Want Gender Equality in Your City? Join This Call.

Do you, like me, live in a city where girls softball teams have names like “The Dolls” and very few women make it into elected office? Then you might want to join this call being held by It’s Time Network next Tuesday, May 2nd at 3 PM EST. This will be an opportunity to learn about how to take action in your local community to protect and advance women’s rights.

It’s Time Network brought together a number of important organizations to formulate their Mayors Guide: Accelerating Gender Equality including the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women, Institute for Women’s Policy Research Center for American Women in Politics, Jobs with Justice,  Forward Together, Equal Rights Advocates, Global Fund for Women, Women Donors Network, Girls Inc.,  MomsRising, The Grove Foundation, St. Vincent De Paul Society of San Francisco, Astrea Foundation and Women’s Earth Alliance.

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How Funding for a New App is Helping Lift Up Communities Around the Globe

Courtenay Cabot Venton, an economist working in global development, helped developed a new app that brings communities together to solve problems.

From Emily: At Imago Dei Fund, we are honored to discover inspiring people with ideas that make cool things happen in the world. One such example is Courtenay Cabot Venton, the author of this post and an economist working in global development, who has spearheaded the development of an app being used around the world through a web of partnerships. This app helps people develop“self help groups” in impoverished places, making use of technology to empower and uplift their members. In many ways, Courtenay’s story of creating this app to empower women shows how the very nature of empowerment is changing. 

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Zero to Three: Parents and Babies to March for Better Care

It’s like the biggest play group ever, but political. On Tuesday, May 2, parents and babies from every state are converging on Capitol Hill and urging Congress to “Think Babies.”

Whenever there is a new initiative for babies, you can be sure there is a lot of woman power behind it. Man power, too, to be sure. But let’s face it: women still change more diapers, read more stories, and attend to more preschool dramas than men.

There is no doubt that women and entire communities benefit when babies are well taken care of. So this should be an important march, with a powerful feminist message: babies matter. Think Babies. 

From ZERO TO THREE, the organizing leading families in advocating for policies that support the littlest humans:

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Vini Bhansali: Growing 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.Read More

At Obama Summit, Women’s Funds Step Up with New Plans Again

Here’s some good news this week, in case you need a little cheering up: The Obama administration hosted the first-ever United State of Women Summit in Washington, D.C. With Michelle Obama and Oprah headlining the event, this convergence included many old and new fighters for gender equality including Darren Walker, Gloria Steinem, Matt McGorry and Amy Poehler. Also adding to the excitement: women’s funds.

women's funds
Leaders of Dallas Women’s Foundation, California Women’s Foundation, The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis, New York Women’s Foundation, Washington Area Women’s Foundation, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham and Ms. Foundation on stage at the United State of Women Summit on June 14 in Washington, D.C.

President Obama and Vice President Biden also participated, with the president drawing wild cheers from the crowd as he announced in classic Obama style: “I may be a little grayer than I was eight years ago, but this is what a feminist looks like.”

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Why Give for Women and Girls?

Do you ever wonder what motivates someone to give money? Obviously, the answer is “yes” if you’re a professional fundraiser. But those who give may also wonder what’s really causing them to reach for that checkbook.

give for women and girls
Photo by Valentina Conde on Unsplash

Research from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute sheds light on this area, particularly as it pertains to women at every level of society. Now, WPI has released a study showing for the first time that women are motivated by personal experience to give to causes that benefit women and girls specifically.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Well, it’s actually significant, useful information. Women’s tendency to donate money to specific causes based on experiences like having a child or discrimination suggests that philanthropy might take off in new directions as women become primary asset-holders in society and further increase their giving.

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