Martha A. Taylor: On Accelerating Social Change for Women

Martha A. Taylor, longtime women’s philanthropy expert and Vice President of the University of Wisconsin Foundation, shares insights about how to accelerate social change for women.

“Major societal change happens through major institutions,” says Martha A. Taylor, women’s philanthropy pioneer and Vice President of the University of Wisconsin Foundation. Taylor doesn’t discount the energy that comes from the streets, and in January she attended the Women’s March with her then 94-year-old mother, who carried a sign invoking both FDR and Obama. Still, Taylor says that for women to effect change, they need to occupy leadership positions in major institutions.

That maxim applies to the corporate, political and non-profit spheres. “When you sit in a board room where hundreds of millions of dollars are raised, that gives you real power and ability to impact society,” says Taylor, who notes that prior to the women’s movement, women’s leverage was applied from outside the power structure. “Now women can exert our leadership from within as well,” she says, “Where real change takes place.”

Taylor started working at the University of Wisconsin Foundation (UWF) in 1975, after completing a BA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree focusing on philanthropy and higher education at West Virginia University. In 1988, she co-founded the UWF’s Women’s Philanthropy Council (WPC), the first co-ed university major gifts organization of women philanthropists. The impetus for its founding was simple. Traditionally, monied male graduates had comprised 95 percent of the prospects for fund-raising, and women were an afterthought. Taylor realized that half the team was sitting on the sidelines, and with the WPC she made a concerted effort to attract female donors of means.

One of Taylor’s pre-internet strategies for getting the word out on women’s philanthropy was to pick up the phone. “We would just call reporters at various papers and let them know what we were doing,” says Taylor. One of those calls resulted in a 1991 New York Times Magazine article by Anne Mathews entitled “Alma Maters Court Their Daughters.” The piece quoted Taylor extensively, and focused on the wellspring of untapped money and expertise residing in college alumnae.

The NYT Magazine article noted that women didn’t give as much as men because fundraisers didn’t think they had much potential and so didn’t cultivate them; predictably, this lack of attention yielded a low level of female support. Beyond that, other reasons women didn’t give at the same levels as men included fear for their own financial security should they give too much money away, and the age-old practice of deferring to a husband or other family member regarding financial matters, including charitable giving. Some successful women were also suspicious and resentful of their alma maters, perceiving the upper reaches of higher education to be old boys’ clubs that excluded women and didn’t deserve their support.

Higher education has changed dramatically since the early 90s, and women are starting to attain more positions in leadership. Taylor celebrates that the top three administrators at UW-Madison are women, and that the leadership of the University’s current capital campaign is half female. Women also currently occupy the top administrative post at the flagships of the Universities of Wisconsin, Illinois and North Carolina; the multi-campus University of California and State University of New York systems; and the universities of Virginia, Connecticut, Kansas and Washington, as well as Harvard, Penn, Emory, Case-Western, and Brown.

Women approach giving differently than men says Taylor, noting that today women often give to higher education because of its potential for personal and social transformation. They engage differently than men, and desire small group participation versus one-on-one visits by development officers. They are not nostalgic for the good old days; rather, they want to foster opportunities for the next generation.

Not all women donors focus on female-centered causes, and Taylor says that in the focus groups she organized decades ago, women resented being pigeon-holed as interested in “women’s issues.” However, when asked what they were most passionate about, women often cited education, health care, and opportunities for women and underserved communities. For this reason, Taylor is less concerned than some about a schism between the women’s fund movement (donating to causes that benefit women and girls) and women’s philanthropy (women as donors to all causes). Taylor is not one to leave money on the table for the sake of movement purity.

In the wake of that early 1990s NYT Magazine article, Taylor received a slew of calls from non-profits, prospective donors, and boards from around the country. The problem was what to do with all of the information, and interest. Months passed, and Taylor says, “I had 100 people who I’d told I’d get back to, but never did.” It was out of this energy and pent-up demand around the issue of women’s giving that the National Network of Women as Philanthropists (NNWP) was born. It started with a newsletter written in collaboration with Sondra Shaw-Hardy, Taylor’s long-time friend and collaborator on all things philanthropic. That first publication was mailed to 225 people. The nascent organization was loaned an office by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Human Ecology, and had six founding members, each of whom developed a focus. Taylor’s primary interests were higher-ed and donor education, and Shaw-Hardy’s giving circles.

The NNWP became the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, and incorporated as a non-profit in 1997. In 2004, it joined the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. That alliance has given the WPI more resources, and a greater focus on research and education. Taylor is delighted with the evolution of the WPI, but says, “When Sondra and I founded it in 1991 we had to be more advocacy driven.” She notes that with its focus on media and advocacy Philanthropy Women is occupying a similar space as did WPI in its early years.

There had been women philanthropists for generations, but as far as conceptualizing the field, and seeing female donors as an entity distinct from men worthy of study and cultivation, Taylor and Shaw-Hardy were on the ground floor. To date, they have collaborated on several books on the topic, including the 1995 title Reinventing Fundraising: Realizing the Potential of Women’s Philanthropy, which defined the field. Taylor gladly shares the credit with her friend Shaw-Hardy, “I don’t think either one of us would have accomplished what we have if we had been working alone,” she says, adding, “It was so fun.”

Taylor has seen many changes over the last 40 years in women’s philanthropy. For starters, women are giving much more than previously. This is because they have physical and psychological control of more money than was the case years ago, and are increasingly the primary decision makers concerning philanthropy in the family. Moreover, today’s donors want to be partners in giving says Taylor, not simply check writers whose money is spent by others. Philanthropy is seen as a way for people to act on their values and pursue their passions. Rather than presenting donors with a laundry list of institutional needs, “We ask, what issues do you care about?” says Taylor. She has found that in the higher-ed arena, female donors are particularly interested in “programs and people,” with funding scholarships and professorships high on the agenda.

Taylor says that this less paternalistic approach to philanthropy has made women more generous, and powerful, than past generations. Taylor does sound a warning note, however, suggesting that while it is essential to see donors as collaborators rather than warm-blooded cash machines, one shouldn’t forget philanthropy’s reason for being: improving lives. She notes that donors can be lured into “feel-good giving” instead of “giving with an impact,” that can change lives. In order for the latter to happen, savvy donors need to financially support nonprofit and higher education organizational infrastructures and capacities. That’s why Taylor believes donor education is so important. Ultimately, all donors want their gifts to be used effectively.

A little ego is not a bad thing when you’re getting things done, and Taylor encourages women to use their names in their giving, rather than remaining anonymous. While every woman doesn’t need her name on the side of building, having women identified as major donors (whether alone or as part of a couple) provides a powerful example, and encourages others to realize their philanthropic potential. This is particularly important when courting very high net-worth individuals who are often surrounded by people of similar means. Visibility helps women donors understand and value their philanthropy and take full ownership of it. “You have to create the interest and passion around philanthropy,” says Taylor. “It needs to be just as exciting as buying a new house.”

Taylor, who lives in Madison with her husband, has two grown sons and three grandchildren. This year will be one of change, as she will be retiring from her position at the University of Wisconsin Foundation in July and moving over to the University itself where, not surprisingly, she will be teaching, researching and working in the women’s philanthropy field. Freed from actively soliciting funds herself, “I am going to drill down on donor education,” she says. Taylor says that her new role will included “teaching the culture of generosity,” as well as “leveraging women’s voices.” While Taylor has been focused on women’s philanthropy in higher education over the last several decades, ultimately she says she is asking “What is women’s role in our democracy? And how do we realize that through philanthropy?”


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Ripple Effect: Longtime Expert to Cultivate Giving Circles Worldwide

Sondra Shaw Hardy is one of the founding thinkers behind the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University. Author of six books on philanthropy. Shaw Hardy is now launching a new organization focused on accelerating giving circles internationally.

“I remember standing up at a conference 16 or 17 years ago and saying that my dream is that there will be a women’s giving circle in every city in America,” says Sondra Shaw Hardy. “I feel that my goal now is to take giving circles worldwide.” To that end, Shaw Hardy is starting a new organization called Women’s Giving Circles International, which will make expanding the giving circle model globally its primary goal.

Shaw Hardy has been called the “mother of giving circles,” and she will talk about the concept at the North American Community Foundations summit in Mexico City in early February. Shaw Hardy’s panel talk, “Meaningfully Engaging a New Realm of Donors for Local Action,” dovetails perfectly with the summit’s focus on locally generated, sustainable, equitable development.

This is not Shaw Hardy’s first professional visit to Mexico; in September 2017 she and long-time colleague Martha Taylor were invited to Monterrey to discuss female-centered charitable giving. While many of the women Shaw Hardy spoke to had considerable means, few had previously considered the concept of philanthropy by women, for women. They quickly embraced the idea, forming the Damos Juntas Giving Circle, and are taking “Círculos de Ayuda” beyond Monterrey (the country’s third largest metro area) to Mexico as a whole.

Shaw Hardy’s experience in Mexico confirms her previous impression that pooled direct-giving by donors is a compelling concept the world over. In June 2017, Shaw Hardy was invited by the German ambassador to the UK to speak at Germany’s embassy in London. The topic was women and politics in the United States, but Shaw Hardy also mentioned women and philanthropy, and found that her remarks on giving circles galvanized a cosmopolitan audience mostly composed of diplomats’ wives.

Shaw Hardy has been working in the women’s philanthropy field for 30 years, with a focus on giving circles for the last two decades. Her interest in giving circles was sparked when she picked up a People magazine (on a plane, she is quick to point out) and chanced on an article about Colleen Willoughby, the Seattle philanthropist. Willoughby was a founder of the Washington Women’s Foundation, and a pioneer in the field of “collective giving grantmaking,” a close cousin to giving circles. Willoughby had started a circle with two other women, and Shaw Hardy realized the power of women working together to fund change in their community.

Originally from Flint, Michigan, Shaw Hardy has lived in Traverse City—three hours northwest of Lansing on Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay—for decades. When we spoke by phone, she was in South Carolina, unsuccessfully trying to fend off the cold as the South had been recently blanketed by snow and ice. She lives most of the year in Traverse City with her husband, and has three children and eight grandchildren.

In the late 90s, Shaw Hardy was president of the Women’s Resource Center in Traverse City, and organized a giving circle, which grew to 65 members in four years. That circle’s goals were aligned with those of the Resource Center, and Shaw Hardy notes that giving circles typically fund applicants that focus on life’s essentials, including alleviating poverty, increasing women’s economic capabilities, and providing greater access to healthcare. “There is hardly any women’s giving circle that doesn’t have something to do with human services,” she says.

Shaw Hardy notes that she has helped set up over 30 circles, and while groups across the country are diverse, there are certain commonalities and guideposts in their founding: Circles need to be composed of people who enjoy each other’s company, members should have similar interests and goals, and five to seven people is a good number for launching a circle. Finally, members need to participate in the grant-making process so that all are active decision-makers. Established giving circles typically average 150 members, and some have as many as several hundred.

The movement was formalized and given a boost in 2001 when Wendy Steele established Impact 100 in Cincinnati. The model of a pass-through foundation that relies on its members to make grants to local organizations in culture, education, environment, family and health soon spread to other cities throughout the country. According to Impact 100, its affiliated organizations had given away more than $45 million by the close of 2016.

The advantage of giving circles is that they leverage modest individual donations into a critical mass. “By pooling their monies,” says Shaw Hardy, “women are seeing the impact they can have versus giving small amounts.” Shaw Hardy suggests that this collective giving is literally empowering women, giving them an input and influence far greater than if members had donated the same amount as individuals.

Circles are also essential in putting women into decision-making positions. “Giving circles have emboldened women to become members of nonprofit boards,” says Shaw Hardy. Previously, women were often reluctant to serve on boards, says Shaw Hardy, but now they have greater knowledge and confidence. The result is more women heading organizations, and women becoming increasingly comfortable leading campaigns to raise money for causes important to them.

This larger grant-making influence has an important consequence: “Women have become more political as a result of their involvement,” says Shaw Hardy. “In addition to belonging to a giving circle and contributing money, they are also giving money to political candidates who favor their issues, and even running for office themselves.” Shaw Hardy says that along with promoting self-esteem in girls and increasing opportunities for low-income women and girls, “getting more women to run for office” is a personal priority for her. She has her own experience to draw on, and says, “I didn’t know I was a feminist until I found myself serving on a County Board of Commissioners with 14 men.”

Shaw Hardy says the significant growth in women’s philanthropy is partly due to women’s more prominent role in the work place. “Women have careers, they have more than just jobs. They earn more money than before.” Shaw Hardy believes that by increasing their giving and being involved in grant-making, women have achieved greater financial agency and power.

“Women are now talking about money, a subject that was once considered inappropriate for them to discuss,” says Shaw Hardy. “And that, combined with control of their money, whether earned, inherited or married, has resulted in women’s participation on organization finance committees.” The result, she says, is that women no longer fear balance sheets or financial plans, and their greater financial acumen has “changed the face of philanthropy, and the way couples give.”

Shaw Hardy has been on the ground floor of many organizations, and says she is happy to get something going, and then move on. Most recently, Shaw Hardy helped launch Woman2Woman TC (the TC is for Traverse City). It formed in 2016 in support of Hillary Clinton—and drew a crowd of 400 at its first meeting—and has since continued to support progressive female candidates, including Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow. The group, which counts over 2,500 members on Facebook, also encourages local women to run for office.

Shaw Hardy’s position as the doyenne of giving circles, and supporter of progressive female-centered causes, has an unusual origin: initially, she started out at as a Republican Party fundraiser. She obtained the position after graduating from Michigan State University in Lansing. Shaw Hardy subsequently earned a law degree, and then went to D.C. to become a Republican lobbyist, a position at which she says she did not distinguish herself. Part of the problem was motivation. “Let’s just say that I did not share the philosophy of the Reagan administration on abortion rights, or on U.S. involvement in Latin America.”

Shaw Hardy broke with the GOP and moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where she started fundraising for non-profits and working with Martha Taylor of the University of Wisconsin Foundation. In 1991, Taylor and Shaw Hardy founded the forerunner to the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, which became part of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University (IU) in 2004. Shaw Hardy has served as an adjunct professor in philanthropy at IU, and in the 1990s was head of development at her alma mater, Western Michigan University. Regardless of her position, she has maintained a focus on women donors, and has written six books on the topic, many of them collaborations with Taylor, including the 2010 volume Women and Philanthropy: Boldly Shaping a Better World.

Now Shaw Hardy is embarking on another journey in shaping a better world by launching Women’s Giving Circles International. The organization’s website is under construction, and plans are afoot to make more ripple effects in the giving circle movement, this time worldwide.


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Relationship-Building for Progressive Power: A Conversation with Leah Hunt-Hendrix

Leah Hunt-Hendrix, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Solidaire.

“How do you get movements to scale, while at the same time keeping them based on relationships?” asks Leah Hunt-Hendrix, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Solidaire. It’s a question central to many progressive movements that want to help communities grow from within.

Solidaire formed in 2013, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street Movement, the Arab Spring, and anti-austerity protests in Europe. These disparate movements did not seek narrow policy change; instead, they sought to question—and remake—their societies, disrupting systemic inequality and injustice.

Like these movements, Solidaire seeks to support non-traditional social transformation, says Hunt-Hendrix. By empowering grassroots organizations like Black Lives Matter and their allies, it directs funding at the crosshairs of political struggle and progressive change.

And how is Solidaire growing its impact? By growing its own relationships, of course.

“Often, people find us through other members,” says Hunt-Hendrix of Solidaire’s more than 150 participant donors.  Hunt-Hendrix spoke to me by telephone from her apartment in San Francisco, her Maltipoo, Malcolm, occasionally punctuating the conversation with a bark.

Members of Solidaire contribute $5,000 yearly to the organization’s operating budget, and another $10,000 to a pooled fund for grantmaking (“Movement R&D”). Members can also fund particular groups, and support “Rapid Response for Movement Moments.” Solidaire is thus able to respond immediately to particular needs, yet at the same time build a movement infrastructure for the long term.

Solidaire’s five-person all-female staff is based in New York and the Bay Area, and recently closed the application process for its most recent round of Movement R&D grantmaking. In keeping with Solidaire’s philosophy of bottom-to-top activism, “Previous grantees work with members to help make decisions about the next cycle of funding,” says Hunt-Hendrix.

Support from Solidaire can be used for staging protests and events, convening conferences, hiring staff, trainings, and even installations. “We don’t want to constrain the recipient organization by insisting the money goes in a certain way,” says Hunt-Hendrix, who notes that traditional philanthropy has tended to be paternalistic, and reinforce rather than disrupt hierarchies.

Solidaire is particularly interested in supporting movements working for racial and economic justice, but feminist, ecological, immigrant, and other progressive movements are well represented. Grantees have included Black Momentum, Reclaim Chicago, Honor the Earth (Native American environmental issues), Jolt (Texas Latinos), and the Emergent Strategy Ideation Institute. The latter is a Detroit-based organization led by adrienne maree brown (no caps intentional) that fosters, “adaptation, interdependence, creating more possibilities, collaborative ideation, fractal thinking, transformative justice and resilience through decentralization.” In other words, not business as usual.

“One of my favorites,” says Hunt-Hendrix of grantee organizations, “is The Debt Collective, which is a union of debtors that collectively bargains with creditors.” As The Debt Collective website notes, “If you owe the bank $50k, the bank owns you. But if you owe the bank $100 million, you own the bank.”

But back to the question of how to fund grassroots movements through growing a community internally.  Hunt-Hendrix’s background may be of some help here. Her mother is feminist icon Helen LaKelly Hunt, and her father relationship guru Harville Hendrix, author of numerous self-help books in the field. They are a true “power couple” in building what they term a “Relationship Revolution … in which the primary value is relationship and universal equality is a reality.”

“They were very much an influence,” says Hunt-Hendrix; still, she says she is surprised at how much her current work mirrors that of her mother. Hunt-Hendrix says that in addition to a passion for gender equity, her mother recognizes, “the role of money in movement building.” In other words, people of means using their wealth to counteract pernicious systems of economic inequality, sexism, and racism.

Hunt-Hendrix is a descendant of Texas oil barons (the Hunt Family), and grew up in New York. She attended Duke as an undergraduate, and went on to earn a Ph.D. in religion, ethics and politics from Princeton. Her thesis was on the concept of solidarity and its role in European social movements. Hunt-Hendrix did not aspire to a position in academia, and says her doctorate was part intellectual exercise, part trade-school. “I really wanted to have a better understanding of how social movements work,” she says. “It helped me understand a theory of change, and how we form a collective identity and create a ‘we.’”

An additional influence on Hunt-Hendrix was the time she spent in Egypt, Syria and Palestine in 2007-2009. Hunt-Hendrix left for the Middle East after her first year at Princeton, and spent her time abroad learning Arabic, and studying and working with NGOs and direct-action movements. She concluded that traditional NGOs were not effective in disrupting power structures, and that social change had to come from collective action on the part of the disenfranchised.

Of course, Hunt-Hendrix could have gotten this education in any number of places, but says she had just started college at Duke when 9/11 happened, and, “It felt like we were suddenly at war with the Middle East.” She knew the situation was more complicated than that, and wanted to spend time in the Arabic world to better understand the region and its people. The struggles of Egyptian peasants and occupied Palestinians that she observed have turned out to be highly relevant to resistance efforts in the U.S.

“Protests and demonstrations are a form of narrative,” says Hunt-Hendrix. “People are putting their bodies in the street to bring attention to an issue. They are using direct action to make a point.” Solidaire supports such actions, says Hunt-Hendrix, because, “Nobody wants to fund them.” Challenges to the prevailing order, particularly by marginalized communities using unconventional tactics, make people uncomfortable. Moreover, traditional donors often don’t see the connection between such movements and policy change.

“It should be seen as a process,” says Hunt-Hendrix, “The first step is starting a conversation.” This is followed by strategizing and organizing, and then changes in laws and practices. Finally, there is holding office-holders accountable. “Sometimes that effort takes you back to the initial conversation,” she says.

Generating ideas, getting grassroots buy-in, and galvanizing people to think about social change is essential, says Hunt-Hendrix. “People who want change often start with policy, without having brought in the voices of the community.”

Ultimately, Solidaire suggests that the process of reversing inequalities and promoting social justice is not just about legislative and administrative nuts and bolts, but also the relationships that people have with one another, and the economic, political and cultural structures within which those relationships occur.


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Clinton’s What Happened: A Frank Post-Mortem on the 2016 Election

The title What Happened can be taken two ways: “This is how it went down,” and, “How did this unexpected, horrendous, and still mystifying result obtain? WTF Happened?” Clinton covers both, and is finally able to mention, now that the election is done, the role gender played.

In addition to the female factor, here is the short list of reasons Clinton enumerates that caused her defeat: race, the pseudo scandal of her emails, voter rage and desire for change, the media, fake news, the Russians, Comey, and Bernie. Plus, it is rare for a party which has held the presidency for two consecutive terms to win a third. Moreover, as Clinton points out several times, she won the popular vote—as did Al Gore in 2000—suggesting that the electoral college is a poor mechanism for expressing the national political will. To the above autopsy, add Republican voter suppression and gerrymandering.

I don’t think these are “excuses” as some critics claim, but rather explanations, many of which are mutually reinforcing, and all of which have been advanced by other observers as well. Moreover, because the election was so close, almost any one of them could have been that decisive factor tipping the balance. Naturally, we don’t have to accept all of what Clinton writes as truth, but I find it dispiriting that without having read the book (of course), some bright-lights are shouting, “What happened is that you lost, now shut-up!” But Clinton has good reason to speak:

The lessons we draw from 2016 could help determine whether we can heal our democracy and protect it in the future, and whether we as citizens can begin to bridge our divides. I want my grandchildren and all future generations to know what really happened. We have a responsibility to history—and to a concerned world—to set the record straight.

One area Clinton won’t go is the actual workings of her campaign, and how ultimately it failed to put her in the White House. If you are reading What Happened to find out who dropped the ball in Michigan or Wisconsin, prepare to be disappointed. Understandably, she doesn’t want to torch her team, who surely must be smarting almost as much as she is in the wake of the defeat. And, it’s poor form for the general to blame the soldiers. Instead, Clinton name-checks dozens of the people who worked on the campaign—as well as her hairdressers in Chappaqua and Manhattan—and notes how brilliant, amazing, fun-loving, kind-hearted and hard-working they all were.

There are also tidbits that “humanize” Clinton, and we learn that Hillary is an aficionado of Goldfish crackers, the Chicago Cubs, Downton Abbey, NPR, Dove ice cream bars, Broadway musicals, and Elena Ferrante novels. Plus, she owns two dogs, is a devoted grandmother, and cared for her mother in her final years at home, a luxury she is quick to admit most people can’t afford.

Clinton’s political and personal loyalty is displayed throughout What Happened (if you had never before heard of Bill Clinton, you’d conclude from this account that he couldn’t be more of a mensch and devoted, supportive spouse). Another Clinton quality is resilience. It is amazing that less than a year after the election she has produced a tome of this size (464 pages) and quality. (It’s not all gold, and she is not a lyrical or clever prose stylist, still, there is more good stuff here than is found in many books by politicians). So, points to Hillary for not retreating into a years-long Netflix, Doritos and vodka binge, as would be her perfect right.

Hillary’s ability to bounce back is nothing new: after Bill’s scandals in the 90s, and the contempt that she too was held in during that period, she was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2000, ran for the Democratic leadership in 2008, served as Secretary of State under Obama, and then again stood for the presidency in 2016. It doesn’t appear that she intends to leave public life any time soon, and is clearly a workhorse. She seems barely to have paused in the nearly half century since she served as class speaker at her 1969 Wellesley College graduation.

But back to What Happened. One thing that happened is covered in the chapter, “Those Damn Emails.” Here Clinton points out that she was not alone in using a private email account for government business. Hard not to sympathize with her on this point. The email drama was a partisan exercise by the Republicans who, having failed to “get” Clinton with Bengazi, found another cudgel with which to beat her. If the Republicans started this grotesque snowball rolling, it was, in Mrs. Clinton’s telling, the media and James Comey who made sure that it wouldn’t melt but rather grew to become a weaponized ice pellet capable of taking out a political eye.

The scandal had two dimensions – one was that the ever-secretive Clinton was trying to keep her dirty dealings off the books, the other that even if there was no actual malfeasance on her part, she recklessly endangered national security by potentially exposing classified documents. In the summer of 2016, long after the brouhaha over her private server had started, hacked DNC emails were published by WikiLeaks, and again the words “Clinton” and “emails” were in the news, even though the hack and the private email account were unrelated. Clinton admits that using her own account for government business was a mistake, still no evidence of wrongdoing or security breaches have ever been produced. That the Republicans would try to exploit this non-scandal is no surprise, but what really frosts Clinton is that The New York Times (and other media outlets) devoted an inordinate amount of space to the matter, week after week, month after month.

For months after the election, I tried to put it all out of my mind. It would do me no good to brood over my mistake. And it wasn’t healthy or productive to dwell on the ways I felt I’d been shivved by then-FBI Director Jim Comey—three times over the final five months of the campaign.

As angry as Clinton is with The New York Times (and NBC’s Matt Lauer), she is even more furious with FBI Director James Comey, who had stated on July 5, 2016 that that he was closing his investigation, but also noted on July 7 that while Clinton’s conduct wasn’t criminal, she was careless and had potentially jeopardized national security. Clinton argues that by publicizing the investigation Comey was interfering in the election. And, she asks rhetorically, if Comey was so committed to openness, then why did he not reveal that the Trump administration was being investigated for its Russia ties?

Even worse, on October 28, less than two weeks before the election, Comey announced that he was reopening the investigation. Why? Well, Clinton’s right-hand, Huma Abedin, had made an unfortunate marital choice—disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner—and the FBI was investigating him, and so was examining laptops belonging to Weiner and Huma, which contained emails with Hillary. There was no indication that the emails that Comey was looking into were new or were problematic, and Comey said as much, but the fact that emails were again in play was highly damaging.

One need not assume bad faith or partisanship on Comey’s part to recognize that his handling of the email episode was poor. One explanation, which Clinton lightly touches on, is that it was generally assumed that Clinton would win, and if it was revealed post-election that she had been under investigation, particularly if something did come of the new emails, then it would be demanded of Comey why he had kept quiet, since he had previously announced the closing of the investigation.

The word “emails,” Clinton notes, was the most talked about element of the campaign. It is both specific and vague, fueling the notion that something was out there, something was being concealed, even if one couldn’t specify what that was. Trump’s scandals—sexual assault, fraud, voluminous conflicts of interest, serial bankruptcies, unseemly relations with foreign powers, not disclosing tax returns—and his crude insults of women, Mexicans, African Americans, Muslims, veterans and the disabled—not to mention key people in his own party and random public figures—were, of course, much worse, but the email non-scandal had remarkable staying power and potency. Of course, not all of the attacks on Clinton were nothing-burgers served up as main courses, there was some tainted beef amongst the garnishes. From Clinton:

I spoke to audiences from a wide range of fields: travel agents and auto dealers, doctors and tech entrepreneurs, grocers and summer camp counselors. I also spoke to bankers.

Here Clinton seems willfully obtuse in her account of taking money from investment banks for speeches. She says it was wrong, but puts it down to “bad optics.” She reasons that in her three private talks to Goldman Sachs, for which she received $225,000 each (she never mentions the audience or amounts involved, but is highly attentive to detail elsewhere) she spun yarns about her time as Secretary of State and didn’t tell her listeners anything of consequence. She argues that she often sides against Wall Street interests, and would never tarnish her record by changing a vote because of a speaking fee. If we are talking about a quid pro quo, I tend to believe her, but she fails to acknowledge the root issue. Why is Goldman Sachs paying her such handsome fees? Because they are nice guys and can’t think of anything else to do with their loot? No, it is a way to retain access and cordial relations with a person whom they assume will become the next president. Easy to see how this money helps Clinton and her campaign, but hard to understand how it aids those outside the upper-most income brackets. Of course, Wall Street coziness is in no way limited to Clinton, and the Trump administration is nakedly corrupt in ways that are almost without precedent. Still, when Clinton claims that Bernie snuck in and sucked up the space that she was occupying as a feisty progressive, I have to say no, that door was opened very wide for him.

Clinton notes that she and Bernie wrote the Democratic convention platform together, and that he endorsed her and campaigned for her, but there is lingering bitterness toward this unlikely challenger. Her chief complaint is that Sanders was continually upstaging her with lofty, lefty promises that he would never be able to fulfill, making her look like a scold and a wet blanket. She’s correct, but since she was the establishment candidate and had no serious opponent from that quarter after Biden decided not to run, the only place opposition was going to come was from the left. Hillary says the primary battle damaged her, but that is part of the American system, and there was no point in Bernie competing against her if he was not going to distinguish himself in a substantial way. Hillary also complains that the “Bernie Bros” harassed her supporters online (not clear how widespread this was), but omits mention of the “Sanders Sisters,” young women who were fervent Bernie backers, but never really warmed to Hillary.

Clinton dispatches in a line or two the pre-convention resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz as DNC Chair. This came in the wake of the WikiLeaks dump revealing that the DNC was not a neutral arbiter, and wanted Clinton over Sanders. Naturally, the Berners were not happy. I was not surprised; after all, Sanders was a Johnny-come-lately to the leadership game and was essentially trying to blow up the party. Clinton dismisses the matter as sour grapes on the part of Sanders’ supporters. But if the shoe were on the other foot, and she was the challenger and it emerged that the party leadership was putting its finger on the scale, I doubt that she would be so cavalier.

Clinton is also ticked at Green Party leader Jill Stein, and notes that the Green vote totals in key swing states were more than the difference between hers and Trump’s. The implication being that had Stein dropped out and told her people to vote Democrat, we wouldn’t have Trump. This kind of math is always dangerous; Clinton could ask why millions of voters stayed home, rather than why a few percent chose to vote for a female candidate other than her. Is it possible there were valid reasons for voting for Stein (war, environment, income inequality) other than foolishness, hubris, or spite? Clinton writes:

In 2016 our democracy was assaulted by a foreign adversary determined to mislead our people, enflame our divisions, and throw an election to its preferred candidate. That attack succeeded because our immune system had been slowly eroded over years. Many Americans had lost faith in the institutions that previous generations relied on for objective information, including government, academia, and the press.

Clinton is plenty fired up about the Russians, and with good reason, although she sometimes engages in overreach. It is one thing to note that the Russians tried to influence the election, that their activities helped Trump, and that the Trump camp had inappropriate and likely illegal dealings with Russian interests before and after the election. The Mueller investigation is now teasing out these strands. However, one must proceed with caution before going further on this. It is a commonplace among Democrats that the Russians “hacked” the election, but some are conflating the email hacking and other dirty tricks with voting-machine tampering.

Moreover, planting targeted “fake news,” trolling social media, and hacking the DNC are one thing. But it is a stretch to say that Trump is Putin’s puppet; if so, the Russian strong-man seems to be a poor puppet master. In September, Russia expelled 755 U.S. diplomats in response to new sanctions from Congress. The Russians probably did not expect Trump to win (their end game appears to be weakening U.S. democracy), and Trump, while a narcissistic buffoon, is nothing if not unpredictable and unable to keep his mouth shut, so poor puppet material, despite his affinity for authoritarian he-men like Putin. Also, the U.S. is a vastly more powerful country than Russia (whose GDP is roughly that of Spain). The idea that the U.S. has become a puppet of this flailing autocracy is hardly credible.

Clinton casts the U.S in the role of victim here, an outpost of good, forever standing up for its European and Asian allies, yet continually being undone by the Russians and Chinese, who just don’t play fair. Influencing, and actively disrupting, foreign governments and elections in ways both subtle and violent has been a staple of U.S. foreign policy for well over a century. Of course, two wrongs don’t make a right, but it seems this would merit at least a tiny mention if we are speaking as frankly as Mrs. Clinton suggests we are.

Clinton is silent about her own very hawkish foreign policy; most recently she was the architect of the policy to engage in regime change in Libya (“We came, we saw, he died”), a move which helped fuel the rise of ISIS. All kinds of ridiculous things have been pinned on Clinton, things that she either did not do, or for which responsibility falls on many shoulders. Libya is not one of them, that was her baby. She also voted for the Iraq war. Not sure what’s worse, that she thought it was a good idea, or did so out of political expediency. This is not nit-picking; Clinton seems to have little problem with U.S. militarism (the U.S. has bases in roughly 75 countries and troops in many more), and she mentions not once the United States’ astonishingly high defense budget, which surely is crowding out spending on the domestic programs that she champions.

I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a change maker for most of my life. My journey took me from student-activist to citizen-advocate to politician-policy maker. Along the way, I never stopped searching for the right balance of idealism and realism.

It’s on the issues of health care, reproductive rights, gun control, and improving the lives of children where Clinton writes most passionately. She is a veteran of battles in these areas dating to the 1970s, and rightly wears the mantle of leader. While Sanders owned the issue of income inequality, Clinton points out that he has been squishy on guns and abortion rights. Most recently, Clinton was a strong advocate for the victims in Flint, after the astonishing dereliction by Republican officials in Michigan resulted in lead-poisoned water in a poor, largely African American city.

Clinton has been accused of being too wonkish and too caught up in policy details (this seems like criticizing a heart surgeon for being overly preoccupied with cardiac anatomy). This is a problem that other smart candidates have also faced: a kind of ignorant, delusional decisiveness seems to be de rigueur among presidential aspirants. Obama skirted this barely (it couldn’t have hurt that he was following two terms of Republicans who prosecuted a disastrous war and prevailed over the worst economic collapse in 80 years). But yes, Clinton is an “A” student, and like Democratic candidates Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004 learned, that is suspect. To suggest that trade, immigration, education, health care, and taxation are difficult issues that have complex solutions and many trade-offs is heresy in Trump Land. Remember “I alone can fix it!”? Of course, this was followed a few months later by, “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” No, nobody knew that. Nobody at all. Zero people had such knowledge.

And you can throw truth out the window. In 2004, Kerry, a Vietnam vet, was portrayed as a ditherer who was “soft on terror,” while his dimwitted draft-evading opponent George Bush was a plain-spoken brush-clearing man-of-action ready to take on foreign bad guys big and small. Amazingly Bush, scion of an oil dynasty, and a former president’s son, was seen as a regular joe with whom you’d like to share a beer, and Kerry an arrogant, French-speaking, flip-flopper, exposed by the patriotic Swift Boaters as a fraud. Similarly, in 2000, Gore the Bore was unredeemable with his yakking about social security, the environment and other complicated policy stuff and junk. Trumpism is a three-legged stool of sexism, racism and anti-intellectualism, and Clinton, like some of her Democratic predecessors, may on occasion be too smart for the room.

I know that for a lot of people, including a lot of women, the movement for women’s equality exists largely in the past. They’re wrong about that. It’s still happening, still as vital and urgent as ever.

And it was and is the story of my life—mine and millions of other women’s. We share it. We wrote it together. We’re still writing it. And even though this sounds like bragging and bragging isn’t something women are supposed to do, I haven’t just been a participant in this revolution. I’ve helped lead it.

Clinton states that for some time she felt that she did not have Bill or Obama’s grand backstory. She was one of three children who grew up in a stable middle-class home in the Chicago suburbs. Her childhood was not one of struggle and privation like that of her husband, nor did it have the amazing arc of biracial Obama’s journey from Hawaii to Indonesia, Harvard, Chicago and the White House. She states that over time it was the women’s movement that formed her, and which she in turn helped inform.

Clinton’s book may be most valuable in its recounting of the role that gender played in the election. “Build the Wall,” was big among Trump fans, but so too was “Lock her Up!” and “Trump that Bitch!” It’s one thing to dislike Clinton, but for some she was an embodiment of evil, an almost mythical or biblical source of it. Clinton writes:

In my experience, the balancing act women in politics have to master is challenging at every level, but it gets worse the higher you rise. If we’re too tough, we’re unlikeable. If we’re too soft, we’re not cut out for the big leagues. If we work too hard, we’re neglecting our families. If we put family first, we’re not serious about the work. If we have a career but no children, there’s something wrong with us, and vice versa. If we want to compete for a higher office, we’re too ambitious. Can’t we just be happy with what we have? Can’t we leave the higher rungs on the ladder for men?

Clinton notes on many occasions the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” position she was in. A woman in politics must project strength and authority, but once having done so is perceived as aloof, calculating, and ambitious (the latter term is used in a pejorative way when applied to women, but not men). She notes that she received high praise for her job performance when she was helping with Bill’s campaigns, serving as First Lady, Senator, or Secretary of State, but all of that melted away when she aspired to lead the country.

She also remarks that as men gain power they are seen as more likeable, but for women the opposite is true. Clinton writes that she was often asked why she was running, as if there was some dark motive at her core. The same question is rarely asked of male candidates. For women in politics, there is also the continual emphasis on appearance (being unattractive and attractive are both bad, as are being too stylish or a frump). And women are often attacked for their voice (grating, shrill), and demeanor (too emotional, too cold).

Sexism is nothing new for Clinton. She details how after she was admitted to Harvard Law, a professor there told her, “‘We don’t need any more women at Harvard.’” She chose Yale instead. As a lawyer in 1970s Arkansas, she was considered a curiosity, and notes that retaining her last name may have cost Bill the 1980 Arkansas gubernatorial election. She subsequently added “Clinton” to the “Rodham.”

Many people said during the election: sure, I’d vote for a woman, just not her. It’s a fair comment; after all, we say the same about male candidates (I’d vote for a man, but not him!). The problem is that because of the paucity of female candidates, particularly at the top end, it is hard to separate Clinton the candidate from Clinton the female candidate. Clinton rightly concludes that the only way to combat the very deep biases against women in politics, and leadership roles in general, is through exposure: more female candidates at all levels are needed.

Of all the influences that Clinton cites, she is most grateful to her mother, Dorothy Howell Rodham, a woman who essentially raised herself from the age of eight, and whose parents were negligent and neglectful. Amazingly, she survived her difficult childhood to become an engaged and loving mother whose support helped propel her daughter to great heights. Clinton’s passages about her mother, who died in 2011, are some of the book’s most compelling and heartfelt.

In addition to gender, Clinton cites race as a key factor in her defeat. As the dust settles on the election, there seems to be more and more evidence of this. For many people, Trump was payback for the U.S. having had a black president for two terms. Trump didn’t win in spite of his toxic stream of racist insults, he won because of the them. While there is a lot of talk about alienation and economic dislocation among the non-Coastal white working class, which Clinton is sympathetic to, in the October issue of The Atlantic, Ta-Nehesi Coates writes at length (“The First White President”) that antipathy toward non-Whites was the best predictor of Trump preference, not income. (Don’t forget that Trump won among white women, something that still seems incredible). If people thought that progress was being made on race relations with the election of Obama, those hopes have been doused with a very cold bucket of water with Trump’s ascendancy to the White House. From Clinton:

Unless people stay engaged and find ways to translate protests into political power, we aren’t going to stop Trump’s agenda or win future elections. To do that, we need to invest in political infrastructure: rebuilding the Democratic Party, training new candidates and staffers, improving our data and social media operations, beating back efforts to restrict voting rights, and more.

I know there are a lot of people—including a lot of Democrats—who are not eager to see me leading such an effort. They feel burned by my defeat, tired of defending me against relentless right-wing attacks, and ready for new leaders to emerge. Some of that sentiment is totally reasonable. I, too, am hungry for new leaders and ideas to reinvigorate our party. But if Al Gore, John Kerry, John McCain, and Mitt Romney can find positive ways to contribute after their own election defeats, so can I.

At the very least, Clinton can contribute in her particular areas of expertise, and she has several of them. Her anti-NRA comments following the Las Vegas shooting were spot on, and reflect her long-time advocacy in this area.

This is a watershed moment in U.S. politics. We may be witnessing the end of the two-party system with the Republicans splitting into a pro-business center-right party (embodied by people like Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, and so on) and a racist, nativist, populist element of Trump acolytes and tea partiers. For their part, the Democrats surging leftist faction (Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris) may separate from its more mainstream wing (Clinton, Diane Feinstein, Chuck Schumer, and most elected Democrats). Or maybe not, perhaps the dysfunctional two-party system will keep hobbling along, despite the contempt Americans feel toward their elected officials.

Where does Hillary fit into this picture? She is certainly an éminence grise in the party, and to this end has formed Onward Together, an organization devoted to supporting promising, up-and-coming progressive leaders and groups. With her motto, “Resist, insist, persist, enlist” she will not be retreating to her parlor anytime soon. As Clinton notes, she was hardly an objective observer of what happened in November 2016, and the events are still very close in the mirror. It will take some years for a full understanding to emerge, and we may never be satisfied with the answers.


Clinton Foundation Brings Together Over 40 Partners for Girl Athletes

What Happened: Clinton’s Account Reveals Our Broken Democracy

How This Nonprofit is Using the SDG’s to Help Women Thrive Globally

Emily Bove, Executive Director of the Women Thrive Alliance, which supports grassroots organizations in gender justice work globally.

“We see our members—grass roots organizations—as the experts,” says Emily Bove, Executive Director of the Women Thrive Alliance.

Women Thrive comprises 285 organizations in 53 developing countries. Based in Washington, D.C., Women Thrive supports its member groups in advancing women’s rights globally. “We only work with groups that are engaged in advocacy,” says Bove, citing Women Thrive’s expertise in this area. The other criteria for Women Thrive membership is that the participant organization have female decision-makers at the helm. Given its expansive membership roster and skeleton staff, much of Women Thrive’s work is virtual, including online courses aimed at helping member groups organize around gender and poverty issues.
While Women Thrive prioritizes women’s rights and equal access to education, Bove stresses that all aspects of development are interconnected, and breaking them up into discrete parts is somewhat arbitrary. “Women don’t wake up and say, ‘today my focus is on my child’s education and tomorrow it’s on clean water.’” The goals of women holding political power, controlling their own bodies, receiving fair pay and having access to education are interrelated, and all are key in furthering development.

Women Thrive was founded in 1998; Bove joined the organization in 2014, and has been leading it since 2016. When I spoke to her by phone in late August, she had just returned from a long-delayed visit to her native France. Bove grew up the town of Annecy in the French Alps, attended university in Lyon, obtained a master’s degree in Migration Studies from the U.K.’s University of Sussex, and subsequently came to the U.S. for a graduate exchange program at Georgetown. Along the way, she has worked in Cameroon, the Caribbean, and the Indonesian province of Acheh. “I’ve always been interested in development, but over time found I was increasingly drawn to its connections to women’s rights,” says Bove. Prior to joining the Women Thrive Alliance, Bove worked for the World Bank on climate change issues.

Women Thrive is an umbrella organization, and prospective members typically learn of it from the internet, conferences, and—“most exciting to me,” says Bove—being recruited by current members. While Women Thrive does not engage in direct service or distribute grants, it has provided tailored support to groups in Sierra Leone, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Nigeria. A team from Women Thrive recently returned from the small west African nation of Sierra Leone where it delivered a “Raise Your Voice Workshop” on female genital mutilation. Helping local groups eliminate such practices is a key focus of Women Thrive. The UN has long campaigned against what it has termed “harmful practices” toward women and girls (which, in addition to body mutilation, include early and forced marriages, and “honor” crimes directed at females).

Bove says that one way of pushing governments on issues such as female genital mutilation is to leverage the United Nations’ “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs) which were adopted by 193 countries (including Sierra Leone) in 2015. Of the 17 goals, Women Thrive and its membership are particularly focused on number four (Quality Education) and number five (Gender Equality). Bove argues that “the UN goals can be mechanisms for outlawing genital mutilation.” She notes that advocates in Sierra Leone are increasingly demanding that their leaders fulfill promises they have made regarding outlawing such practices (which were banned in 2014, although enforcement has been lackluster). The workshops that Women Thrive conducted in Sierra Leone aimed to improve female advocacy groups’ messaging, enabling the organizations to better pressure key actors in government and civil society to change attitudes and practices surrounding women’s bodies.

Another aspect of the UN SDGs (which, in addition to education and women’s equality, include goals devoted to reducing poverty, global co-operation, and environmental protection) is their time frame. The goals are to be accomplished by 2030, which, says Bove, goes well beyond the 2 to 3-year periods of many grants and programs. “Long-term processes need to be supported,” she says. “Our development model has failed to do that.” Moreover, one can’t assume that gains in female rights will be maintained over time. Bove cites her experience working in Aceh, the northern Indonesian province devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. “It’s a Sharia-dominated province where women actually had a lot of rights following the tsunami,” she says, “but 10 years later those rights have decreased.”

Women Thrive has never received funding from the U.S. government, counting instead on support from organizations including NoVo Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, New Field Foundation, Imago Dei Fund, and S. Albert Fund at the Philadelphia Foundation, among others. Women Thrive also depends upon “Thrive Ambassadors,” individual donors who leverage their own networks to promote the alliance and its mission.

While Women Thrive is not government-funded, Bove says the U.S. has typically supported empowering women globally. “In the past eight years [prior to the 2016 election], as a U.S.-based organization we could rely on U.S. leadership on these issues.” However, under the current administration, Bove says that “common understanding” has changed, and Women Thrive and like-minded organizations are “back to basics in explaining why supporting women and girls globally is important.” Bove cites a particular example: the latest U.S. delegation to the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women included an explicitly anti-LGBTQI organization (The Center for Family and Human Rights) that has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

A further area of serious concern is the U.S. 2018 fiscal year budget, which proposes reducing the International Affairs Budget by 32 percent, including deletion of the “International Organizations and Programs” line item. Naturally, this would undermine the U.S. commitment to UN Sustainable Development Goals, and other support for women’s rights and development globally. “We are working to find champions to maintain development aid,” says Bove, noting that Women Thrive has been informing members of the Senate and House about how damaging the budget cuts will be to women’s lives. To this end, Women Thrive is putting member organizations directly in touch with lawmakers, and Bove notes that “Members of Congress always seem surprised to hear from women and girls on the ground.”

While the current administration poses a significant threat to women’s rights globally, Bove notes that in the last two decades women have increasingly been acknowledged as central to development efforts. “The agenda of the global women’s movement is being mainstreamed into the fight against poverty,” she says. Finally, female-led grass roots organizations and social movements from around the world are demanding more of their political and institutional leaders, and such increased momentum will likely continue, regardless who occupies the White House.

Editor’s Note: Women Thrive is one of three spotlight organizations for Philanthropy Women. These organizations have been designated by our sponsors for media amplification.

Built on Partnership: How This Power Couple Champions Gender Equality

Jennifer and Peter Buffett, Co-Founders, Novo Foundation (Photo Credit: Taylor Crothers)

If a foundation’s mission is to build more healthy partnerships in the world, what better place to start than with their own internal partnerships?

In fact, for Peter and Jennifer Buffett of the NoVo Foundation, developing their own partnership as a couple coincided with developing the mission of their foundation, which is to transform relationships across the globe from “domination and exploitation” to “collaboration and partnership.”

I had approached NoVo wanting to talk to either Jennifer or Peter individually, but,  apropos of their partnership approach to philanthropy, I got them both. They spoke to me by phone from their home in the Hudson Valley, about two hours north of New York City.

Spouses Jennifer and Peter Buffett serve as NoVo’s co-presidents. They are highly conscious of gender roles, and how even among seemingly well-meaning and high-minded people, patriarchal attitudes and structures are often still present. They found this to be the case for themselves, “I’m a nice guy and she’s an outspoken woman,” says Peter, “but we were reenacting certain toxic roles,” he says of the early days of their relationship. Namely, that the wife serves as handmaiden supporting her husband in his endeavors. To combat this tendency, the Buffetts, who met in 1991 in Milwaukee, co-lead NoVo, and have assembled a racially and gender-diverse staff of 26 to run the foundation. In 2016, NoVo directed approximately $100 million in grants to organizations in the U.S. and overseas.

“NoVo” is a Latin word that suggests change, alteration and invention. In seeking to counter exploitative attitudes, practices and institutions and replace them with more egalitarian ones, the foundation focuses on the status of girls and women, particularly those in low-income communities, whether in the U.S. or abroad.

In 2016, NoVo announced a seven-year $90 million initiative to advance girls of color in the U.S., and in support of this effort recently concluded a series of “listening sessions” with communities in the Southeast, Southwest and Midwest. These encounters resulted in a collection of narratives illuminating the gender and race-based challenges facing girls of color, particularly in poor areas. (NoVo is accepting letters of inquiry until August 11 from community organizations across the country that are seeking to address such inequalities).

The NoVo Foundation was formed in 2006, the result of a bequest of stock valued at one billion dollars from Peter Buffett’s father, Warren. NoVo’s work on advancing the rights of girls and women (including combating gender-based violence), encouraging sustainability, furthering social and emotional learning, and supporting indigenous communities, came out of several key experiences Peter and Jennifer had in the mid-00s.

In 2005, Peter attended the first meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. Gene Sperling, an economist who served in the Clinton and Obama administrations, gave a talk that Peter describes as a “lightning strike” for him. Sperling spoke about the impact that educating and empowering adolescent girls in post-conflict countries can have on improving the trajectories of entire communities. At the same time, Jennifer was thousands of miles away in Rwanda, where she was learning some of the same lessons, but hearing them from people on the ground in a country still struggling to emerge from genocide.

Jennifer says that in Rwanda, like many places, “When things fall apart, teen girls become heads of households.” This is a tremendous burden for them to carry, and deprives them of educational and other opportunities. Moreover, Jennifer says that when she talked with heads of NGOs in the developing world, she heard that sexual violence and the undervaluing of women and girls “is happening everywhere.”

NoVo attempts to invest in women and change oppressive structures as means of helping not just the women, but also their children, and whole societies. There is no way to boot-strap oneself out of a patriarchal system where every hour is consumed with survival tasks. “It’s a common saying,” says Peter, “If hard work made you rich, then every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.”

Prior to forming NoVo, Jennifer and Peter had already seen the corrosive effects of racism and sexism in their work in Milwaukee with poor teen-aged mothers of color. “We were looking at what perpetuates the cycle of poverty,” says Jennifer, “and trying to create supportive spaces for these girls.” Jennifer notes that Milwaukee, like many U.S. cities, is segregated, and part of her and Peter’s philanthropic education was familiarizing themselves first-hand with the Latino, African American and other communities that make up that city.

NoVo has sought to avoid a top-down mentality in its social and economic justice efforts. “The colonial mindset has people coming in and wiping out indigenous knowledge,” says Peter, who takes a page from his famous father in not replicating such an approach. “My Dad does not buy companies and tell the managers what to do, he trusts that they already know their business.”

Prior to his major gift that launched NoVo, Warren Buffett gave Jennifer and Peter $100,000 as a seed money for a non-profit so that they could learn the philanthropic ropes. “The tone of the gift was trusting and giving, not controlling,” says Jennifer, and NoVo has tried to mirror this approach in its own efforts. Peter, who has a career as a composer and musician, says his work in this area has also helped him. The finish line for a film score might be clear he notes, but it could take some improvising to get there.

Improving the status of girls and women is not easy, given that the mechanisms of global capitalism reinforce patriarchy, racism, inequality, and colonialism, not to mention environmental destruction. “Our current systems and structures are doomed,” says Jennifer. “The West is very extractive. It’s not doing the species any favors. We need to give people the chance to imagine a different and better future.”

Peter states that part of NoVo’s work is “to look under the covers of capitalism,” and that NoVo takes inspiration from indigenous communities in terms of developing locally-based, sustainable solutions. Of course, NoVo owes its existence to a gift from one of the world’s preeminent capitalists. “The irony is not lost on me,” says Peter.

The network of global capitalism can seem impenetrable and abstract, and for this reason NoVo also focuses on individuals and their relationships with one another. Under the rubric of social and emotional learning (SEL), which the foundation describes as “the process of developing fundamental skills for life success within supportive, participatory learning environments,” NoVo is helping students become better people and community members, as opposed to better test-takers.

“Children are soaking in a model that is 150 years old,” says Jennifer of our educational system, adding that, “Kids’ social and emotional needs are not being addressed.” The emphasis on hierarchy, test-taking, and standardization certainly has its pedagogical detractors, but NoVo is exploring the emotional and social toll of this approach. “We don’t ask what we are educating students for,” says Jennifer, arguing that, “We need to cultivate empathy, imagination, and cooperation.”

To this end, NoVo’s SEL Innovation Fund awardees for 2017 comprise a variety of school and district types—urban, suburban, and rural—across all grade levels and student populations. The awardees included 67 teachers, and 30 school districts in 22 states.

The SEL initiatives complement NoVo’s work with girls, whom it describes as “one of the most powerful and untapped forces on the planet.” Investing in this “under-valued asset” in the U.S. and abroad, suggests the Foundation, is perhaps the most significant thing we can do in advancing peace, justice and equality.


Why NoVo is Funding Young Women’s Freedom in California

Behind a Law Scholar’s Push for More Funding for Women and Girls of Color

The Grateful Activist: This Longtime Philanthropy Leader Shares Insights

Tracy Gary has played a key role in building the infrastructure of women’s philanthropy over the past 40 years.

Tracy Gary says she starts every day as a “grateful activist.” That’s a good way to approach the morning, and an attitude that infuses the 66-year old Gary’s now 40-year career as philanthropy advisor, non-profit leader, donor and consultant.

A founder of nearly two dozen non-profits, Gary heads Unleashing Generosity and Inspired Legacies, and is on the road 40 days per year working with non-profits, foundations, and donors. That’s down from the 200 days away from home she used to log, but in the last few years she has reduced her workload (which used to run to 60-80 hours per week) and dropped 100 pounds. It’s a matter of staying healthy, and staying on the planet, so that she can continue mentoring the next generation of inheritors and philanthropy professionals.

Gary spoke to me by phone from her home in Tiburon, California just north of San Francisco, and had plenty to say on matters philanthropic, political and personal. (A very short side bar: she liked Wonder Woman, go see it).

Raised in a wealthy New York family, Gary studied mythology at Sarah Lawrence College, moved to California in the 1970s, and soon became active in the philanthropy and non-profit world. She now occupies a unique position in the women’s philanthropy sphere as she wears, and has worn, so many different hats. (If she was inclined toward the flashy, a retinue of milliners would be in order).

First, Gary is a donor herself: she gave away most of the $1.3 million ($7.5 million in 2017 dollars) that she inherited when she turned 21. She also donates a third of her yearly earnings to progressive organizations and causes. Over the course of her working life, this sum has totaled about two million dollars. Second, Tracy Gary has served as a non-profit worker, founder and leader, and so knows a thing or two about starting, growing and maintaining organizations. A “serial non-profit entrepreneur,” Gary says she would start an organization, “raise that first million,” hire staff, and then move on after five to seven years. Two of her early efforts were helping establish the Women’s Foundation of California (a model for the now well over 100 women’s foundations around the country) and the Women Donors Network.

Tracy Gary’s experience as both a donor and organization builder has fueled her career as a speaker, writer, facilitator, coach and consultant. Her work has taken her to 50 states and 23 countries, and there are few who can match Gary’s depth and breadth of expertise in women’s philanthropy. “I’m here to support people,” she says of her role as a mentor to the current and next generation of philanthropists, inheritors and non-profits.

Gary is frequently invited to speak and consult with banks, foundations, social justice funds, and feminist and LGBTQ organizations. In a two-day visit, she will pack a lot in: delivering a tailored keynote to the organization hiring her, giving workshops to staff, educating development professionals on cultivating wealthy women, meeting with high-level donors, and canvassing the area for women of means to bring into the fold. If she’s not coming to your town, Gary has a series of podcasts available on the Inspired Legacies site, in which she and colleague Louis Wellmeier talk to a range of people about money and giving.

Tracy Gary has no problem staying motivated: “If someone had told me that giving money away would have provided me such a sense of community and joy,” says Gary, “I wouldn’t have believed it.” She also thinks that spreading the wealth around is a matter of survival.“Either we work for the good of all, or we will see these implosions continue around us.”

Some of these implosions are Trump-related, and, while not happy about the election, Gary is not discouraged. “A lot is breaking down, but a lot is breaking through,” she says. She sees Trump’s election as a wake-up call, the result of a combination of “falling asleep at the wheel” and most Americans getting caught in the vicious cycle of consumerism. Gary notes that increasing inequality has sown divisions.“You can’t have zero social mobility for the bottom 40 percent for 25 years and not expect a revolution.”

There is a lot of rancor and division in the country, but Gary says the only way to combat it is through love, tolerance and a focus on justice. Women are key to resisting the ever-increasing flow of money into the coffers of the 1 percent, to the detriment of the poor, and the planet. Trump did not start this trend, but Gary sees Trump’s regressive policies as accelerating it. “We have to be the counterbalance,” she says, not just in the U.S., but globally. “The UN has years of data showing that if you invest in women, you improve towns and communities.”

One of Gary’s early philanthropic efforts was giving to and volunteering for a battered women’s shelter. An insight she gained from this time was that while work in the field is valuable and necessary, system-level reform is needed. “In order to change the conditions of violence, we had to change the laws and attitudes in place.” Increasingly, Gary says, the big picture is getting clearer. “A lot of funders and donors are realizing what advocacy and policy is,” she says. Once again, the 2016 presidential election has been a wake-up call, and Gary would like to see more women run for office. A significant barrier she notes is that women perform the lion’s share of child and elder care.

Of late, Gary has been concerned with tax policy, specifically the way the tax code favors the very wealthy. She is tough on the rich, decrying the rotting fruits of “run-away capitalism” and noting that, “Too much money in the hands of wealthy people is not good.”

Gary would like to see donors be “intentional” in trying to decrease inequality in society. “Giving to the elite schools your kids attend is race and class self-interest,” she says, and further notes that some of what passes for philanthropy supports “things that are counter to democracy.” Gary would like nothing more than to free the rich from the burden of their great assets. “I’ve seen what too much wealth can do,” she says, and notes the isolation, stress and joylessness of the super-rich as they become prisoners of their multiple houses and jet-setting accoutrements.

Her message to the wealthy is presented with love, but with a point: “You can give much more than you already are.” To this end, over the last 40 years Gary has sought to build an infrastructure of giving, particularly for women’s philanthropy. One of her chief aims is get donors into the community, to make them less passive. “I try to bring wealthy people out of their cocoons,” she says.

Gary is also dedicated to bringing women together, noting that wealthy women can act as powerful role models for one another in furthering female-centered giving. “A lot of women have not shown up to say how they want their family’s money invested,” she says. Another piece of the puzzle is working with women (and men) on “aligning their values with their philanthropy.” In other words, if social and environmental justice are important to a person, then their giving should reflect that, something that is not always the case when money is shoveled into a donor-advised fund with little investigation or reflection. She would also like donors to become activists themselves, to use their wealth and power to advance progressive causes and engage politically, finding it unconscionable that big guns like Gates and Buffett are silent on issues like the Flint water crisis and the repeal of Obamacare.

It’s not just the wealthy who can do and give a little more; Gary argues that the middle class can step up its game as well. Her book Inspired Philanthropy: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Giving Plan and Leaving a Legacy gets into some of the nitty gritty of giving money away. While she often meets one-on-one with wealthy donors, providing advice on how and where to give, the idea behind the book was to discuss strategies that are “just as useful for a family giving $2,000 a year as one giving $200,000 or two million.”

Tracy Gary left me with lots to chew on, as well as one specific piece of advice (in addition to seeing Wonder Woman): give to the organizations you support before summer kicks in, as these are typically lean months for donations in the non-profit world.

Scaling the Mount Everest of Gender Equality in Minnesota

Lee Roper-Batker, CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota.

“We know Minnesotans have many shared values, including equality and opportunity,” says Lee Roper-Batker, CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota. But getting those shared values to manifest in support for policies that advance women and girls is sometimes a task that feels comparable to scaling the world’s highest mountain. “We have to meet people where they are and bring them with us,” she says, which can often be a daunting task.

Lee Roper-Batker spoke to me by phone from her office at the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota (WFM) in downtown Minneapolis, a stone’s throw from the Mississippi River. The WFM is the oldest and largest statewide women’s foundation in the U.S., and its mission is to engage in “systems change” affecting individual, cultural and community attitudes and behaviors. The goal is to move institutions and public policies toward gender equity, something that Roper-Batker describes as “Our Everest.” A Minnesota native, Roper-Batker has headed the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, which started in 1983, since 2001.

Those living outside the Gopher State might perceive Minnesota as white and homogenous, but that would be incorrect. True, the first major waves of immigrants to the area were mostly of German and Scandinavian origin, but since then things have changed substantially. Minnesota now has the nation’s largest Somali and East African community, as well as major Hmong and Liberian populations. The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and their surrounding towns and suburbs, constitute the thirteenth largest metro area in U.S, and are home to roughly half of the state’s 5.5 million people. The Twin Cities have sizeable Latino and African American populations, and Indigenous people live in communities large and small throughout the state. Minnesota is also a big place, comprising over 85,000 square miles (for reference, the United Kingdom is 94,000 square miles).

In order to “meet people where they are,” Roper-Batker works to integrate racial, cultural, class, religious and regional dynamics in its work with girls and young women. She acknowledges that effecting social change and promoting gender equity in such a large and varied area as Minnesota is enormously complex. An important first step is good research.

“Having full command of an issue is vital to gaining the support of donors, the media, lawmakers and the wider community. Know the data and make sure it’s bullet proof,” says Roper-Batker, but she emphasizes that, “Research without action is pointless.”

This focus on research and policy is essential to the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, which strives for changes in laws, regulations and practices to improve the lives of women and girls, not just piecemeal programs or grants to address immediate and specific needs.

Before you can change attitudes, you first must know what these attitudes are. One form of WFM research is learning what people think about gender-related issues, how they understand them, and how they impact their lives. The Foundation uses polling and survey data, and has found there is more consensus out there than one might think.

Some issues get greater buy-in from the public and lawmakers than others. This was certainly the case with sex trafficking of Minnesota girls, where “99.8 percent of Minnesotans, regardless of party or demographic checkbox, support using public funds to end this practice,” says Roper-Batker. The initial challenge in attacking the problem was getting Minnesotans to realize that it was happening, that children were being forced into prostitution, not on the other side of the world, but right in their own communities.

In 2010, the Foundation convened 100 people from around the state to develop a blueprint for addressing child sex trafficking on multiple levels. The five-year, $5-million “MN Girls Are Not For Sale,” campaign debuted in 2011, and in its first phase it sought to raise awareness about the issue, redefine sex trafficked minors as crime victims (as opposed to being classified as criminals themselves), and mobilize support to end the practice.

The initial goal, which included passage of Minnesota’s Safe Harbor Law, has been accomplished, and in 2016, the Foundation embarked on phase two, which seeks to reduce demand, develop prevention strategies for potential victims, and target underserved communities with greater outreach and services around sex trafficking. To date, $13.3 million has been allocated at the state level to boost law enforcement, housing, trauma-informed care, and funding for regional navigators to assist victims.

WFM is always taking the pulse of its constituents, and regularly convenes listening sessions around the state with girls and women (ages 12-24) and community leaders. Roper-Batker says such forums have brought to light the “damaging social narratives” around gender, race, and religion that girls and young women experience. The Foundation heard from girls who said they suffered from “expectations being lowered” regarding their aptitude for certain professions. In the Somali community, young women suffered from anti-Islamic prejudice, particularly if they wore the hijab. “Young women told us about walking in South Minneapolis and having men jump out of cars, hit them and spit at them,” says Roper-Batker.

For girls from indigenous backgrounds, school was part of the problem. They complained of not seeing their history as Native peoples represented in the curriculum. On an individual level, indigenous girls felt they were often ignored, and one related how she’d “sit behind the four white girls in the front, because the teacher always answered their questions.”

WFM contributed to the national conversation on gender equity in these communities. In 2009, President Obama established the White House Council on Women and Girls, which is dedicated to “advancing equity for women and girls of color.” Roper-Batker had met with the Council, and noted that it had not surveyed American Indians and Somalis and other East Africans for its report. The WFM stepped into the breach, and was able to provide data on these previously overlooked communities.

The research, the listening sessions, and the opinion polling all drive WFM grant-making and policy advocacy. Collectively, this approach has resulted in WFM’s newest project, the “Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota,” a seven-year, $9-million statewide initiative it is co-leading with the state’s Governor’s Office. The initiative’s goal is to improve opportunities for young women of color, including American Indians, and others facing high disparities in income.

Direct service and changing the culture can come together, sometimes in unexpected ways. In Two Harbors, a small town on Lake Superior in the northeast part of the state, a principal at the local high school was concerned about outcomes for girls. Girls were not getting the jobs that their male counterparts were, and one of the reasons was few were taking classes in industrial arts, STEM or technical fields. The principal had heard about the foundation, and he approached it about starting a program to get more girls involved in male-dominated courses of study. That program led to a partnership with a local community college, and then outreach to employers in the region to ensure that they were supportive of female grads in traditionally male fields. “Direct service and social change are intersecting cogs in a wheel that drives equity,” says Roper-Batker.

Ultimately, says Roper-Batker, there is no substitute for deep policy knowledge and knowing the lay of the land. “Get in your car and know your community,” would be her advice for new staff of women’s foundations.

Roper-Batker also notes that while it’s important to look to the future as a foundation leader, it’s also important to deploy resources to your maximum ability in the present, in order to move the gender equity agenda forward. “Now is not the time to be amassing money and sitting on resources,” she says in reference to the WFM’s spending rate of six percent, which is slightly higher than is typical for foundations.

Roper-Batker has been working in the gender equity, labor and progressive social change movements since the 1980s. She says that while there has been progress since her student days, new challenges confront today’s girls and young women, including bullying on social media, an increasing objectification of women linked to the proliferation of pornography, and a stubbornly high incidence of violence toward women. Still, she believes that while the gender equity Everest is daunting, it is ultimately scalable.

Givers, or Takers? Callahan’s New Book Takes a Hard Look at Philanthropy’s Alpha Donors

David Callahan, Founder and Editor of Inside Philanthropy and author of The Givers

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.

Related: At Philanthropy Debate, Big Issues Discussed, Including Women’s Philanthropy

Vini Bhansali: On Growing Underfunded Change Agents in the Global South

Rajasvini Bhansali, Executive Director, IDEX, soon to be renamed Thousand Currents. (Photo credit: Rucha Chitnis)

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.