A reflection on feminist philanthropy


Manuel Litalien


In March 2018, the New York Women’s Foundation (NYWF) announced that its partnership with the Women’s Funding Network (an international network of more than 100 women’s funds and foundations) successfully mobilized $58.4 million, part of a five-year commitment of $100 million, to invest in the economic security of women and their families in America under the Prosperity Together funding initiative. Overall in 2018, the Foundation supported more than 175 community organizations and initiated the Fund for the #MeToo Movement and Allies. The overall goal of this commitment was to create a just future for women by overcoming poverty and violence against them, and promoting economic justice, as well as building cross-cultural alliances. Hence, besides foundations for women’s welfare and development, there are also networks that mobilize funders within the philanthropic ecosystem, such as Philanthropy Advancing Women’s Rights (PAWHR), with annual leverage of more than USD $200 million. PAWHR directly promotes the rights of women and girls globally. Like other actors in the ecosystem, feminist philanthropy embraces local, national and international initiatives. They are by far not limited to regional or national actions.

In 2016, Andrea Pactor, the Interim Director of Women’s Philanthropy Institute, underlined the complexity of the emerging field known as Gender in Philanthropy (GIP)/Women in Philanthropy (WIP). The complexity mirrors the changing role of women in societies, driven by the interconnected factors of their lives (known as the intersectionality of identity markers of gender, race/ethnicity, class, ability, Indigeneity, immigration status, origin of birth and 2SLGBTQQIA). One area of GIP is identified as Feminist philanthropy (FP). FP is an attempt to provide clarity by building intersections across multiple disciplines and engaging in challenging research. This editorial seeks to clarify what constitutes FP while situating its relevance, and sharing the research areas it covers in Canada and abroad.

Thus far, FP in Canada is an understudied area, and has raised more questions than answers, including the following:

FP and Economy

  • Is FP changing the way Canada conducts trade?
  • Can FP successfully fight economic inequalities?
  • In what capacity is FP alleviating poverty in Canada?

FP and Identity

  • Are all philanthropist women de facto feminist philanthropists?
  • Is feminist philanthropy a “Western” concept?
  • Is FP modifying how Canadians understand their identity?

FP and Politics

  • Has women’s philanthropy ever brought about social change in achieving a more equitable Canada?
  • Is Canadian FP involved in contributing to foreign policy formulation?

FP and Institutions

  • What are the institutional characteristics of Canadian FP foundations and its social impacts in the country?
  • How are Canadian FP institutions changing our democratic institutions?
  • How are Canadian FP institutions structuring our collective behaviour?

FP and History

  • Are women who conduct philanthropy aware of its colonialist past and potential impact of privileges?
  • What is the historical heritage of ethnic groups to FP in Canada?
  • How historical legacies continue to impact the Canadian FP ecosystem?

FP and Geography

  • How geographical locations impact the behaviour of FP Foundations?
  • What are the differences between Canadian FP and American FP?
  • How is urban expansion affecting Canadian FP and its resources?

FP and Psychology

  • Are there ethnic and cultural differences in Canadian women’s giving?
  • Are Canadian male and female philanthropists different in their management style?

Answers to these questions are complex and beyond the scope of this brief editorial, but food for thought for future undertakings.

Manuel Litalien is Ontario Hub Coordinator at PhiLab

This is a shortened article that originally appeared on the PhiLab blog on 14 January 2019. The full article can be viewed here.

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