Women’s funds, women’s voices and the prospect of greater collaboration across philanthropy

By: Bryony Green, Victorian Women’s Trust

Bryony Green recently returned from a tour in the USA to understand best practice in women’s funding and advocacy. She was one of 400 delegates at the Women’s Funding Network conference Paths to Equity: Innovative Philanthropy for Women and Girls in San Francisco.

On a recent international trip to explore women’s funding and advocacy in the USA, I was surprised (and a little envious) by the sheer amount of women’s funds there. In Australia women’s funds are rare, I can count them all on one hand.

Women’s funds began to be established up in the 1970s by women to counter the lack of mainstream philanthropic funding for women and girls. They started to address the funding imbalance and introduced the notion of “gender lens” in philanthropy.

Working at one of Australia’s few women’s funds and indeed one of the oldest, the Victorian Women’s Trust, I see on a daily basis the benefit of investing in women and women-led solutions.

Now businesses, government and philanthropy in Australia are starting to understand that investing in women and girls yields high dividends – women, men, children, the whole community benefits.

With such a small number of women’s funds here, I was delighted to be at the 30th annual Women’s Funding Network conference Paths to Equity: Innovative Philanthropy for Women and Girls in San Francisco. It was amazing to be in a space with so many individuals who through their investments and advocacy also work towards gender equity.

I had the opportunity to meet and listen to foundation leaders, women leaders, social entrepreneurs and activists who shared their cutting-edge collaborations, advocacy efforts, and investments that are improving the lives of women and girls around the world.

Mary Crooks AO. Photo credit: Focused Images Visual Solutions LLC.

Mary Crooks AO, Executive Director of the Victorian Women’s Trust, was a speaker at the conference and shared her experience of Australian based innovations to progress gender equity. She also introduced a panel on violence and identified some of the hard hitting truths of violence against women in Australia.

In reflecting on the conference, here are two key themes that really stood out for me:

Achieving gender equality is complex and intersects with race, sexual orientation, class and religion.
This was a common thread throughout the conference and really made the implicit explicit. Applying a gender lens is simply not sufficient. We must go further and take into account how these intersections impact community issues and how we achieve gender equity. To ensure that we are truly inclusive and intersectional when making key decisions, we must ask – whose voice is missing? And, are we being truly inclusive and representative? And then continue to challenge and change the conversation around what gender equity is and how we get there.

One such intersection that commonly gets overlooked is religion. With two-thirds of the world’s population identifying as religious, Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro, President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women and Dr. Azza Karam, Senior Advisor to the United Nations Population Fund, argued compellingly that we must include faith in conversations around feminism and gender equity or we exclude too many people.

Collaboration is a key to change.
Whilst the notion of collaboration is not new in Australia’s philanthropic sector, there has been little momentum to work together and fund initiatives that progress gender equity. Internationally the picture is different. Initiatives like The With and For Girls Collective, Florida Women’s Funding Alliance and Prosperity Together all demonstrate the power of what can be achieved as a collective.

The With and For Girls Collective is made up of eight organisations from around the world with a common belief that girls are agents of change. It was initiated by the Star Foundation in the UK. Formed this year, as a collective they have committed a combined US$1 million of flexible funding for 20 grassroots girls organisations worldwide. 

Prosperity Together is a coalition of 27 public women’s funds in the USA dedicated to improving the economic security of low-income women and their families in America. On 13 November 2015 they launched a five-year, $100 million funding initiative to create opportunities and break down barriers to women’s economic security.

Although each of these initiatives are different in scale and take a different approach to managing their collective funding, all acknowledge that managing the partnership requires a significant amount of time, the invaluable aspect of peer learning and the greater impact they have together.

Hearing about these incredible collective efforts made me reflect on how we are faring as a sector to collectively progress gender equity in Australia.

We may not have the breadth of women’s funds in Australia but thanks to the efforts of such organisations as the Australian Women Donors Network, as a sector philanthropy is becoming more gender wise in our practices and investments. Despite differing missions and funding scopes to date, many foundations invest in the same programs and organisations that benefit women and girls.

Knowing this, I did not leave the conference feeling that there is a lack of community or commitment to investing in women and girls in Australia. However, I did leave feeling that as a sector we can do more. We can certainly do more to understand the complexities of achieving gender equity. We can certainly be more collaborative and united in our approach and bolder in reaching for the goal of an equal world for women and girls.

Bryony Green is the Manager of Philanthropic Collaboration at the Victorian Women’s Trust,  Co-Founder of Good Mob, Australia’s first giving circle platform, and is Vice-President of Swinburne Philanthropy Alumni. Contact her at: bryony@vwt.org.au

Nov. 25, 2015

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