Changing the World, One Girl at a Time

Strategic Philanthropy
Tuesday, June 14, 2011

In accepting the Tony Award for Best Actress Sunday night, Ellen Barkin said that being in the play The Normal Heart (which recounts the early days of the AIDS crisis), “Taught me something I never believed in – that one person can make a difference, that one person can change the world."   

The power of a single person to change the world is

 at the heart of an assignment TPI recently completed for Bank of America Merrill Lynch.  They asked us to develop a guide for donors on High Impact Giving to Women and Girls.  It turns out that there is an amazing consensus that the most effective way to change the world is by investing in women and girls.  That’s because women are more likely to use their available resources on food, education and healthcare for their children and thus create a permanent path out of poverty.

But given the huge challenges facing women and girls locally and globally, how does one get started?  The guide advises donors to begin with their vision for a better world:

  • If you are successful in bringing about the change you envision, what will be different for women and girls?   What are you passionate about?  What issue do you think is most important to take on?  

Beginning with this vision, High Impact Giving to Women and Girls advises using a “Theory of Change” approach to identify the best way to achieve that vision.

  • Lead with your heart.  Then think analytically and strategically about the most effective way to direct your investment to positively impact that issue.  What is your assumption or hypothesis about what needs to happen to bring about the change you desire?   What are your beliefs about what it takes to bring about change and your own comfort with different levels of involvement?   

The guide lays out a series of questions to help you decide on the philanthropic path that is most appropriate for you – e.g. do you want to contribute your time and talent as well as funds?  Are you more comfortable focusing on individual lives, or do you think about organizations, whole systems, or public policy?

To illustrate the process of moving from passion to action to impact, we took the advice of Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl Wudan (Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide 2009), and used actual examples to illustrate the diversity of approaches to realizing a particular vision.  These examples also demonstrate what is possible – how individual donors and groups of donors working together can have a profound impact on the lives of women and girls. 

  • In 2001 Kayrita Anderson and her husband Harold read an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the prostitution of young girls in their hometown of Atlanta.  They were so outraged by what they read that the next day they began contributing to a local safe house and treatment program for girls.  After eight years of annual contributions, the Andersons wanted to try to attack the root causes of the problem.  They made a $1 million contribution to help launch “A Future, Not a Past,” with the goal of stopping the commercial sexual exploitation of children in Georgia.  Thanks to that leadership Georgia has rewritten its laws and practices concerning juvenile sexual exploitation and trafficking and there is now a national A Future, Not a Past campaign.
  • Rosie Molinary, author of Hijas Americanas: Beauty, Body Image and Growing Up Latina, was struck by the strong aspirations of the young Latina women she met on her book tours.  Molinary says she was haunted by the juxtaposition between these hopeful young faces and “what we know to be true,” and she asked herself, “What is my responsibility to take action on something that unnerves me?  What do I have to offer?”  Molinary began talking to friends about creating a scholarship program that could change girls’ stories by exposing them to an array of experiences.  She organized women she knew from different backgrounds who had different experiences, to come together in focus groups. Out of this process, Circle de Luz was created - a giving circle that annually “adopts” a class of middle school-aged Latinas, providing them with ongoing support and mentoring until they graduate high school. 
  • Polly Dolan, whose background is in international development in Tanzania, says “When you spend time here, you can’t help seeing the situation of girls and women – they have a much harder time.”  She decided to devote her personal time and money to create a school for Tanzanian girls. Working with family and friends in the U.S., she started Secondary Education for Girls Advancement which in 2009 opened a boarding school for girls in Tanzania, targeting bright, motivated and economically disadvantaged girls who would not otherwise have access to secondary education.

These are just a few of the examples the guide offers of high impact giving strategies that have made a difference in the lives of women and girls. 

What High Impact Giving to Women and Girls makes clear is that it is not necessary to be a major grantmaker with international reach to influence change.   In fact, giving to women and girls is growing at a faster rate than overall foundation giving and it includes the country’s largest foundations as well as hundreds of women’s giving circles or collaboratives around the world.  Information on how to connect with these resources and organizations is provided in the guide. 

High Impact Giving to Women and Girls is available from Bank of America Merrill Lynch.  get2us [at] tpi [dot] org (subject: High%20Impact%20Giving%20to%20Women%20and%20Girls) (Let us know) if you are interested in getting a copy.  And help add to our knowledge about high impact giving to women and girls by sharing your personal experiences, or stories about a person or group that has had an impact on the lives of women and girls.