New World Possibilities with Gender Lens Giving Strategies

On Thursday in New Zealand and Wednesday in the US, a virtual conversation took place between some of the boldest strategic experts in the feminist giving space. The conversation included Sarah Haacke Byrd, Executive Director of Women Moving Millions, Tuti B. Scott, feminist expert on gender lens grantmaking and gender lens investing, Melanie Brown, Senior Program Officer for US Policy and Advocacy at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Lucy Lee, Senior Associate for Volition Capital and Lotus Circle Bay Area convener.

gender lens giving
Melanie Brown, Senior Program Officer for US Policy and Advocacy at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, spoke about the need to recognize the “weathering” that women of color experience in our racist and sexist cultures.

 As more virtual strategizing takes place to amplify feminist giving strategies, these leaders offer a valuable perspective. Sue McCabe, Chief Executive of Philanthropy New Zealand opened the call with some shocking stats about how COVID is impacting New Zealand’s economy, even though they have had some of the best health outcomes from the virus. McCabe said that 90% of newly unemployed people, due to the COVID restrictions in New Zealand, are women. She stressed the importance of giving more, and giving more strategically, in the time of COVID.

Jane Sloane, Senior Director of Women’s Empowerment Programs for the Asia Foundation, spoke about Asia Foundation’s network of 18 offices across Asia and its “deep local expertise” that comes from 65 years of experience. “COVID 19, colonization, growing inequality, and climate change, have collectively brought us to a pivotal moment where urgent systemic change is crucial. Profound shifts in power are needed,” said Sloane.

Sloane emphasized the need for strengthening health and education systems, and also focus on gender norms. She urged philanthropists to become more familiar with the research on how gender impacts our choices, decisions, and opportunities in life.

“The philanthropy sector needs to think and act with greater intentionality, putting women and girls at the center of their practice,” she said.

Sarah Haacke Byrd on the Need for Bold Giving to Get Equal

Sarah Haacke Byrd, Executive Director of Women Moving Millions, spoke of the need for funders to “conduct thorough gender analysis of their work.” She suggested that they engage with Women Moving Millions by making a commitment toward the Give Bold, Get Equal campaign to bring in $100 million in new funding for women and girls by 2022. 

Funders need to identify the gender gaps in their own strategies, said Haacke Byrd, and also assess how the “gendered power relations may affect their solution to the problem.” 

“Get off the sidelines and prioritize funding for women and girls,” she urged.  

Melanie Brown on Black Women’s Gender Lens Giving Strategies

Melanie Brown of the Gates Foundation, who is also an Atlantic Fellow at London School of Economics, spoke next, sharing from her research on black women’s philanthropy leadership that spans across 7 different countries. Brown wanted to understand the barriers faced by these black women philanthropists, and also get a sense of how they leveraged opportunities. She wanted to see how they were able to drive financial resources toward justice, despite the multiple layers of oppression and discrimination they faced. 

Brown also did a piece of her research on black women givers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and this work was based in the U.S. 

Brown spoke about the “history of black women working tirelessly to save their own money and leverage funds of others to build up social, educational, and cultural institutions in the community. “They were fighting society’s efforts to label them as inferior and immoral,” she said.

Brown recognized the need for philanthropy to be “active resistance” for women of color both historically and today.

“If your gender lens is not intersectional, you’re not dismantling anything,” said Brown, noting that many white women philanthropists have “done more to embolden the patriarchy.” She said white women took the position toward patriarchy of “ move over, we want to share your power in the system,” whereas black women have taken the position of “the system is wrong.”

Brown further urged givers to challenge the “orthodoxies of philanthropy that go unstated or unquestioned.”

As one example, Brown suggested funders if they are “acting with urgency” or taking the more unstated status quo strategy of “incremental approach.”

Brown also spoke about what she calls the “weathering that black women experience” by living day-to day in cultures that devalue and exploit them. She called this experience a “bone-deep accumulation of wounds” that release more cortisol and other stress chemicals in the bodies of black women, weathering on their on cardiovascular, immune systems and nervous systems, making black women particularly vulnerable to disease and death.

She reminded funders to recognize how black women have been at vanguard of social justice for much of our collective histories, and urged philanthropy to “center them in our work and in our conversations.”

Lucy Lee on Gender Lens Giving Strategies

Next, Lucy Lee of Volition Capital and Lotus Circle Bay Area convener spoke about the origins of the Lotus Circle, which started in New York to advance women’s empowerment, and has always taken a strategy of maintaining “flexible core funds.” Having this kind of funding, she said, allows funders to “pilot new programs and expand existing ones, pivoting to areas of greatest need.”

She gave the example of how Lotus collaborated with VISA Foundation to disburse $500,000 in Myanmar and Malaysia to help women and girls in Asia during COVID. The program also provides Lotus Advisors to women who are seeking guidance and mentoring as they progress with their work.

Tuti Scott, Interim Executive Director of Tides, author of Money, Gender and Power, and veteran gender lens strategist, discussed how “this is a time for action,” and stressed the need to “invest in collective power of workers.” She spoke about Tides’ efforts to do this work by reaching out to support those working in the care economy, particularly immigrants.

Scott also emphasized the need to support those who are upholding “the integrity of democracy” such as Amy Allison, leader of ShethePeople, and Stacy Abrams and the efforts for voter participation at She also encouraged funders to join in collective funding efforts, and gave examples of the Equality Fund and

She also spoke about how Tides is pushing for more of this collective funding work and has started the Women’s Environmental Leadership Fund as one example of these efforts. 


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Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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