By Stephanie Blumenkranz
“Would you like to attend the Women’s Philanthropy Institute Symposium?” our Executive Director asked me.
I thought to myself “Steph, stay calm, act cool.” As a professional at the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York, which actively engages women as philanthropists and aims to improve the lives of women and girls around the world, I couldn’t think of a place I would rather be. “Yes, that sounds fantastic,” I responded. When in actuality, I wanted to jump on the table and do my best breakdance. Perhaps I will save that response for another time.
I sat with pen and paper in my hand, too eagerly awaiting the start of the Symposium, Dream. Dare. Do: Women, Philanthropy and Civil Society. I thought maybe I will leave here with the answers on how to make philanthropy more strategic and accessible. Yes, I did walk away with some answers, but more importantly, I walked away with new questions.
The Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy looks at how gender influences philanthropy. Women now control 30% of global wealth, and are utilizing that wealth to catalyze social change. Among WPI’s many research findings, we learn that women are more likely to donate, give a larger percent of their income, and spread their giving across more organizations than men.
The topics covered at the symposium were as diverse as the professions and interests of the people in the room. We were all there to learn how we can better engage women as leaders and philanthropists and in doing so improve the lives of all people. As Chief Engagement Officer of Women Moving Millions Jacki Zehner said in the panel presentation Creating Ecosystems to Catalyze Change, “We all want to change the world and do it tomorrow. Listen with intention, purpose, and respect.”
The symposium took place only three weeks before Equal Pay Day – April 4, 2017 – the date that symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year. The date served as a glaring reminder of just how much work still needs to be done, and how it is truly urgent. Each day, women continue to make only 77 cents to the man’s dollar, and each day, we are letting women down if we are not speaking up.
This was a few days of a lot of people speaking up, and instructing us on the best ways to promote change. In total, there were 27 speakers and over 18 sessions. After each session, I walked away having heard something inspiring, thought-provoking, or necessary for me to consider in my own work. Because I can’t possibly remark on all of the great speakers and sessions, I encourage you to see the symposium agenda. Here are a few examples of some of the powerful remarks that were shared:
- Vini Bhansali, Executive Director of IDEX/Thousand Currents, said so beautifully, “Transformation happens at the rate of trust.” For great things to happen, we need to actively support and believe in one another.
- To make sure we are funding the organizations that align with our visions, Sarah Marino, Vice President of Institutional Giving and Women’s Philanthropy at Opportunity International encouraged us to ask, “Are we serving women or are we empowering women?”
- Women win elections at the same rate as men, yet are much less likely to run for office. Kristin Goss, Associate Professor of Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, explained the importance of encouraging women to run for office and providing them with the tools they need to lead. Currently, only 20 percent of those in office are women.
- Rose Afriyie, Co-Founder of mRelief, dared herself and everyone in the room to “have radical self-compassion.” If something doesn’t go well, we need to learn from it and move on.
In a breakout session led by Casey Harden, Interim CEO of YWCA, she asked us to consider, “How can we have a higher community emotional quotient?” How can we respond effectively to the unique needs of our communities? As an umbrella for hundreds of YWCA’s around the country, Casey contributes their successes to being nimble and strategic when working with local communities. In order to best empower people and communities, Casey encouraged us to not be afraid to make changes to our programming. She assured us that if we have a vision and an operational plan, we can be nimble.
Another pressing question with which I left the symposium is: how can I learn to better embrace risk? We aim to be as strategic and deliberate as possible, yet there are times in philanthropy, and in all aspects of life, when things may not be a huge success. Trista Harris, President of Minnesota Council on Foundations and philanthropic futurist, led the session The Future Started Yesterday. Her message was that creating positive change for women and girls takes time and is very difficult. The programs and tactics that are going to be most beneficial may not have been tried yet, and we have to be brave enough to take chances on new techniques. “We need to learn to fail faster. We need to push harder to find solutions,” Trista said loud and clear.
At the symposium, I was among international leadership of the women’s philanthropy movement and in turn, I am more motivated and encouraged than ever before to continue this work. As Tracy Gary, the recipient of the Shaw-Hardy Taylor Award explained, a major key to success is showing up. To all those who joined me at the WPI conference and to everyone working to advance women’s philanthropy, let’s put the DO in Dream, Dare, Do.