(Liveblog) Women’s Giving Circles: The Future of Latin America

On Thursday, March 19th, team members from Empatthy and a robust panel of speakers gathered online to celebrate the growing women’s giving circle movement in Latin America. Featuring Jeannie Sager (Women’s Philanthropy Institute), Carmen Stevens and Sondra Shaw-Hardy (Women’s Giving Circles International), Sara Lomelin (Philanthropy Together), and Rosa Madera (Fundadora Empatthy), the event was half celebration, half lively discussion of the future of collaborative giving in the Latin American region.

giving circles

Juan Carlos Diaz Bilbao (BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders Network), the day’s moderator, introduced the event with thanks to the attendees, participants, and sponsors making the event possible.

Leadership and Accountability: An Exchange of Information and Experiences

The event impressed with its bilingual accessibility — speakers presented in both Spanish and English, with audio interpretation available for both languages.

“Many times, the solutions to the problems are just in front of our faces,” said Mara Jose Abud, a representative from the Women’s Ministry of Work in Chile. “We need new patterns of how we relate as women and men within societies, and this is where we need leaders like you to seek ingenious methods to help women achieve a life free of violence.”

Eric Catalfamo, Counselor for Public Affairs at the American Embassy in Chile, spoke to the exchange of information and experiences between American and Chilean philanthropists. Catalfamo described the relationship between philanthropy and development, describing the ways community funds can further missions of social justice, economic empowerment, and climate action.

“Philanthropy doesn’t only satisfy a natural desire to help, but also to promote democracy,” he said.

Sondra Shaw-Hardy on Women’s Philanthropy Impact

Next, Rosa Madera of Empatthy conducted an interview with “the legendary” Sondra Shaw-Hardy. Madera’s work focuses on bringing the giving circle model to Chile, where women are often at the head of financial decisions within their households.

Speaking from Miami, Shaw-Hardy shared the history of the Women’s Philanthropy Network, now the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI). Devoted to expanding the power of women’s philanthropic giving, WPI and Shaw-Hardy are dedicated to the study, support, and amplification of the women’s funding communities that exist around the world. Relying on emotional and social impact — and yes, empathy! — women’s funding represents an opportunity for every nation, not just the United States or Chile in particular.

Since the 1980s, Shaw-Hardy’s experiences have only shown that the power of women’s philanthropy has always been strong and will continue to grow. Funding groups like Women Moving Millions offer the drastic power of large-scale funding, while community- and collaboration-based funding models offer similar impact in smaller doses. Today, she encourages the giving circle model as one of the most impactful versions of philanthropy: The reliance on collaboration offers an instant expansion of each dollar’s impact.

Carmen Stevens on Giving Circles as a Natural Extension of Activism

Stevens described the trend in early North American giving in which women traditionally gave philanthropic dollars, but did not identify as philanthropists — or if they did, their efforts were not recognized by historic research and philanthropic institutes.

In more recent years, giving circles and other collaborative funding methods have offered women new and measurable options for philanthropy.

Offering the examples of the Ms. Foundation for Women, the Washington Women’s Foundation, the Canadian Women’s Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Stevens noted the “prioritization of women and girls’ initiatives on a global scale.”

While most women’s foundations work toward causes within their own country borders, there is a rising trend in global collaboration between organizations. In North America, community foundations and grassroots organizations are seeing a major increase in impact and prevalence, and Stevens highlighted a few American organizations following this type of model (like the Latino Community Foundation and International Community Foundation). She also called attention to Latin American organizations, like Fundudaro Empatthy, that offer this style of collaborative philanthropy.

“Know that your sisters around the world are here to support your advocacy work,” said Stevens.

WPI: When Women’s Philanthropy Grows, So Does the World

Jeannie Sager took the virtual stage to share the Women’s Philanthropy Institute’s recent research on growing women’s giving.

“If you take anything away from my presentation, I hope it is this: The bottom line is that gender matters in philanthropy,” she said. “Women’s growing wealth is good news for the philanthropic sector.”

Sager spoke to the shift away from the traditional view of a “donor” (an older white man) to a more diverse “donor” model — more women, representing all races, sexual orientations, nationalities, etc.

“One is not better than the other,” Sager said. “They are simply different, and women are driving philanthropy today.”

Sager also noted that marriage increases giving: Married and cohabitating couples tend to give more to charity than single men or single women, and while most couples tend to make giving decisions together, women are more likely to make those decisions independently. Plus, the growing impact of online social platforms has made it easier for people, especially women, to give at any time.

“For men, giving is often a matter of self-interest,” Sager explained. “It’s not that men are not empathetic, but because women are socialized into caring roles, empathy becomes more impactful in their philanthropy.”

As an example, Sager cited Melinda Gates’ empathy-based philanthropy, which Sager calls “deliberate and intentional with a focus on women and girls.”

At the end of the day, Sager said, “Giving makes us all happier. Men are happier when they give — women are happier when they can give more.”

Sara Lomelin: Philanthropy is Rooted in our DNA

The final speaker of the day, Philanthropy Together’s Executive Director Sara Lomelin, spoke to the power of women’s giving circles in North America and Latin America.

Emphasizing the community-oriented strategy of giving circles, Lomelin described the impact these circles can have on social and economic justice initiatives around the world. For generations, she says, Latin American communities have had some sort of community philanthropy — and the modern giving circle model combines the benefits of “crowdfunding” with historic community giving models to maximize impact.

According to Lomelin, giving circles allow philanthropists to contribute funds that offer the most impact according to their personal values. Unlike crowdfunding, which is often on a case-by-case basis (or can lead to an “I totally forgot I contributed to that” mentality), giving circles encourage constant activism through collective impact and collaborative discussion. While members of circles tend to contribute annual dues in a lump sum or in quarterly payments, the discussions surrounding the supported organizations continue all year.

Among Lomelin’s examples were Together Women Rise and the Asian Women Giving Circle. These groups offer flexible giving models for their members, along with voting and discussion sessions to determine which organizations receive funding. Specialized giving circles (i.e. Asian women or Muslim women) offer additional opportunities for women to expand on the values of their personal communities.

“Giving circles are based on trust,” Lomelin explained. While many giving circles have minimum donation amounts (or “dues”), others offer flexible contribution options so that women can still participate even if they cannot contribute as much as other circle members.

“We love that all of you are part of this global movement,” she said.

In Latin America specifically, Lomelin spoke to the ways the giving circle model comfortably molds with established community systems. Instead of being stuck in stuffy board rooms, giving circle members “can gather over a meal or a glass of wine” and have a collaborative conversation. This makes philanthropy much more accessible for everyday women.

“It’s not charity, it’s change,” she said.

The event closed with a Q&A between the audience and the presenters, offered in both Spanish and English.


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Author: Maggie May

Maggie May is a small business owner, author, and story-centric content strategist. A Maryland transplant by way of Florida, DC, Ireland, Philadelphia, and -- most recently -- Salt Lake City, she has a passion for finding stories and telling them the way they're meant to be told.

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