The great 19th century novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe once claimed, "women are the real architects of society." A century later, noted anthropologist Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Their words resonate for multitudes of women who have given generously of their time, talent and money to support others in need and to foster social change that benefits entire communities and nations.
Today, women of high net worth are funding other women in record numbers and at unprecedented levels, according to the Women's Funding Network, a California-based umbrella organization for 126 women's funds on six continents. And, says the Network, "There's no shortage of sobering statistics that present a strong moral case for funding women." For example, worldwide, women constitute 70 per cent of the absolute poor - those living on less than a dollar a day - and they comprise over 60 per cent of people working in family enterprises without pay. In the US in 2004, approximately 13 per cent of women (more than 14 million) were living in poverty and 28 per cent of households headed by single women were poor.
Many of these women are victims of violence. In the US, for instance, homicide is the top cause of death among pregnant women, and in Western Europe alone, about half a million women and girls from developing countries and countries with economies in transition are entrapped in the slave trade annually. Many women around the world also suffer from inadequate health care, poor housing, inequities in the workplace, and limited educational opportunities.
At the same time, women control more than 51 per cent of personal wealth in the US today and they are set to inherit trillions of dollars more as the World War II generation begins to transfer its wealth. According to the 'Chronicle of Philanthropy', self-made women millionaires (those who earned rather than inherited their wealth) gave about seven per cent of their annual income in 2005, making them larger donors than their male counterparts. Data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) supports the fact that women give significantly more than men do.
While mainstream, largely male-dominated, philanthropy still provides less than seven per cent of its grants to women and girls, women philanthropists are stepping in to fill the gap. They are supporting causes aimed at alleviating poverty among women and focusing on philanthropy designed to foster the kind of social change that improves life for everyone.
It is this reality, coupled with women's growing financial clout that led two sisters, philanthropists Swanee Hunt and Helen LaKelly Hunt, to launch an initiative in November 2007 known as Women Moving Millions. Through a 'spark' gift of $10 million, the Hunt sisters catalyzed a partnership between the donor community and the Women's Funding Network in which women giving at historically new levels to women and girls will help propel the collective financial assets of women's foundations through the $1 billion mark. This will be achieved by raising $150 million in new gifts of a million dollars or more by April 2009. Nearly $70 million has already been raised.
"As women's control of wealth in the US continues to rise, now is the time to raise the bar on women's philanthropy and direct greater resources to women and girls," says Helen LaKelly Hunt, founder of The Sister Fund and co-chair of Women Moving Millions. "Women are giving at unprecedented levels in a global initiative for women. This is a historic moment in the world of women's philanthropy."
"Over 80 per cent of grants made by women's foundations flow to women and girls with low or no income," adds Christine Grumm, President and CEO of Women's Funding Network. "Together, we are creating new opportunities for these women, which simultaneously boost the strength of their families, their communities and ultimately whole nations. Our work is showing that such a 'woman first' investment approach is the savviest way for donors to propel lasting community and social change."
Most experts seem to agree. An article in 'The Economist' recently admonished, "Forget China, India and the internet: economic growth is driven by women." The World Bank concurs: its spokeswoman, Myra Buvinic, calls investing in women "smart economics".
By the year 2010, women are expected to control 60 per cent of the wealth in the US, an unprecedented milestone in the empowerment of women. Women Moving Millions hopes, therefore, to double or even triple the number of women who make gifts of $ one million or more to a woman's fund by 2009. Calling the project a visionary partnership, the Women's Funding Network says it is "inspired by this new path in philanthropy" which aims "to make the leap from giving charitably to investing strategically in women, first and foremost".
"We are united," it says, "based on our shared passions, instinct for democracy and belief in the power of women and girls to be vigorous agents of change on every pressing social issue we face today."