Driving a New Narrative: How Women Are Changing the Philanthropy Game

Driving a New Narrative: How Women are Changing the Philanthropy Game

Drawing from insights gathered during a panel discussion she led during the Get WISER Summit, Ashoka’s Njideka Harry pens her thoughts and reflections on how women around the world are changing philanthropy. On the panel were distinguished guests philanthropist Lisa GreerAfrican Philanthropy Forum’s Executive Director Mosun Layode, and Empatthy founder Rosa Madera Nuñez. A video recording of the session is included below.

In recent years, standards in large-scale philanthropy have started shifting, for the first time in decades. One of the main reasons? The increasing influence women have in the space.

Philanthropy—and its down-the-line cousin, grantmaking—have traditionally been conducted in a mostly unchanged manner. This includes characteristics like a heavy focus on control, metrics, and hyper-structured grant application processes. As a result, philanthropy often doesn’t achieve the deep social impact it is aiming for; instead, this approach risks perpetuating the same unjust systems and power dynamics that are at the root of the issue it is supposed to resolve.

However, recently a more diverse, representative range of voices is starting to change this, and it is high-net-worth female donors who are among the key drivers.

In 2020, 10% of the world’s ultra-wealthy individuals were women; up from 6.5% just a few years before. With this rise in women’s wealth, their presence in philanthropy has grown, too. Two of the most visible examples are of course MacKenzie Scott and Melinda French Gates. But while these two women have been acting as tremendous trailblazers, the trend extends far beyond just them. To give just one example, over 100 Dartmouth alumnae recently pledged at least $1 million each to Dartmouth’s The Call to Lead campaign, raising over $379 million in total.

The trend is clear: women have a growing presence in philanthropy, and they are using their presence, and the power that comes with it, to set a new standard. In this article, we will be exploring what that standard looks like, how these women are revolutionizing the philanthropy game, and how this affects the broader field of social impact.

Growing Support for Underfunded Causes

There are at least four meaningful ways in which the growing presence of women is transforming philanthropy. Perhaps the most visible one is that more money is being directed towards causes that may have previously been marginalized or underfunded. In addition, there is a shift in the specific ways and places this money is being put to use.

Gender equality is prime among these causes. While substantial sums have been pledged to supporting gender equality—over $1 billion in 2018–2019 alone—until recently, only a very small portion of those funds ended up with organizations that are actually led by women: a paltry 1% in the years of 2016–2017.

This has started changing, for example through the Gender Fund. This fund not only has already raised over $320 million of its $1 billion goal, it also explicitly intends to support “predominantly women-led Global South organizations.”

Proximity to The Problem vs. Metrics

Directing gender equality funds towards women-led organizations also hints at another shift: increasingly, donors are seeking to work with nonprofit leaders who have lived experiences with the problems they are trying to solve.

The idea behind this is as simple as it is obvious: who better to engage in addressing an issue than those people directly affected by it?

This approach is starting to replace the traditional reliance on metrics and data in trying to ‘ensure’ the best solutions. It also opens the door to a more reciprocal relationship between donors and nonprofits, based on a fundamental trust in the nonprofit’s abilities.

Trust-Based Philanthropy

Traditional philanthropy has operated predominantly from a place of distrust, exemplified in the burdensome and antiquated grantmaking structures.

Trust-based philanthropy is often misunderstood as just giving naively without caring for certain outcomes. Instead, it is aimed at fixing the inherent power imbalance in the donor-grantee relationship. This leads to a reduction in reporting requirements and more long-term, unrestricted funding.

However, it is about more than just the money. While MacKenzie Scott’s historic decision to give away billions in unrestricted grants has been commendable, unrestricted funding alone does not equate to trust-based philanthropy.

A relationship based on trust is centered on three main characteristics: mutual learning and a respect for each party’s relative strengths, knowledge, and skills; transparency between both parties; and a mutual effort to build a more equal relationship.

In this context, funders view grantees as partners who are in the best place to solve the issues we seek to address, rather than as tools that need to be controlled.

Collective Action

A fourth shift is the move towards collaborative action. Many female philanthropists embrace working collaboratively, not just with nonprofits but with each other as well. This can be seen in the prominence of initiatives like women’s giving circles, such as Philanos, Women Moving Millions, and the Maverick Collective.

By working collectively, philanthropists not only break down silos that have traditionally existed in the philanthropy landscape. They also operate from the idea that a collective effort is greater than the sum of its parts, by combining members’ intellectual and financial capital, and by offering grantees a greater availability of collaboration, mentorship, and other non-financial resources.

Better Standards, Greater Impact

At Ashoka, we strongly support these developments. We believe they offer a more effective path to social impact than traditional philanthropy has, for several reasons:

  • We build on the people, knowledge, and skills that are most likely to create the impact we’re seeking, rather than relying on decision-makers in ‘ivory towers.’
  • We empower those that do the work to actually do that work and focus on growing their impact, as opposed to being caught in short-termism and constant pressure to attract the next round of funding.
  • We invest in mutual trust, which, based on our experience, is more effective in ensuring positive outcomes than a heavy reliance on metrics and reporting.
  • We enable systemic change, which is required to tackle the world’s most pressing and complex issues, and which can only be achieved through systemic and collective action.

As the presence and influence of wealthy female philanthropists will continue to grow, we foresee a different, better future for the field of philanthropy. New visions will be created around partnerships, and traditional barriers between previously separate fields will continue to be broken down.

It is through partnerships like these that philanthropists can multiply the effect of their donations, leveraging all the insights highlighted above. At Ashoka, we can’t wait to continue building this new version of philanthropy.

Ashoka has over 40 years of experience in reimagining social impact and philanthropy. Through Ashoka’s Entrepreneur-to-Entrepreneur Network, we partner with philanthropists around the world to maximize their impact. To learn more, please contact Njideka Françoise Harry, Global VP, Strategic Entrepreneurship Relationships at [email protected]

This article originally appeared on Medium.