Grassroots activism is on the rise, from Standing Rock to the Women’s March on Washington to local organizing across the country. In the midst of all this, what better thing to do than attend a conference that is all about how to enhance civil society — the engagement of citizens in collective activity for the common good.
With this focus on growing civil society, the 2017 Symposium of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute offers panelists, speakers, and interaction aimed at understanding how women envision a better society, and then dare to take action to create that better place.
The Women’s March is a worldwide protest on January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump. People all over the world took to the streets to raise awareness about the many anti-woman actions and behaviors of the President Elect. (The event was the largest single-day protest in U.S. history.)
According to the New York Times:
Hundreds of thousands of women gathered in Washington on Saturday in a kind of counterinauguration after President Trump took office on Friday. A range of speakers and performers cutting across generational lines rallied near the Capitol before marchers made their way toward the White House.
They were joined by crowds in cities across the country: In Chicago, the size of a rally so quickly outgrew early estimates that the march that was to follow was canceled for safety. In Manhattan, Fifth Avenue became a river of pink hats, while in downtown Los Angeles, even before the gathering crowd stretched itself out to march, it was more than a quarter mile deep on several streets.
Last year when I was writing for Inside Philanthropy, David Callahan and I co-authored a list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in U.S. Philanthropy. It was a big hit. This year, I have decided to follow up and develop eight shorter lists. The lists will start with Emerging Most Powerful Women.
Why start with emerging? Using emerging women leaders as our starting point helps us get a sense of how these women are influencing some of the changing dynamics of philanthropy. Some of the emerging women are quite different from the more established women leaders in philanthropy. Many of these emerging leaders take a strong stance on the need for philanthropy to be more integrated into the economy and inclusive of marginalized groups. A heightened awareness of the need for collaboration across sectors to achieve systemic change is also a key point for many of them.
“When you think of the big gala events, you have to scratch your head and say, ‘why do people go to all that effort?’ I mean, those can be effective fundraisers, if done responsibly. But when they net very little or fail to break even, doing nothing but raising awareness, I don’t buy into that.”
These are the words of Jacqueline Caster, founder and president of the Everychild Foundation, and master of the art of creating women’s giving circles—an effective and increasingly popular way to raise money.
The Everychild Foundation model has had a significant impact, and not just locally. It has been replicated by over 15 organizations, including two in London, some in other states, and many throughout California.
I am making my plans to be at Dream, Dare, Do in Chicago, the 2017 Symposium of the Indiana University Women’s Philanthropy Institute, happening on March 14-15. Why? Because I believe it is more necessary than ever to pay attention to women’s leadership, particularly in philanthropy.
I believe women’s leadership in philanthropy is an essential key to social progress, and an important way to grow that leadership is by valuing it more and making it more visible to the public. So I will be there — raising the visibility of women like Ruth Ann Harnisch, founder of The Harnisch Foundation, Hali Lee, Founder of the Asian Women’s Giving Circle, and Marsha Morgan, Vice Chair of the Community Investment Network.
Last evening, I had the pleasure of listening to Take the Lead Women’s Happy Hour with guests Rebecca Traister and Alyson Palmer. The preeminent Gloria Feldt, founder of Take the Lead Women and longtime leader for women in reproductive rights, moderated the discussion. All three women said things that not only lifted my spirits, but gave me some new directions to consider as I continue to develop Philanthropy Women.
Rebecca Traister, author of All the Single Ladies and writer for New York Magazine and The Cut, talked about how she came to feminist journalism, starting with a job at Salon in the early 2000’s, where her editor was a woman and much of the staff was comprised of women. She started to write more from a feminist perspective at Salon, and that work gained traction online.
As the economy and job market shift further toward globalization, we see more and more corporations amping up their attention to women and girls. An important new example of this is the Vodafone Americas Foundation, which in March of 2016 announced a fourth core focus: empowering women and girls in the technology field, and helping women use technology to live healthier and more prosperous lives.
This speech by Meryl Streep is an amazing testament to the power of women’s voices to cut through all the crap and get right to the heart of things: calling out Donald Trump for emboldening a culture where disrespect invites disrespect and violence begets violence. Streep renders supreme judgement on Trump for his incredibly toxic behavior, particularly his mocking of a disabled journalist.
Streep supports several causes specific to women and girls, and a wide array of causes that intersect heavily with women, including rape and sexual abuse, slavery and human trafficking, and human rights.
Streep’s Philanthropy Focused on Women and Girls
Girl Up: As part of the the United Nations Foundation, Girl Up is one of the largest and most influential global organizations focused on girl empowerment. In collaboration with Girl Up, Streep co-narrated the film Girl Rising, which explored the experiences of girls in Haiti, Nepal, Ethiopia, India, Egypt, Peru, Cambodia, Sierra Leone, and Afghanistan on their journey to education, revealing the many barriers they face and how they overcome them. Streep also served on a panel with other luminaries at the April 2015 Women in the World Summit, helping to set the direction for Hollywood around gender equality.
National Women’s History Museum: Streep is the spokesperson for the National Women’s History Museum, and has been a significant donor there, with her gifts to the organization including the $1 million she made for her role in The Iron Lady.
The Writer’s Lab: In April 2015, Streep funded a screenwriters lab for female screenwriters over forty years old called the Writers Lab. Run by the New York Women in Film & Television and a collective called IRIS, the Writers Lab is the only known initiative in the world for female screenwriters over forty.
Other Gender Equality Activism and Philanthropy by Streep: Streep signed an open letter in 2015 created by the ONE Campaign, addressed to Angela Merkel and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, urging them to focus on women as they served as leaders of the UN summit in September of 2015. Also in 2015, Streep wrote to Congress urging them to support legislation for equal pay and sent every member of congress a copy of the book Equal Means Equal: Why the Time for the ERA is Now by Jessica Neuwirth. In March 2016, Streep also signed onto another ONE Campaign calling for gender equality on International Women’s Day.
Streep’s Own Foundation — Silver Mountain Foundation for the Arts
Streep also has her own foundation called Silver Mountain Foundation for the Arts. Started in 1983 and based in Morristown, NJ, the foundation is a joint effort of Meryl Streep and her husband Donald Gummer, a well- known sculptor.
A 2012 report by Forbes found Streep has given away millions to charity through her foundation, with support going to many organizations including Oxfam America, New York’s Meals on Wheels, the Coalition for the Homeless, and the National Women’s History Museum. The report also found that no one at Streep’s foundation is paid a salary.
Locally speaking (because I’m a Rhode Islander!), Streep has also been influential. In 2012, Streep supported Rhode Island’s Segue Institute for Learning, a charter School in Central Falls, and Upward Bound, a nonprofit which prepares low-income students for college.
One of the most fascinating trends in women’s philanthropy is the advent of women’s giving circles. In fact, I got so interested in this trend, that I decided to start one of my own. More about that later. First, let’s take a look at some of the amazing things that these groups have done over the past year in the U.S.
While the idea of giving circles as a vehicle for growing grassroots philanthropy has been around for over a decade, with the new platforms and technologies available for crowdfunding and online donating, the progress on giving circles has really sped up. Giving circles are now propagating in so many forms and varieties, that I get overwhelmed every time I google it and try to write about it. But, just to get us all started, check out the giving circle page at the Women’s Foundation of California. They have developed a number of different ways to use the model. Other signs that interest: Community foundations like The Rhode Island Foundation are offering matching funds for giving circles that meet certain criteria.
Women’s giving trends continue to evolve in fascinating ways. In 2016, we saw the power of women grow in society like never before, and their influence in philanthropy continued to increase simultaneously. Women Give 2016, the yearly research series from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, revealed how Millennial women are coming to philanthropy with a different mindset, and are influencing strategies and dollar amounts of giving in new and important ways. Additionally, the study found that women’s participation in the labor force has increased, resulting in heightened power for women in financial decision-making both independently and for their households.
Major developments for women and philanthropy continue to evolve, even as the U.S. faces its most openly misogynist President, and gender equality movements brace for the implications of this shift in power. But President Trump would be foolish to ignore or discount Generation X leaders like Melinda Gates and Millennial leaders like Priscilla Chan, and the growing influence of their philanthropy. These women, and legions of others like them on different levels in philanthropy, will be important partners in leading the country in the coming years.