Admittedly, I am not a philanthropist. But managing the money of philanthropists for progressive social change has given me a unique appreciation for the essential role of people and organizations that connect philanthropy and political strategy.
I’ve spent most of my career as that staff person expected to change the world $1,000 at a time, one issue at a time. In roles such as manager of young organizers, volunteer coordinator, lobbyist to fickle legislators, major gifts director, and Executive Director, I have worked to change political decision-making systems, often while holding up woefully under-staffed legislative and advocacy initiatives. As a single person Public Affairs or Program Director, I sometimes served in the role of five people, and was seen as a savior if I could project-manage a couple coalitions on the side – you know, for the good of the cause.
Editor’s Note: Betsy McKinney, Founder and CEO of It’s Time Network and author of this post, was recently invited to speak at an event in honor of Women’s History Month at the U.S. State Department. She gave an overview on the need for collective impact infrastructure and initiatives in the women’s sector, and explained the purpose of It’s Time Network and the Network City Program.
Everyone responded vigorously during the presentation when Betsy said that we need a collective impact structure that acts as an AARP for women, and that we can and should fund it ourselves as women over time. People also responded well to the need for shared measurement and the Women’s Well-Being Index. At the end, women from Malaysia, Nepal and Afghanistan asked how they can join the Network City Program. Betsy gave them copies of ITN’s Mayors Guide and they are eager to consider how they can also use the guide and recommendations.
Like many who follow philanthropy, I pay attention to the Rockefellers. No family has done more to shape modern giving over the past century. But what are the Rockefellers doing these days to change the world?
For one thing, as most of us have heard, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund took the major step not long ago of divesting from fossil fuels—a move that received enormous attention, given that the family’s wealth is famously derived from Standard Oil. Less well known is that the Rockefeller Family Fund is also divesting.
One member of the Rockefeller clan deeply involved in these issues is Neva Rockefeller Goodwin, a fourth-generation Rockefeller who previously served as a trustee and vice chair of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. She is also President of the Mount Desert Land and Garden Preserve in Maine.
This “impact investing debt fund” will address tough urban problems like affordable housing and homelessness, as well as catalyzing overall economic development and reducing poverty in the nation’s urban cores.
This is not the first time that Living Cities has led a collaborative fund to work on economic development in America’s cities. In 2008, the Catalyst Fund was launched by Living Cities using philanthropic capital alongside commercial capital from Living Cities’ members—22 foundations and financial institutions, including Annie E. Casey, Ford, MacArthur, and Surdna, working to “get results for low-income people, faster.”
But what’s really going on here? What’s the impact of women’s leadership in philanthropy in terms of (a) where resources are actually going; and (b) how things are done in the philanthrosphere?
These questions are important to the sector, but they also link up with the larger perennial debate over just how much change occurs when women start calling the shots. Philanthropy offers an intriguing case study in this regard.
Our own impression from IP’s ongoing reporting in this area is that there are good reasons for all the excitement about women’s leadership in philanthropy. In fact, this leadership has mobilized new resources to advance gender equity and does seem to be affecting how philanthropy writ large operates.
Coming up soon on Inside Philanthropy: interview with Emily Nielsen Jones, co-founder of the Imago Dei Fund! To get you started on understanding this amazing leader, check out this article she co-wrote with Musimbi Kanyoro about new ways funders are using a gender lens to choose where to put their money. From SSIR:
Philanthropists and for-profit investors alike today are apt to talk of using a gender lens when screening opportunities to fund social change. When my husband and I (Emily) began our foundation—the Imago Dei Fund—in 2009, I gravitated immediately to the idea of empowering women and girls. Little did we know then that it would grow into a powerful movement changing the face of philanthropy.
At the cusp of a new round of global gender goal setting, we find ourselves asking: Where is the gender-lens movement going, which now takes as conventional wisdom that gender balance is a lynchpin of global progress? The answer lies in moving beyond redress, mitigation, and even women’s empowerment programs—though these are still sorely needed—to more directly fund culturally led efforts to re-examine and transform underlying beliefs that systematically disempower females in the first place.