How Mainstream Media is Amplifying Feminist Philanthropy

A feature story by Julia Travers from Inside Philanthropy explores the funders using participatory grantmaking with girls. (Image Credit: Inside Philanthropy)

“In every decision you make, in every strategy you make, ask yourself a question: Where are girls?”

This is a statement from one of The With and For Girls Collective’s teenage activists, quoted in an article for Inside Philanthropy, and it rings true for philanthropic organizations around the world.

The growing influence of women on philanthropy is starting to draw attention, in the best possible ways. As more women work together to enact true social change, and as more female pioneers lead the way toward a more gender-equal future, mainstream media outlets are beginning to observe and comment on the trend.

One of the front-runners in capturing media attention is Melinda Gates, who, as one of the wealthiest people in the world alongside her husband Bill, has long been a pioneer for philanthropy.

Gates recently published her new book, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World, which reflects on her philanthropic mission over the last twenty years to call for women’s empowerment in the 21st century. As part of the press circuit for the new book, Gates has been interviewed in The Chronicle of Philanthropy and other giving-focused publications, but she has also been prominently featured in The New York Times, NPR, the LA Times, and TIME Magazine. It can be argued that Gates’s preexisting fame is helping her book gain traction, but the interviews themselves offer uplifting and exciting looks into the future of philanthropy.

“I have rage,” she said, in an interview for the New York Times Magazine. “It’s up to me to metabolize that and use it to fuel my work. …We do need to think about how we right some of these inequities. How do we open our networks of power for women and people of color? We have to think about our privilege. I have to think about my privilege every day.”

This attention to privilege is a common theme in many philanthropic efforts led by the ultra-wealthy, or by organizations that have previously used their funding with the best of intentions, but not to the best effect.

The solution Gates and many foundations have reached is participatory grantmaking: putting funding decisions in the hands of the very populations foundations are aiming to serve.

The With and For Girls Collective (WFG) has become a mainstream media darling for their approach to participatory grantmaking. According to a fact sheet prepared by UNFPA and UNICEF, girls and young women ages 10 to 24 make up 12.5% of the world’s population — around 900 million people total — but less than 2 cents of every international aid dollar goes to campaigns directed toward girls in this age group.

WFG’s mission is to fund more campaigns and organizations that directly support adolescent girls, focusing on empowerment efforts in five major geographical regions. What makes the organization such a popular subject for media isn’t just its mission, but its design — as a Collective of organizations that came together in 2014, WFG is a collaborative effort of foundations around the world to empower girls and women to succeed and enact real change in their lives.

In the last few months alone, WFG has been featured in Forbes, NewsDay, Inside Philanthropy, and The Guardian. Their mission strikes a chord with readers because of its simplicity and effectiveness: by educating and arming teenage girls to take on real campaigns in philanthropy, WFG ensures that its funding goes to organizations and campaigns that will make a real difference.

“Why is it so revolutionary to see girls as the experts on their own lives and issues, and that they should have a huge say in matters that affect them?” asks Cynthia Steele, Executive Vice President of EMPower (a member of the Collective), in an article for Forbes. “Because it rarely happens. From day one, the collective has adopted girls’ substantial contribution as a core principle and value.”

Every year, WFG turns its fundraising decisions over to local panels in each of its five global action regions — and the panels are entirely made up of adolescent girls from those regions, who can accurately speak to their countries’ needs and goals. The girl-led panels choose WFG’s 20 award-winning organizations and assist with other Collective activities, like developing organizational strategy and promoting global advocacy.

And it works!

“Having girls lead decisions on grants for girls is smart philanthropy – it harnesses their wisdom and bone-deep knowledge about what is important and what works for girls,” says Steele. “And importantly, girls gain self-confidence in their decision-making, and visibility and respect
– all empowering.”

Visibility, respect, and empowerment are all added benefits that come with prominent features in mainstream media outlets. As feminist philanthropy gains traction, whether from celebrity endorsements and the shared spotlight from prominent pioneers, or the shared interest many thought leaders and organizations have in promoting female advancement, mainstream media is beginning to notice, comment on, and contribute to the trend.

If more media outlets focused on amplifying feminist philanthropy, we would be another step closer to true gender equality and empowerment for all.


To read more about feminist philanthropy in mainstream media, check out the articles below:

To learn more about how feminist philanthropy is benefiting women and girls, discover how a text-based app is helping women receive support for work-related issues, how a nonprofit organization supports women dancers in professional choreography, and how feminist philanthropy can help address sexism in the video games industry.

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Author: Maggie May

Maggie May is a small business owner, author, and story-centric content strategist headquartered in Annapolis, MD and Philadelphia, PA. She has a passion for finding stories and telling them the way they're meant to be told.

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