How This Nonprofit is Growing Support to End FGM Globally

Former First Lady Michelle Obama with Amy Maglio, Founder of the Women’s Global Education Project. (Photo: Chuck Kennedy for the Obama Foundation)

Recently when checking in with the Obama Foundation, we learned that they are highlighting the Women’s Global Education Project (WGEP) and its work in helping global communities end the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). To find our more about how this work takes place, Philanthropy Women spoke with Amy Maglio, Founder of WGEP. Maglio founded WGEP over 14 years ago after she was a peace corp volunteer in Senegal, where she lived for three years.

“When I got back from Senegal, I thought about all the girls I knew who weren’t in school,” said Maglio. She was particularly concerned with the reasons that girls weren’t going to school, and wanted to find more ways to ensure that girls got into school and stayed in school in Senegal. Maglio began partnering with local community-based organizations in Senegal that were already working on these questions. Local organizers in Senegal identified that girls ended their education often because of healthy, safety, and cultural issues.

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What is Feminist Foreign Policy? How Can Donors Support More of It?

Sweden’s feminist foreign policy is helping to define key strategies for addressing gender equality worldwide.

In 2014, Sweden made waves by becoming the first country across the globe to adopt an explicitly feminist foreign policy. Drawing both controversy and acclaim, the foreign policy was the first of its kind to focus so pointedly on international gender equality across every level of government. Since Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven was confirmed to a second term on Jan. 18, 2019, activists have called for even more emphasis on continuing the successes of the feminist foreign policy.

But what exactly is a feminist foreign policy? In Sweden’s case, the policy focused on funding initiatives across the three “Rs” in which women tend to be underserved and neglected: resources, representation, and rights. Donors who are interested in promoting gender equality through their efforts and outreach can look to the Swedish model of feminist foreign policy to know where to begin.

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Women Donors: What Can You Do to Support Women in Union Jobs?

Women workers belonging to unions earn more money. How can feminist philanthropists support unionized women? (Image courtesy of National Nurses United.)

As I scour the internet in my never-ending quest to know more about feminist strategies in philanthropy, I don’t often come across union support as a primary strategy. The Ms. Foundation for Women does some work in this area with its support of the Miami Worker’s Center and the Restaurant Opportunity Centers United, but supporting unions like the American Federation of Teachers or National Nurses United does not appear to be a primary focus of most feminist philanthropy strategies.

Consequently, this article on Apolitical by Odette Chalaby garnered my attention as one that progressive women donors might want to read and think about in terms of how they are aligning their strategy with union activity. There are many potential benefits for women’s empowerment to supporting unions that are primarily comprised of women.

First, some background on the problem:

Women in Unions Have Gender Pay Gaps that are Half the Size

While unions are often seen as largely white and male, it’s Hispanic women that stand to gain the most from membership in the US today.

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Measure and Inspire: How a New Tool Tracks Women, Peace, and Security

The new global Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Index tracks the number of missing girls in the world, showing that China and India have the highest numbers of missing girls.

“I firmly believe that data not only measure progress but inspire it,” said Hillary Rodham Clinton recently, referring to the potential uses for the inaugural Women, Peace and Security Index, a new tool for measuring the role of women in making progress on global peace and security. Clinton recognized “the work that remains to confront the violence, injustice, and exclusion that still hold back too many women and girls around the world,” but she believes this new global index on women, peace and security will help “to inform public debate and discussion and hold decision-makers to account.”

With our current GOP administration, the threat of war has increased substantially. Now, perhaps more than ever, the role that women play in achieving sustainable peace needs to be recognized. The Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Index, created and introduced by Georgetown University Institute for Women, Peace, and Security and The Peace Research Institute Oslo, is a significant tool for helping women get a foothold on the climb to greater influence in global peace and security.

The index ranks 153 countries (98% of the world’s population) on three dimensions of well-being: inclusion, justice, and security. The index is based on a shared vision that countries are more secure and economically successful when women have equal rights, and public efforts are made to accelerate progress toward equal opportunity for women.  Such a shared vision has been a long time in the making. “It has taken 17 years from the adoption of the first resolution on women, peace and security for this index to become a reality,” said Børge Brende, Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. “Much has been said about justice, security, and inclusion being interlinked, but only now have the data been put together that show us how.”

Brende referenced the fact that women are often the first to be impacted by war, and added that the Women, Peace, and Security Index “has the potential to sensitize us to dangerous situations and could ultimately contribute to conflict prevention efforts.” Ultimately, the participation of women in peace and security policy, and the promotion of gender equality, are key drivers of security both within and between states.

Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, linked the importance of this new index to the sustainable development goals. “As the world works to realize the sustainable development goals (SDGs), we will need robust tools to measure progress. I welcome this new global Index—the first gender index to be developed for women’s role in peace and security—as a mechanism to assess countries’ progress against the SDGs, thus creating inclusive, just, and peaceful societies for all.”

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN Women, recognized how the new index is part of a “global gender equality compact” that holds great promise for transforming the lives of women and girls. “Like any promise, it needs to be kept—and that means we need to track progress.”

How Does WPS Index Track?

The new WPS Index fills a gap in the gender equality research on conflict monitoring, analyzing the fragility of states, and estimating political instability, along with including several other indicators created by other research hubs.It is guided by the confirmed correlation between the treatment of women at all levels of society and the degree to which any given society can maintain peace. If a state uses violence to resolve disputes, justifies its abuse of women’s rights, has low levels of women in the workforce, and a preference for the birth of sons, chances are that society is also not able to maintain peace and may be ripe for war.

So What Does the WPS Index Tell Us?  

The big leaders in terms of gender equality related to peace and security are Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. The U.S. ranked 22nd, doing well in marks for inclusion in finances, employment, and cell phone use, as well as justice indicators such as the number of men who believe it is unacceptable for women to work. The U.S. has high rates of intimate partner violence, though, with rates that are 10 percentage points above the mean for developed countries.

Who are the Funders for the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security (GIWPS)?

Bank of America Foundation recently made a $1 million dollar grant to be shared between GIWPS and the Global Social Enterprise Initiative. The Compton Foundation provided a $100,000 grant to GIWPS in 2018. (If you want to get a picture of a whole slew of funding going toward peace and security, take a look at the Compton Foundation’s giving overall.) Other funders include Ford Foundation and the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice.

United States Began Implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Act in 2018

Related to this index, the United States has been slowly moving forward in recognizing the role that women must play in building global security, with 2017 being a breakthrough year in U.S. policymaking on the subject. In 2017, Congress passed the Women, Peace, and Security Act, a piece of legislation that evolved from 2011 to 2017 under the Obama Administration, in order to recognize that women’s participation in the field of peace and security is more than just a matter of parity — it’s a matter of global security.

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Ms. Foundation Shifts Strategic Course Toward Women of Color

The Ms. Foundation’s 2018-2022 Strategic Plan targets low-income women, many of whom are women of color. (Photo Credit: Ms. Foundation Strategic Plan, Building Power: Advancing Democracy)

The nation’s oldest public women’s foundation recently announced that it will steer in a new direction over the next five years — toward growing its commitment to low-income women and women of color by more than $25 million.

In addition, the Ms. Foundation will form its first-ever political fund, which will support the legislative agenda for women and girls both nationally and locally.

With Teresa C. Younger at the helm, the  Ms. Foundation for Women is joining other big funders in the feminist philanthropy space, including the NoVo Foundation and Prosperity Together (the national coalition of women’s funds focused on low-income women and women of color) in making economic, social and cultural equality for women and girls of color a central feature of its strategic plan. “Women of color are a political force to be reckoned with,” said Younger, in a press release announcing the new strategic plan. “In 2018, we delivered unprecedented electoral wins in Alabama, Georgia, and New York — yet we are sorely underrepresented in philanthropic investment, with only 2% of that spending going to women and girls of color.”

The Ms. Foundation’s announcement comes at a time when women’s rights and equality are under new threat from regressive local and national political movements. The new grants from the Ms. Foundation will provide both financial support and capacity-building and strategic support. Another important feature of this new strategic plan will be its first-ever formation of a 501(c)(4) fund specifically designed to amplify political movements. “It’s time that we champion and do all we can to ensure that women and girls of color are in power, at the tables of power and are supported as movement leaders,” said Younger.

One more thing this new feminist philanthropy strategic plan will emphasize: relationships, of course! “In response to the fragmented state of the women’s movement and promising new practices that are evolving, our Ms. Foundation for Women team will pilot cross-movement, cross-sector, and cross-generational strategies that can amass a much larger base of supporters and hold diverse social movements accountable for advancing a gender and racial equity agenda,” explains the Ms. Foundation’s strategic plan,  Building Power: Advancing Democracy.

As is often the case in feminist philanthropy, this new strategic plan is  all about the relationships and building power among the grassroots. For more information, please visit the Ms. Foundation’s website here. 

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New Prize Awards $1 Million to Create a Safer World for Women

The team from Leaf Wearables, winner of the $1 million prize in the Anu and Naveen Jain Women’s Safety competition. The prize was facilitated by XPRIZE, a new platform that specializes in “designing and implementing innovative competition models to solve the world’s grandest challenges.” (Photo courtesy of XPRIZE.)

Finding new ways for women to be safe in the community is still a high priority for feminist philanthropists everywhere. Now, with a new competition funded by  Anu and Naveen Jain, more tools will be available for women to access emergency response.

The Anu and Naveen Jain Women’s Safety XPRIZE recently announced the winner of its $1 million competition:  an Indian company called Leaf Wearables, which created a new device for triggering emergency response. The low-cost device, called SAFER, is aimed at making as many as one billion families safer.

“Safety is a fundamental human right and should not be considered a luxury for women,” said Anu Jain, who, along with her husband Naveen is co-founder of InfoSpace and is a Community Relations leader at Viome. The focus of much of Anu Jain’s philanthropy is centered on empowering women and girls. “With so many advances in innovation and technology today, it was unacceptable to us that we didn’t have a solution to help curb this sexual assault pandemic.”

Statistics about the high levels of harassment women face in India are startling. As many as 92% of women in New Delhi report experiencing some form of violence in public spaces over the course of their lives.

“We have been working tirelessly to solve the problem of safety using technology,” said Leaf Wearables team leader Manik Mehta. Leaf Wearables comes to the prize with the advantage of having significant market experience and success with an early version of SAFER that has aleady sold thousands of units in Indian markets.

“Women’s safety is not just a third world problem; we face it every day in our own country and on our college campuses. It’s not a red state problem or a blue state problem but a national problem,” said Naveen Jain, co-founder of the Women’s Safety XPRIZE and board member for XPRIZE. Naveen is the founder of multiple tech companies including Moon Express, Viome, Bluedot, TalentWise, Intelius and InfoSpace.

The competition launched in October of 2016. Eighty-five initial teams engaged in the competition, coming from 18 countries worldwide including the United States, India, Switzerland, Canada, Spain, Germany, China and United Arab Emirates. Prototypes for the competition were submitted in April of this year, and the five finalist for the prize engaged in a process of testing their solutions to see how the devices would function in diverse environments including high rise office buildings, college campuses, in public transit, and at home. Importantly, all of these devices are designed to work in areas where no cellular connection is available.

XPRIZE is a platform that specializes in helping nonprofits conduct competitions aimed at solving big world problems. Active competitions include the the $15M Global Learning XPRIZE, the $7M Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE, the $7M Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE, and the $5M IBM Watson AI XPRIZE.

From the Prize Announcement:

GRAND PRIZE WINNER ($1M USD)

  • SAFER Pro from Leaf Wearables (New Delhi, India) – Led by Manik Mehta, a smart safety device that sends emergency alerts with location details to a users’ guardians when they sense danger. SAFER Pro is a small chip that can ultimately be put into any device or jewelry with a discreet emergency alert button. When the alert is received, it additionally lets you record audio from the time of the alert.

ADDITIONAL FINALISTS

  • Artemis (Lausanne, Switzerland) – Led by Dr. Nicee Srivastava, Artemis is developing a device that can be used to trigger an alert not just by a gesture, but also by seamlessly tracking emotional threat levels.
  • Nimb & SafeTrek (Los Altos, CA and St. Louis, MO, United States) – Led by Leo Bereschanskiy and Nick Droege, Nimb collaborates with SafeTrek to provide their customers an option to call for professional emergency services with just a touch of the thumb. The company was founded in response to rising concerns about safety on and off campus. Both teams work together to make the world a safer place.
  • Saffron (Bellevue, WA, United States; Tsinghua, China) – Led by Nicholas Becker, Saffron is a collaboration between the University of Washington and Tsinghua University through the Global Innovation eXchange (GIX), focused on developing wearable sensors and machine learning algorithms to create inconspicuous technologies that improve the safety and well-being of women around the world.
  • Soterra (Bethlehem, PA, United States) – Led by Lena McDonnell, Soterra used a combination of global positioning services, cellular data and bluetooth to build a versatile, reliable and affordable network to connect women to emergency support systems.

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RBG: The Inspiring Story Behind the Feminist Icon

RBG opened on May 4 and has gotten rave reviews for its powerful depiction of one the most important feminists of our time. (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.)

Long before she was a meme and pop culture icon, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a sober-minded jurist, a workaholic and a trail-blazing advocate for gender equality. None of that has changed, but in the last decade Ginsburg has become a celebrity whose image is plastered on t-shirts, mugs and all over the Internet. She’s celebrated as both a gritty feminist badass, and cute old lady.

It’s great that someone of Ginsburg’s intellectual heft and societal importance is famous; still, you worry that the image of the bespectacled RBG is overtaking the person. Part of RBG—which is directed and produced by Betsy West and Julie Cohen—explores the hagiography surrounding the diminutive justice: college students express awe at just glimpsing her, and we see Ginsburg sporting a “Super Diva” shirt while working out with her trainer (who, incidentally, has written a book titled The RBG Workout: How She Stays Strong … and You Can Too!). The workout stuff is cute, and a testament to Ginsburg’s determination and discipline, but far more important, and interesting, is her work over nearly six decades as a lawyer, professor and judge.

Nominated by Bill Clinton in 1993, Ginsburg was not the first woman named to the Supreme Court (Sandra Day O’Connor served from 1981-2006) but she has been the most passionate defender of women’s rights, including abortion rights. And while she is considered a liberal icon, it wasn’t always the case. When Ginsburg was appointed, she was in the middle of the pack ideologically, but the changing composition of the court has moved her relative position to the left. Moreover, RBG has proven more than willing to dissent from her conservative colleagues, particularly on gender issues. She is able to do this while maintaining a reputation for collegiality, which included a long-running friendship with the boisterous conservative justice Antonin Scalia, a fellow opera lover who died in 2016.

There are plenty of well-known figures who weigh-in on Ginsburg in the film, including Gloria Steinem, Bill Clinton, NPR’s Nina Totenberg and long-time Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, an arch conservative who nevertheless recommended Ginsburg to President Clinton in 1993 to fill the open Supreme Court seat. “It was the interview that did it,” says Clinton about his choice of Ginsburg from a long list of potential nominees for the position.

Ginsburg’s daughter and son, and a granddaughter, attest to the judge’s sharp mind, prodigious work ethic and serious demeanor. So do two of her childhood friends who confirm, as does nearly everyone interviewed, that Ginsburg is no fan of idle chit-chat or time wasting.

Gender was an obstacle throughout Ginsburg’s rise in the legal ranks. “Being a woman was an impediment,” she notes dryly about her time at Harvard Law School. Ginsburg was one of only nine women in a Harvard class of over 500, and the scrutiny was intense, although professors would not engage the women in the Socratic interrogation that men received because it was felt that females were too delicate for such treatment. Ginsburg also recounts that a dean called the female students together to ask them how they thought they could justify occupying seats that would otherwise have gone to men.

RBG faced other challenges as well, including the death of her mother after a lengthy illness when Ruth was 17. RBG did her undergraduate studies at Cornell, which is where she met her husband Marty. They both went to Harvard for law school, and when Ruth started (she was a year behind Marty) she was caring for their 14-month-old daughter. Ginsburg neatly compartmentalized law time and baby time, she says, but then Marty was diagnosed with cancer, and RBG helped him keep up with his studies while he received treatment. All the while, she was rearing their child, attending classes and serving on the law review.

Ginsburg’s husband survived the bout with cancer, and he proved key to her later success. “Meeting Marty was by far the most fortunate thing that happened to me,” says RBG. Martin Ginsburg, a tax lawyer who died in 2010, was gregarious and social, an ideal counterpart to his more reserved wife. Moreover, not only did he actively campaign for Ginsburg’s nomination to the Supreme Court in the early 1990s, he gave up a high-flying career in New York when his wife was named to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals by President Carter in 1980. The family moved to D.C., and Marty took on much of the childrearing and cooking duties (there are several mentions of RBG’s culinary deficiencies throughout the film).

When RBG graduated from Columbia Law in 1959 (she’d transferred there after her husband took a job in New York when he graduated from Harvard), she had a hard time getting a job in a law firm, even though she’d been at the top of her class. The discrimination against women in the legal profession was not exactly subtle. She became a professor at Rutgers University, and soon learned that she was being paid less than her male colleagues, a situation she quickly moved to remedy.

RBG became a gender equality crusader in the 1970s, and in several cases that she took on, men were as much the victims of gender discrimination and stereotyping as were women. In 1973, she argued a case before the Supreme Court in which a female Air Force lieutenant was not given a housing allowance for her and her husband, even though male service members with wives were automatically granted such benefits. The policy was overturned. In a 1975 case, she represented a man whose wife had died shortly after childbirth. The widower was denied a survivor’s Social Security benefit, which he needed to be able to care for his son, even though in parallel cases women receive such a benefit when their spouse dies.

Once RBG got on the court, she continued to champion women and gender equity. She wrote the majority opinion in a 1996 case in which the Virginia Military Institute was ordered to end its males-only admissions policy.

Ginsburg says her mother gave her two pieces of advice: “Be a lady, and be independent.” By lady, Ginsburg says her mother meant that “One should not be consumed by useless emotions,” like anger. RBG seems to have taken this to heart. She’s certainly passionate about her work, but her career indicates that she is always thinking two or three steps ahead, not getting embroiled in controversies of the day, or recriminations against present or past antagonists. (The lone understandable exception was her misstep as a sitting justice in making disparaging comments about President Trump).

Ginsburg has more energy than most people one-third her age. Still, she is 85 and has survived two bouts of cancer. She dodges the question about whether she should have retired during Obama’s tenure so that a liberal, or at least centrist, judge could have replaced her, as opposed to a Trump nominee should she leave the bench before 2020. It’s hard to argue that someone as vigorous as Ginsburg should step aside before she’s ready, particularly after the outrageous stunt in which the Republicans refused to vote on Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the court in 2016 in the wake of Scalia’s death. It’s a tough one; let’s hope the judge keeps working out, eats right and tries to get a proper night’s rest so that she can outlast the current administration.

RBG was made by a team of women, including director-producers Julie Cohen and Betsy West, and executive producers Amy Entelis (Executive VP for Talent and Content Development at CNN Worldwide, which financed the film) and Courtney Sexton (CNN Films VP). Women also occupy the archival, associate and coordinating producer roles on RBG, as well as the composer, cinematographer, and editor slots.

In November, an unrelated feature film titled On the Basis of Sex will be released. Directed by veteran producer-director Mimi Leder, it will star Felicity Jones as Ginsburg.

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Chandra Alexandre: How Global Fund for Women is Growing its Reach

Chandra Alexandre, Global Fund for Women’s Vice-President of Development

“We focus on women at the grassroots, aligning our grant-making strategies and priorities to fit their needs,” says Chandra Alexandre, Global Fund for Women’s Vice-President of Development. The goal is to leverage local knowledge and expertise with donor funds to create system-level change for women in the Global South.

Global Fund for Women is headquartered in San Francisco, but five members of its 41-person staff are in New York, and four more work remotely from various locales. The organization was founded in 1987, and since then has invested in roughly 5,000 grassroots organizations in 175 countries. Its approach encompasses both advocacy and grant-making, with an emphasis on supporting, funding and partnering with women-led groups and movements. According to their website: “Our vision is that every woman and girl is strong, safe, powerful, and heard. No exceptions.”

Chandra Alexandre has been Development VP for over three years, and spoke to me by phone from her office in San Francisco. Alexandre, who is also an Adjunct Professor in the University of San Francisco’s Master of Nonprofit Administration program, has a wide-ranging background. Prior to assuming her position at Global Fund for Women, she was the lead fundraiser at Partners in School Innovation, and has worked in the banking sector and in the U.S. diplomatic corps. Alexandre earned an MBA at San Francisco’s Presidio Graduate School, which focuses on justice and sustainability, and a Ph.D. in Asian & Comparative Studies from the California Institute of Integral Studies.

Alexandre’s doctoral research took her to India, and she says that experience is paying dividends in her current work. “My knowledge gained from living, working, and being with women in India has definitely informed my world view and current position,” she says. “It helped me understand women’s issues globally, and women’s lived reality in the Global South.”

Much of Alexandre’s time is spent talking to people, and not just donors. “Sometimes it’s in-house experts, such as our grants-operation team who are in constant contact with our grantees, and sometimes it’s touching base with an activist board member,” she says. Alexandre also reads grantee reports, and on occasion will go right to the source. “After Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti in 2016, it was me picking up the phone and speaking with one of our grantee partners,” says Alexandre. “It was a statement of solidarity, but also checking on how they were doing. I was trying to see what was happening, and what was most needed.”

Alexandre’s communications with key Global Fund for Women players in the U.S. and overseas enables her to be a conduit of information and perspective about women’s lives in the Global South. “It’s about letting donors know how they can shift the tide in terms of making positive change in women’s lives,” she says.

Global Fund for Women invests in projects of various scales and durations, depending on local needs and conditions on the ground. A major recent initiative was a 2017 partnership focusing on garment workers, undertaken with the NoVo Foundation, C&A Foundation and Gender at Work. The effort is combating gender-based violence and improving working condition for women in major garment-producing countries including India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia.

The aim is to activate local women to become agents of change, with garment workers learning about their rights, acting on those rights, and creating systemic change. The initial round of grants to local organizations were awarded last summer.

Not surprisingly, as Development VP, Alexandre spends an important part of her time cultivating donors. She champions Global Fund for Women’s mission, but also listens to donors, seeing where their interests lie and how these match-up with Global Fund for Women’s programs. She says that some donors are interested in a specific region or country, but many are passionate about an issue like gender-based violence or reproductive health and rights. They want to contribute to change, and trust Global Fund for Women’s expertise and ability to forge relationships with partners and advisors abroad working in these areas.

Alexandre handles donations in the six and seven figures coming from individuals, institutions, and private and corporate foundations. She says that 84 percent of funds go directly to fund programs. Global Fund for Women has over 10,000 donors, so in addition to the major sums, there are many smaller one-time and recurring donations. Global Fund for Women also responds to emergencies, such as the earthquakes in Haiti in 2010 and Nepal in 2015. “We know that when humanitarian organizations respond to crises, the needs of women and girls are often last in line,” she says.

Global Fund for Women’s staff are always in motion, whether on the programming or donor side. “As a public foundation we’re constantly fund-raising.  Unlike a private foundation, we don’t have a regular draw against an endowment to rely on to support the whole of our grant-making and advocacy efforts,” says Alexandre. Global Fund for Women’s operating budget is projected to hit $25 million annually by 2020, and in the 2017 fiscal year it awarded ten million dollars in grants, the most ever in the organization’s thirty-plus year history. Global Fund for Women funds new initiatives, but is also aware that past gains can disappear. “We are placing a real emphasis on resistance,” says Alexandre. “We don’t want to see a rollback on women’s gains in areas such as education or reproductive rights.”

Alexandre notes that Donald Trump’s election has spurred activism in the U.S. around women’s issues. While this is laudable, the downside is that mobilizing against the Trump agenda domestically may cause one to forget about the status of women outside the U.S. “Increasing awareness is key,” say Alexandre, suggesting that not just Global Fund for Women, but the women’s human rights sector overall needs more exposure and funding. “We need to support communities in the U.S.,” says Alexandre, “but we also need to look at global issues and stand in solidarity with our sisters in the Global South.”

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Women’s Funds Show Philanthropy the Way to Transparency, Diversity

Happy Women’s History Month. There are only a few days left to this month of focusing on the value of gender equality and the arc of its progression throughout time. I spent a lot of time this month researching and thinking about how women’s funds feed social change. Most of what I learned reinforced the theory that women’s funds represent a unique approach to philanthropy that the rest of the sector would do well to replicate.

My last piece for Women’s history month on this topic is published at Daily Kos, a site dedicated to the larger sphere of progressive political change.

As Philanthropy Opens Up, Women’s Funds Show the Way

Something unusual happened recently in philanthropy: Bill and Melinda Gates opened their annual letter by answering 10 “tough” questions from the public about their philanthropy. The Gates’ Q&A is just one example of philanthropists becoming more responsive to the public. Funders are growing more aware of the value of engaging with the communities they seek to serve. The Fund for Shared Insight (FSI) which is dedicated to bringing more openness to philanthropy, is cultivating this trend; it added five new foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, this past year: Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, James Irvine Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and Omidyar Network, bringing the number of funding partners in the collaborative to 39.

These new commitments to FSI represent a trend toward participatory grantmaking — a method of listening to and engaging with grantees and community members in the funding process, making the interventions being supported more impactful. It’s a powerful strategy that is gaining momentum, with grantmakers like Wikimedia Foundation increasing the amount of participatory grantmaking into the millions in recent years.

With help from FSI, Women’s Funding Network recently conducted research on the standard openness practices of its members, yielding  significant findings about the power of participation.

How Do Women’s Funds Practice Openness?

  1. Women’s funds recruit community members for several parts of the grantmaking process. Of the women’s funds studied for this research, 79% practiced participatory grantmaking in the form of bringing on grant readers from the communities being served. 74% of women’s funds also had community members participating in funding recommendations and site visits, and 61% engaged community members in evaluating grants.
  2. Women’s funds use listening tours and other engagement strategies. Listening to the voices of community members is a key strategy that women’s funds practice. 68% of women’s funds in the study engage in listening tours and 88% engage in candid conversation with community members.
  3. Because women’s funds listen, they do some of the most effective advocacy. 88% of women’s funds engage in advocacy, with 75% engaging at the state level. That advocacy is magnified by 96% of women’s funds engaging in coalition-building — getting other organizations on board when advocating for systems changes.
  4. Women’s funds prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion. Engagement and listening tours in the community help women’s funds fully appreciate and elevate the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Of the participating women’s funds, 58% have explicit definitions and commitments to diversity, equity, and/or inclusion.

The Results

The Women’s Foundation of California, recently introduced three important pieces of legislation through its policy institute that were signed into State law, all of which benefit underserved communities and enhance inclusion and economic equality. In Kansas City, Missouri, the Women’s Foundation was on the forefront of advocating for and enacting new paid family leave policies. And in Chicago, the Chicago Foundation for Women teamed up with other advocacy groups this past year to raise the minimum wage in Cook County to $11.

Bottom Line: Consistently employing participatory grantmaking practices can result in increased resources, knowledge, and self-determination for grassroots movements.

Women’s funds’ standard operating procedure of listening and understanding a community from its perspective, empowers grantmakers and community members to be more effective change agents. Grantees get more opportunities to collaborate with others in the community and participate in advocacy that creates structural change. Grantmakers feel more effective and confident about their connection to the community.

Now more than ever, foundations should fully embrace the participatory grantmaking model that women’s funds have been practicing for decades. By doing so, they will increase their capacity to accelerate the social change they seek.

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is a clinical social worker and founder of Philanthropy Women. Full disclosure:  Women’s Funding Network is the fiscal sponsor for Philanthropy Women.

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#MarchForOurLives: Women’s Funds Support Youth-Led Movements

Thanks to Daniel Heimpel and The Chronicle of Social Change for publishing my op-ed on the student-led gun safety movement happening all around us today in the world. I am immensely proud of all the young people who are showing us the way today.

From the op-ed:

Ahead of the Curve: Women’s Funds and Youth-Led Social Movements

Are we finally listening to the children? An estimated 185,000 youth walked out of school and onto the streets on March 14 to protest the lack of adequate gun control in America. Thousands more will descend on Washington, D.C., today to raise their voices and most importantly lay out a responsible path forward. Youth-led social movements are demonstrating that they are the force to be reckoned with.

In key respects, many women’s funds have already done groundbreaking work for youth-led movements in recent years. Scaling these movements up could be an effective way to fight back against a government currently held hostage by the powerful moneyed interests of the gun lobby.

Funders ready to acknowledge and bolster youth-led movements are in the right place at the right time to help chart a new path for public safety. Among the funders who are well-positioned for this niche are women’s funds and foundations.

 The growth of youth-led advocacy supported by women’s funds started because they recognized the essential value of young women’s voices and experiences. This work was cultivated further in 2016 with the launch of Prosperity Together, a collaboration of 32 women’s funds across the country who have committed to investing $100 million over five years in improving economic security for low-income women, particularly young women.

Read the full text at The Chronicle for Social Change. 

Related:

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Martha A. Taylor: On Accelerating Social Change for Women

 

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