks like.”
Wrapping up today, the summit was convened by the White House Council on Women and Girls, and hosted in partnership with the Department of State, the Department of Labor, the Aspen Institute, and Civic Nation. Other sponsors include a long roster of businesses and foundations, such as the Ford Foundation, Goldman Sachs, Pepsico Foundation, the Tory Burch Foundation, and the AOL Charitable Foundation.
The summit included a ground-breaking announcement of $50 million in new commitments to support for women and girls. In one notable move, the Washington Area Women’s Foundation joined with seven other women’s foundations to announce the Young Women’s Initiative, which will fund efforts to improve the lives of young women across the U.S., with a particular focus on young women of color.
Joining Washington Area Women’s Foundation in making this commitment are the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, California Women’s Foundation, Dallas Women’s Foundation, the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham, Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis and the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, and the New York Women’s Foundation, which had previously launched a Young Women’s Initiative in 2015. We will have more on this effort as we talk with the women’s funds that are involved.
Other big pledges include more than $20 million in new commitments to the Obama Administration’s Let Girls Learn Initiative, which provides girls worldwide with access to education. CARE pledged $15 million to this effort, Oracle pledged $3 million, and the International Rescue Committee pledged $1 million. These new dollars will reach adolescent girls in many parts of the world, including India, Afghanistan, and Egypt, and girls in high-conflict nations in Africa and the Middle East.
There is much more to this announcement, including new efforts directed at reducing violence against women, increasing support for early childhood educators, and providing more funding for STEM efforts that target girls.
The White House also announced commitments from 28 leading companies to conduct “annual company-wide gender pay analysis across occupations.” In other words: gender equity pay audits! The companies also pledged to review their hiring and advancement practices. The full pledge and more statements from companies are here.
All this action suggests that this was one historic event for women, with more of its kind likely to occur in the coming years. To get a real taste of what the summit entailed, you can watch parts of it here.
We’ve been saying here for a while that there is a big disparity between White House engagement with My Brother’s Keeper and its work on issues of equality for women and girls. After the summit, things are looking a tad more balanced.