Georgia has a culture of giving to some extent, but it would be a stretch to call it ‘philanthropy’, since it mainly takes the form of charity, humanitarian relief and service provision to those in need. The current giving patterns can best be described as unstructured, irregular and mainly focused on supporting children and religious institutions.
We at the Women’s Fund in Georgia believe that a charity approach is not enough. We need strategic philanthropy to bring about lasting social change ‒ change that is inclusive of women’s empowerment and seeks to eliminate systems of power reproducing social inequalities. This is a complex task and we know that it requires a similarly complex approach ‒ merely one actor or one mode of action cannot bring about social change. Rather, a range of actors need to be on board. Among them should be civil society organizations, activists and philanthropists.
Feminist philanthropy – giving and investing resources in social change benefiting women – offers untapped potential in Georgia. Yet Georgia is not very attractive any more for international donors. This is a trend that hinders women’s organizing in Georgia and has left many women’s groups having to find alternative sources of funding to sustain their work. Feminist activism is growing and expanding in Georgia, and we would like to see feminist philanthropy grow simultaneously. We believe that it can be a powerful form of activism as it provides a way for women to express solidarity and invest in their own empowerment.
We have encountered many challenges along the way. While recognizing that women are not the only donors that invest in women’s and girls’ rights, as in other parts of the world, Georgian women have considerably less wealth than men. So they have less money to give. In addition, many women’s rights are violated in the fields of political participation and decision-making as well as in the labour market; also women’s sexuality and reproductive capacities are targeted and controlled. This is very much reinforced by the nationalist ideology and religious fundamentalism, which is steadily growing in Georgia.
But society does not acknowledge women’s oppression, and women are not seen as agents of change. So, because of cultural norms and traditional stereotypical attitudes towards women and ‘philanthropy’, both women and men are reluctant to give to women’s organizations and programs. Thus, philanthropic practices are hardly ever directed at solving women’s problems. Wealthy people – both women and men – consider influential and wealthy institutions like the Orthodox Church of Georgia or homeless children as the main focus of their support.
Additionally, Georgia needs legislative changes to support the emergence and growth of philanthropy as current national legislation does not encourage a culture of giving. We should look at other countries’ formal policies regarding philanthropy to see what can be used and adapted. For instance, we firmly believe that in order to stimulate local philanthropy, Georgia needs to implement a policy for tax deductions, one that covers both givers and receivers.
In this complex context of traditional approaches to philanthropy and an ambiguous legislative environment, it is absolutely crucial to direct efforts towards changing public attitudes and values to institutionalize philanthropic practices in Georgia. Thanks to this, such practices will become result-oriented and directed at social change.
The Women’s Fund in Georgia seeks to tackle the complex issue of local and feminist philanthropy from various angles. For instance, the fund organizes events that are focused on cultivating awareness and support of social change philanthropy among individuals. Activities include organizing fundraising dinners/parties, picnics, concerts and exhibitions that are widely publicized in local media. The fund also experimented by supporting a social advertisement broadcasted on national TV called ‘Yes, I am a Feminist’, which links feminism, the fund’s work and philanthropy. We have found that the media is a very important actor in terms of promoting philanthropic ideas and practice, and we actively seek to involve the Georgian media to get publicity for our activities and our positions on topics like philanthropy.
Over the past two years, we have managed to increase the number of our individual supporters to over 100 people; all regularly donate small amounts. In a country like Georgia, which suffers from economic hardship, it is very important to acknowledge such donations. While small, these donations show how individuals are expressing their solidarity with women and how they are making a contribution to advancing women’s rights in their own country.
Aside from donating small amounts during fundraising events and campaigns, these individual supporters also organize events to benefit the fund. We also seek to involve the Georgian Diaspora in philanthropy. All of the above set an important precedent of feminist activism and movement building as it strives to become sustained by Georgians themselves.
We at the Women’s Fund in Georgia also seek to engage with those who are not ‘the usual suspects’, but who do have an important role to play in developing philanthropy ‘from within’. For instance, if the corporate sector wants to see how it fits in terms of achieving public wellbeing, it needs clear and comprehensive information about what civil society organizations are and what they do.
With this purpose in mind, we conducted research exploring Georgian legislation on charity and its benefits for companies interested in giving. These findings were presented to the business sector and it opened up a dialogue where they could share their experiences of charitable activities, cooperation with civil society and the challenges they have encountered due to the current national legislation.
The findings of the research were also shared with women’s organizations. This research and outreach strategy created a platform for the fund to establish closer links between the business sector and civil society so as to develop strategic partnerships aimed at building a culture of local philanthropy in Georgia. Other examples of strategic partnerships include our work with an initiative to establish a fundraisers’ association and our efforts to lobby, with others, for improved legislation related to philanthropy.
We believe that social change takes place through active collaboration between and across sectors and actors, and we actively pursue those collaborations. If the government of Georgia, local foundations, civil society organizations and companies work together on facilitating change, we believe that we can achieve substantial results in developing sustainable, local, philanthropy.
Mariam Gagoshashvili is program coordinator for the Women’s Fund in Georgia. Founded in 2005, it is the first locally established grantmaking organization supporting women’s groups’ activities and initiatives for social change in Georgia. This article is part of a series posted by Mama Cash sharing the perspectives of the local and regional funds that are its grantee-partners.