A giant step for gender equality research and knowledge occurred today: the Women’s Philanthropy Institute released its first ever Women and Girls Index (WGI), which measures charitable giving to women and girls’ causes in the United States. This new index helps to establish a baseline for what this giving looks like today, and will help to tally the rate of increase or, (highly unlikely) decrease in the real dollar value of this philanthropy subsector.
These statistics raise a critically important question: American philanthropy talks a good game about wanting more gender equality in our culture, but what are they actually doing about it?
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.
After the unprecedented success of the Women’s Marches, everyone is asking, “What’s next?”
It’s time to build and fund women’s collective power at the city, state and national levels and beyond.
While writing postcards to members of Congress, donating to women’s organizations, participating in online petitions, and running for office are all critically important individual actions that woman can take, we need to consider long-term, collective action as well. Collective action requires that we connect in new ways to build common agendas, work together more effectively and track progress (and regression) in the areas that matter to us as women.
This work is not a sprint. It’s a marathon that we can “train” to achieve sustained impact in addition to short-term milestones. It’s time to build and fund network infrastructure at the local, state and national levels to support robust cross-sector collaboration and achieve the outcomes that are possible through collective impact work.
The Stanford Social Innovation Review popularized the theory of collective impact and notes that large-scale social change requires broad cross-sector coordination, yet the social sector remains focused on the isolated intervention of individual organizations. Currently, people working in environmental issues are often separate from social and racial justice leaders and many organizations are still too isolated. That isolation is a result of both segmented issues and incentive structures that lead to competition for limited resources. Most organizations compete for funding from the same sources and find it hard to collaborate with other organizations even when they have common interests. Without a permanent structure for supporting collaboration within an issue area or even across issues, such efforts are often only temporary campaigns for one specific goal rather than sustained coordinations.
At It’s Time Network we are building a national Network City Program to create the capacity for collective action beginning at the local level. With two pilot cities, in San Francisco and Denver and as more cities join the network, the capacity for collective action can begin to scale to the state and national levels. Additionally, each city and or state has international organizations that can join the network, which strengthens our global connections as well.
The work ahead lies beyond simple partisan divides. People from every part of the political spectrum are waking up and exercising their civic muscles. It’s not just about women and women’s rights, either. It is pro-democracy, pro-“justice for all”, pro-equality, pro-inclusion, and pro-love and non-violence. It’s about building bridges. Women have an important role to play in healing divides, modeling cooperation, and leading truth and reconciliation processes. Women are actively building inclusive, compassionate communities that can work together.
While it’s imperative for women to respond to immediate concerns in our world, the next steps must also identify and establish what we want and how to achieve it.
The Mayors Guide to Accelerating Gender Equality is part of a dashboard of tools for our Network City Program that details solutions. The guide is a readily accessible “toolkit” that provides recommendations, resources, and a checklist of actions a city can take in 11 different issue areas to improve the lives of women and girls and to strengthen communities. It is a tool for sharing best practices from city to city, and currently, the guide is being used to build a common women’s agenda for Denver. This spring, It’s Time Network is partnering with the Denver Office on Women and Families and the Mayor of Denver to produce It’s Time 2017: Denver Gender Equity Summit on May 31st.
Getting clear about exactly what we want is important as we use data to understand the current status of women to inform any actions that we take. What is the current status of women? And how can we meaningfully compare our circumstances from one geography to another? The California Women’s Well-Being Index is an important new tool for comparing the status of women county by county across the state. Developing this tool and creating a Well-Being Index for every state is critical for using data to inform our work together. As we identify areas of greatest need in each state, strategic collective impact initiatives can be designed to engage diverse organizations and stakeholders, and to support collaboration across sectors and among non-profits, business, government, private donors and others. By being data-driven and with tools to measure goals and outcomes, we can achieve long term change and impact. The Network City Program taken to scale, will be a powerful organizing structure for women to use in every community to ground the immense power and passion that has arisen over the past few months.
Building and maintaining a robust national collective impact infrastructure requires transformative funding. This work has been designed, is being piloted and is ready to go to scale. While it’s critical to fund the further development of this program, it is equally important to ensure that the long term funding of this work is a “collective ownership model” and is not forever reliant upon outside funding.
It’s time for women to “own our power” and to own the infrastructure and services that support us. With an innovative funding model, It’s Time Network is pioneering the concept of “women’s collective economic independence.” We cannot rely long term upon the government, corporations, large foundations, or even large private donors. The initial support they give is essential to seed this work, and women can and will always work with these vital funding partners and allies. Yet, it’s critical for us as women to grow the number of women who become participants in the national network so we can build our micro-funding capacity. We can and must rely upon ourselves and build a culture of women’s collective independence from generation to generation.
The Women’s Future Fund at It’s Time Network is part of the ownership model for building women’s collective economic independence. Growing this unprecedented national, collective asset, is tied to the growth of the Network City Program to ensure a distributed decision making model with diverse women leaders at the grassroots (inclusive of women’s city or state foundations) determining the allocation of funds, city by city.
Women have an essential role to play in what’s next not just after the election, but in all aspects of decision making about our world. Anxiety is high as the global challenges seem daunting. As women, we must ground our efforts in stable, loving, creative and collaborative actions that demonstrate our ability to heal and transform our world. It’s time to build our partnerships, grow our collective capacity and promote a vision of a world that we know is possible.