Sometimes people misunderstand social workers as professionals who are not focused on impacting larger systems with their work. This mistake was brought home in philanthropy recently when the MacroSW collective, a group of social workers focused on larger social issues, had to correct the perception being given at the Nonprofit Quarterly that “You can’t social work this” as a way of saying “You can’t fix this problem with social work.”
The response from the MacroSW collective, entitled Why We Have to Social Work This, points out that many social workers commit their life’s work to addressing systemic and structural problems in society, providing leadership for policy, legislation, and community organizations. It’s called Macro Social Work — as in looking at the “macro” or bigger picture to find solutions to social problems.
Starting with a joke about who would be the word hog between the couple, Stephen Colbert recently interviewed Bill and Melinda Gates. The couple talked about their philanthropy in the context of larger political issues such as growing inequality, and shared some of their “surprises” — the theme of their annual letter this year.
Colbert remarked that Bill Gates used to be the richest man in the world, but has now fallen into the number two spot for the world’s most wealthy person. “Well, we’re trying to give it away faster,” said Bill.
Eileen R. Heisman, CEO of National Philanthropic Trust (NPT), has a 30 year record of professional achievements in philanthropy, but it all started with being a social worker. I wanted to learn more about Heisman’s early social work origins, and also about how she led NPT from a small nonprofit in 1996 to the $6 billion dollar grantmaking organization it is today, making an indelible imprint on the landscape of modern philanthropy.
When we began our conversation, I asked Heisman to comment on what it felt like to run the country’s largest host organization for Donor Advised Funds. “When I read my own bio, sometimes it feels kind of like an out of body experience,” said Heisman with a chuckle. “But it’s nice to be able to say all those things are true.”
Admittedly, I am not a philanthropist. But managing the money of philanthropists for progressive social change has given me a unique appreciation for the essential role of people and organizations that connect philanthropy and political strategy.
I’ve spent most of my career as that staff person expected to change the world $1,000 at a time, one issue at a time. In roles such as manager of young organizers, volunteer coordinator, lobbyist to fickle legislators, major gifts director, and Executive Director, I have worked to change political decision-making systems, often while holding up woefully under-staffed legislative and advocacy initiatives. As a single person Public Affairs or Program Director, I sometimes served in the role of five people, and was seen as a savior if I could project-manage a couple coalitions on the side – you know, for the good of the cause.
Tomorrow evening’s Take the Lead Virtual Happy Hour will feature an exciting group of women talking about one of my favorite topics: journalism. Tomorrow’s event is called The Real Story: Women in Journalism Finding Fair Solutions.
The web call will discuss ways to promote change that will make for more equal representation and pay of women journalists. Given that Philanthropy Women is a journalism endeavor, I am planning to be on that call to see what I can learn for my work, and to discuss philanthropy’s current and future impact on these issues.
“Funny Girls is a philanthropic investment in building the pipeline for female leadership,” says Jenny Raymond, of the Harnisch Foundation’s (HF) program employing improv techniques to build girls’ leadership skills.
Raymond, who is HF Executive Director, and Carla Blumenthal, Funny Girls Program Manager, spoke to me by phone from the HF offices in New York.
It’s an auspicious time for a program devoted to building the next generation of female leaders as 2018 saw a historic number of diverse women elected to political office. “That didn’t happen overnight. It was brewing for a long time,” says Raymond, who sees Funny Girls as a tool to build on these gains.
After an extensive search and interview process, Women Moving Millions (WMM) recently announced the appointment of Sarah Haacke Byrd as its new Executive Director. Byrd is an influential rising star of the feminist philanthropy community known for being a “joyful warrior” in the ongoing battle for gender equality. Byrd also comes to her new position at WMM with a history of leadership focused on legislative changes that would make the processing of rape kits a necessity in all police investigations of sexual assault.
This is just a quick post before taking a few days off to enjoy time with family and friends. We will be covering several important events in upcoming posts, including a fascinating call on Gender Alpha with Suzanne Biegel and David Bank, where they discussed how “Gender Alpha” is all about identifying the specific dividends that gender lens investing yields. Biegel and Bank are co-producers of November’s Gender-Smart Investing Summit in London. Guests on the call included Luisamaria Ruiz Carlile of Veris Wealth Partners, which specializes in gender lens investing and research.
And one other quick note to acknowledge the significance of the recent elections, where voter turnout was higher than it has been in 104 years. That’s right — the last time voter turnout was as high as it was in 2018 was in 1914, before women even had the right to vote. Now that women and millennials are getting into the driver’s seat with social change, we hope to see even better voter turnout in 2020. I don’t know about you, but I am mighty thankful that people are finally getting the message (it seems!) about the importance of civic engagement. That could mean in 2020 we elect a President that gets us back on track in terms of valuing safety, diversity, and systems change to address inequality.
I can see the travel brochures now: Come to Seattle, home of some of the biggest feminist funding gatherings in recent history!
Not only did the Women’s Funding Network and Women Moving Millions convene in Seattle this year, but now the Women Donors Network has also paid a visit to Emerald City, making Seattle a central destination for feminist philanthropists in 2018. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation sponsored Women Moving Millions for their event in September, and hosted the Women’s Funding Network for an evening event at the same time.
A great deal of emphasis in feminist philanthropy is placed on women, and changing the role of women in society. But what about men? What role can men play in challenging gender norms, and what initiatives are gender equality organizations taking to reach men?
To further explore these questions, I spoke to Giovanna Lauro, Vice President of Programs and Research at Promundo, by telephone from her D.C. office. Promundo was founded in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil in 1997, working with young men in Rio’s poorest communities on transforming gender norms and concepts of masculinity. It has since taken that approach far beyond Brazil, and its website notes, “Promundo works to promote gender equality and create a world free from violence by engaging men and boys in partnership with women and girls.”