Potluck Power: How This Women’s Giving Circle Feeds Global Gender Equity

Photo from a 2018 trip to Rwanda for Dining for Women Members to learn about grantees.

Sharing food: one of the ultimate human communing experiences. Now imagine sharing food with a group of generous women who, like you, want to make every dollar they give to charity count toward helping women and girls and addressing gender equality in developing countries.

Welcome to Dining for Women (DFW), a global giving circle dedicated to funding social change for women and girls.  At monthly potluck dinners, members come together and discuss today’s issues impacting women and girls, particularly the organizations being funded that month, and in the process, these 8,000-plus women raise more than a million dollars annually to fight for gender equity. Dining for Women was founded in 2003, and many chapters have already had 10 or even 15 year anniversaries.

“Global citizens,” is how Dining for Women President Beth Ellen Holimon describes the women who participate in the growing movement. “Through member education, grantmaking and advocacy, DFW builds community here in the U.S.,” said Holimon, but that’s only the beginning of their positive impact.

Each DFW meeting helps to raise awareness about how women and girls are experiencing life worldwide, with presentations and information about organizations currently being funded. As they share a meal, members also share camaraderie and open discussion. Big issues now being funded by Dining for Women include helping Syrian refugee women find employment in Jordan and joining UNICEF’s effort to end gender-based violence in South Sudan.

One of the features that got me wanting to know more DFW was the organization’s attention to social policy and advocacy. On June 1 of this year, Betsy Dunklin, Chair of Dining for Women’s Advocacy Committee, sounded the alarm bells in a post about devastating cuts to International Aid proposed in the U.S Government’s 2019 budget. “The Administration has proposed a more than 30% cut to the International Affairs (IA) budget for FY2019,” she wrote. “Dining for Women opposes cuts to the US foreign aid budget because they disproportionately affect women and girls, who already suffer the most from global poverty, inequality, and humanitarian crises. Many of the proposed cuts fall most heavily on gender equality programs.” DFW’s advocacy position on these cuts is fully explained in Raise Your Voices for Women and Girls, DFW’s advocacy guide.

In her call to action, Dunklin also helped members understand the added impact of their advocacy by providing the context in which DFW operates as a member of the US Global Leadership Coalition — a 500 member nonprofit and business coalition. “We have the power as US citizens living in a democracy to stand up for women and girls around the world,” she wrote.

Doubling Down: How Some Organizations Become Sustained Grantees

Another way that Dining for Women amplifies the work they do is by choosing certain organizations formerly funded as a featured grantee for sustained funding. Starting in 2012, DFW began making two- and three-year grants totaling $40,000 — 60,000  to organizations chosen by a Grant Selection Committee. Grantees who have demonstrated significant progress toward achieving grant goals are eligible to become sustained grantees. Organizations such as Girl Determined in Myanmar and the Nepal Youth Foundation are able to get help to achieve specific goals, such as in Nepal, where Napal Youth Foundation is helping to eradicate  “Kamlari,” the traditionally-accepted practice of selling young girls into servitude.

The Impact, Globally and Locally

In January of 2018, DFW Chair Susan Stall shared the latest 2017 stats on impact with members in the newsletter. “Thanks to your record-breaking donations, in 2017 we were able to fund grants and partnerships that directly impacted the lives of nearly 40,000 women and girls in 18 countries around the world,” she wrote.

In the still-small-but-growing world of gender equality philanthropy, that is a significant impact. Imagine if DFW’s membership went from 8,000 to 80,000 — and 400,000 women and girls were reached. Then we might really see the way that gender equality can shift economies and cultures in a positive way.

What It’s All About: Feeding Ourselves, Feeding the World

In case all of this isn’t enough, there are also the DFW recipes — a wide-ranging collection of favorite dishes from all over the world like Bolivia, Guatemala, Myanmar, and Chad. Joining DFW might also mean you get to try out new foods and recognize how different cultures provide nourishment in amazing and creative ways.

Another big plus: in joining DFW, you don’t have to worry about the level of your financial commitment. There is no pledge or yearly minimum. Members pay what they can, with the hope that as they get more supported by and investing in the group, their donation will organically grow.

“As we share food, we share something of ourselves and we honor each other.” So begins the Dining for Women Affirmation that women say collectively when they come together. The affirmation also recognizes the added burden that women experience as the main food providers in much of the world. If you’re one of the main family cooks like me, you probably suffer periodic episodes of cooking burnout. But the benefits of feeding others ultimately seem to outweigh the burdens, particularly for longtime members of DFW who continue to feel inspired and supported in their efforts to value and improve the lives of women and girls.

Related:

Ecofeminism to the Rescue: Mary Robinson Launches New Podcast

WFN Summit Explores What it Will Take to Get More Women Into Office

Praising the Deeds of Women: How Gender Equity and Reconciliation Can Change the World

 

Author: Kiersten Marek

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

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