Finding the silver lining: philanthropy and women’s empowerment


Clare Wilkins and NPC


Recent news stories may make it seem like a challenging time for anyone working to help women.  In Britain, austerity has had a disproportionate impact, leaving women more disadvantaged than men on multiple fronts.  In the US, President Trump is seeming to roll back years of progress on diversity by appointing the most non-diverse and male cabinet since President Reagan.

Internationally, the reinstatement of the ‘global gag rule’ promises to reverberate around the world, restricting access to vital family planning services and ultimately risking the physical safety of some of the world’s least empowered women.  With these kinds of new stories circulating, funders wishing to help women may wonder what impact their contributions could possibly achieve. However, rather than be discouraged, I would argue that they can be heartened by a number of factors:

Firstly, the current environment is unexpectedly ripe for philanthropy.  Trump’s rhetoric and actions have helped to spark a sense of unified civic rebellion around the world, throwing a fresh spotlight on women’s rights and women’s empowerment issues.

The Women’s March on Washington, for example, has been hailed as the largest single day demonstration in US history and, together with its sister marches, global participant numbers are estimated to have reached almost five million people. Philanthropic funding for women’s rights and women’s empowerment therefore has the potential to fall on fertile ground, and during an exciting period of renewed public engagement.

Secondly, grassroots campaigning organisations are likely to gain new traction, with fresh supporter bases and newly motivated members.  Not only are these smaller organisations capable of becoming nimble and responsive to fast changing political environments, they can also be very effective.

Indeed, the UK government has recognised their importance, making millions of pounds of funding available for grassroots organisations in the UK and overseas in the last six months. These smaller organisations have the potential to promote change at a systemic level—something which service provision charities can find harder to achieve—and thoughtfully directed philanthropic support in this area could therefore go a long way.

Thirdly, the current funding gaps are real and substantial, and philanthropy will play a vital role in ensuring critical services can continue to be delivered, both in the developed and the developing world.  Philanthropists can be secure in the knowledge that many of the activities they fund are in real need, and that they can help to tip the scale for services on the brink of survival.  Their donations will help to protect charities from external influence, ensuring quality programmes are focused on user need and not impacted by fickle political pressures.

Finally, alongside tried and tested programming, there are new and promising interventions in the developing world which have the potential to yield powerful results.  At the forefront are emerging projects that harness the power of technology to empower women, and place user voice at the centre of the development process.

With objectives such as overcoming isolation through connectivity, providing portals to educational resources, and enabling women to develop an online voice, innovative technology-based programming will be of growing importance.  Philanthropists therefore have an opportunity to support this new phase of programme design from the beginning and ensure charities remain dynamic and disruptive.

So, far from being dismayed by the current state of affairs, philanthropists should be encouraged by many things.  Well deployed donations can provide vital support across multiple areas and drive major achievements in defiance of those seeking to roll back years of progress.  That would be a much better news story indeed.

Clare Wilkins
is Head of Development with New Philanthropy Capital.

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