Tim Lehnert is a writer and editor who lives in Cranston, Rhode Island. His articles and essays have appeared in the Boston Globe, the Providence Journal, Rhode Island Monthly, the Boston Herald, the Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere. He is the author of the book Rhode Island 101, and has published short fiction for kids and adults in a number of literary journals and magazines. He received an M.A. in Political Science from McGill University, and an M.A. in English from California State University, Northridge.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.”