Ruth Ann Harnisch recently penned a piece for The Tennessean on why she supports The Women’s Fund in Tennessee, seeing them as “the smartest, most efficient way to meet the ever-changing needs of women and girls in this area.”
Women’s funds today are using a range of strategies to build economic security for women and families. By lending capital to women’s small businesses, many women’s funds are helping women build their own financial security — an important step in advancing the frontiers of gender equality.
Investing in financial stability for those on the margins of society, including those who have been traditionally excluded, is central to the mission of many women’s funds, and The Women’s Fund discussed by Harnisch in the article appears to be a prime example of this. The Women’s Fund supports Doors of Hope, for example, which “offers real-life training for women coming out of prison, along with support as they develop skills for living.”
I’ve covered the Fund for Shared Insight before, and I want to call attention to this new announcement, since it’s a great example of how philanthropy is evolving into a more democratic creature — by becoming more aware of what does and does not work in funding strategies.
Many women’s funds and foundations were early believers in incorporating grantee feedback into the grantmaking process. Women’s funds and foundations were also some of the first to bring grantees onto foundation boards to help inform the decision-making process. Some research suggests that women have a leadership edge with their listening and relational skills. Whether that’s true or not, women leaders in philanthropy can and should engage in active listening to create more effective strategies.
Editor’s Note: Betsy McKinney, Founder and CEO of It’s Time Network and author of this post, was recently invited to speak at an event in honor of Women’s History Month at the U.S. State Department. She gave an overview on the need for collective impact infrastructure and initiatives in the women’s sector, and explained the purpose of It’s Time Network and the Network City Program.
Everyone responded vigorously during the presentation when Betsy said that we need a collective impact structure that acts as an AARP for women, and that we can and should fund it ourselves as women over time. People also responded well to the need for shared measurement and the Women’s Well-Being Index. At the end, women from Malaysia, Nepal and Afghanistan asked how they can join the Network City Program. Betsy gave them copies of ITN’s Mayors Guide and they are eager to consider how they can also use the guide and recommendations.
Philanthropists and for-profit investors are increasingly using a gender lens to screen opportunities for funding social change as awareness of the need continues to grow. Funders now take it for granted that empowering women is a linchpin of global advancement. Yet report cards marking the 20th anniversary of the passage of the landmark Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995—a blueprint created by 189 governments for advancing women’s rights in 12 areas—show that progress toward gender equality has been painfully slow.
The murder of two women joggers in the past week has focused new attention on sexual violence against women. Over the past few years, this issue has been on the agendas of several key sectors of society—including universities, which have grappled with campus sexual assaults; professional sports, where top players have stood accused of attacks; and the military, where rape is common. All of these are different forms of gender based violence.
Philanthropy is another sector paying attention, with new sources of funding appearing in recent years.
Last year, we mentioned that a documentary on campus sexual assault, The Hunting Ground, had inspired a funding effort that includes resources at NEO Philanthropy, an intermediary that works with both funders and nonprofits. It’s not clear how much money that effort has raised, or what these funds have been used for. What is clear that the film brought major attention to campus sexual assault, an issue that has drawn in other funders, too—most notably the Avon Foundation, as we’ve reported.
Here’s the story of how Emily Nielsen Jones and her husband, Ross Jones, discovered their niche of integrating a gender focus into their faith-inspired philanthropy. The Boston-based couple once funded Christian Union, an Ivy League campus ministry, to launch a new branch at their alma mater, Dartmouth College. They were impressed with the organization at first because of its interest in mobilizing students to engage in combating human trafficking.
But as Jones got closer to the organization and started asking gender-related questions, she uncovered that within its own organization, the Christian Union promotes what it calls a “complementarian” leadership structure, which excludes women from top leadership positions. Once the couple gained more awareness about this policy, which creates gender ceilings for both staff and students, they engaged in a dialogue to encourage Christian Union to reconsider its practices of limiting women in the organization.
This “impact investing debt fund” will address tough urban problems like affordable housing and homelessness, as well as catalyzing overall economic development and reducing poverty in the nation’s urban cores.
This is not the first time that Living Cities has led a collaborative fund to work on economic development in America’s cities. In 2008, the Catalyst Fund was launched by Living Cities using philanthropic capital alongside commercial capital from Living Cities’ members—22 foundations and financial institutions, including Annie E. Casey, Ford, MacArthur, and Surdna, working to “get results for low-income people, faster.”
But what’s really going on here? What’s the impact of women’s leadership in philanthropy in terms of (a) where resources are actually going; and (b) how things are done in the philanthrosphere?
These questions are important to the sector, but they also link up with the larger perennial debate over just how much change occurs when women start calling the shots. Philanthropy offers an intriguing case study in this regard.
Our own impression from IP’s ongoing reporting in this area is that there are good reasons for all the excitement about women’s leadership in philanthropy. In fact, this leadership has mobilized new resources to advance gender equity and does seem to be affecting how philanthropy writ large operates.
Nearly every week at Inside Philanthropy I meet another woman leader who shows me a way that women’s funds and foundations are impacting the philanthropy landscape, and breaking down barriers to equality for women and girls. This week I talked to Roslyn Dawson Thompson, President and CEO of the Dallas Women’s Foundation (now the Texas Women’s Foundation) and the chair of the board of directors of the Women’s Funding Network.
Much of our discussion was about the role of economic security in empowering women. “If women are not able to achieve economic security then it has massive implications for workforce development and the economics of every state and the country overall,” said Thompson.