JWFNY Goes to Philanthropy NY

On June 8, Philanthropy New York hosted their 36th annual meeting with the theme “Global Perspective, Universal Connections.”

Philanthropy New York (PNY) works to enhance the ability of philanthropic organizations and individual donors in the New York region to serve the public good. As a member of Philanthropy New York, JWFNY is part of a network of grantmaking organizations. JWFNY executive director, Joy Sisisky co-chaired the Funders of Women and Girls Network to increase awareness of, and investment in, the needs of women and girls in New York City and beyond.


“Many members fund initiatives and programs outside of the United States. With the recent devastation in Nepal, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, civil unrest in Syria and LGBTQ discrimination in Russia, among numerous other critical issues, we thought now would be the perfect time to focus on international grantmaking,” PNY President Ronna Brown wrote in PhilanthroPost Monthly on May 5.

The program began with three PHIL talks – TED-style talks about philanthropy from around the world. Avila Kilmurray, director of policy and strategy at the Global Fund for Community Foundations, spoke about the importance of community philanthropy as a means of increasing local ownership and responsibility for development outcomes. Using grassroots grantmaking, community foundations and philanthropy generate shared learning and re-balance the power dynamics between local knowledge, priorities, relationships, and external resources. Kilmurray turned the development paradigm on its head by asking local communities “What do you want?” In asking local communities for their expertise, the process – not the output – becomes the goal and generates local ownership. “If we are really talking about trying to make sense of some of these macro policies…we need to ground it in local communities,” Kilmurray concluded.

Next, Johanna Satekge, the site coordinator of the Ramakgopa Clinic at mothers2mothers and a Mentor Mother herself, spoke about her work as a mother with HIV working alongside health care workers to support and educate other HIV-positive mothers on how to protect their children from HIV infection and keep themselves and their families healthy. After losing two children to HIV, Satekge realized that she could no longer be silent about her infection. On a local radio show, she disclosed her status in order to destigmatize HIV. Now, Satekge has two HIV-negative children declaring at the end of her inspirational talk, “I am the richest woman in the world!”

Last, Rana Sabbagh, the executive director of Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism  – the first of its kind in the Arab world – discussed her work in “accountability journalism.” Due to her and her media students’ hard-hitting facts, multiple governments and government officials were forced to make reforms, confront corruption, and change policy. Through ARIJ, Rana advocates for and promotes free speech, independent and free media and human rights. The three PHIL presenters then advised the audience to “reflect and be conscious of your own power. Let the local people set the agenda and be patient. Change does not happen overnight.”

The keynote panel between Jan Eliasson, deputy secretary general to the United Nations, and Leymah Gbowee, 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate and president of Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa, was moderated by New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof. Eliasson spoke of the importance of prevention “We absolutely now need to take measures to act early on…we have to do prevention and post-conflict work.” Gbowee began her talk stating that the “world is seeing with one eye covered. Unless we move into using the unique roles and skills of women in everything that we try to do, we will continue to see these conflicts and crises come and go.” In an effort to give with a gender lens, JWFNY launched the GENDEROSITY campaign to create a world in which all women and girls in the Jewish community are ensured a healthy and supportive environment, a world in which we all have equal opportunity for economic, religious, social and political achievement.

The conversation touched on may topics, such as the importance (or lack thereof) of metrics and evaluation, with Gbowee asserting that “Metrics do not stop rapes in communities. They do not help women go to school.” Instead, she advocates for local agency. “You need to talk to the people. Ask what they need,” she cautioned philanthropists. “If you want to do it right, go on the ground. Ask questions.”

According to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women in 2015, only 22% of all national parliamentarians are female, a slow increase from 11.3% in 1995. Gbowee stressed “I will not cut out the part of women leaders. The men have messed up for thousands of years. And if we have one or two [women leaders] who have messed up, does that mean we should close the door to women who want to lead? No.”

The panelists criticized America for its “savior mentality,” pointing out the hypocrisy of the lack of domestic social change. “It’s easy for the US to talk about human rights from the outside perspective – looking at outsiders… No one wants to talk about human rights here…I think it is time that there is a recognition from this part of the world that we need to focus inward,” Gbowee expressed. Charity begins at home, and it’s time we do work here. At the JWFNY, 51% of grants given in 2014 were to domestic organizations in order to impact change at home.

In the last minutes, Kristof asked the panelists what they would do with a billion dollars. “Water and sanitation,” Eliasson answered. “We have 6 billion mobile cellphones but only 4.5 billion toilets.” If given a billion dollars, Gbowee would empower women. With women’s empowerment “it would change the dynamics of the politics locally and globally,” she explained. Kristof would use his billion dollars to hold governments accountable to providing services for their citizens such as healthcare.

Afterwards, JWFNY executive director Joy Sisisky and intern Becky Santora had the opportunity to meet Nicholas Kristof at his book signing. In “A Path Appears” Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, tell the stories of real people who are changing the world one step at a time. One of these stories is a JWFNY Isha Koach grantee, Shining Hope for Communities. The JWFNY grant will directly help SHOFCO’s Maternal and Child Health Program in the Kibera slums of Nairobi, Kenya to reach 5,000 women to improve their health status, as well as their infants’ and children’s through prenatal care, postnatal care, family planning, and cervical cancer screening.

Philanthropists left feeling inspired and revved-up about the work we do, taking away practical skills in grantmaking. It was truly an afternoon of “global perspectives and universal connections.”

Interested in learning more about global grantmaking? Read JWFNY’s 10 Takeaways from Philanthropy New York

Leave a Comment