Archive for the ‘economic empowerment’ Category


Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Giving is what women do, of course.

We nurture kids and relatives. We drop everything for friends in need. We form neighborhood associations, join walkathons, sit on school boards and give to clothing drives. Often as not, we also write charitable checks.

So what’s this all about?

Something of a revolution, really. Increasingly, women are contributing time, talent, treasure and technology at levels that move well beyond family and community. More and more women are taking center stage and asking, “What can we do?”
In the process, women are changing the face of philanthropy.They’re infusing new excitement, accountability and serious money into charitable goals and plans

They’re also learning how to collaborate and leverage their efforts in order to have greater impact. Women now require a higher level of stimulation and satisfaction than they once got from volunteering or organizing a charity event. They’re reading P&L sheets. They’re working to make the world a better place.

If you think of society as a three-legged stool supported by the business, government and nonprofit sectors, then women have gone a long way in redefining their roles in the first two. It’s now the turn of the so-called third sector.

How did we get here?

First, across the country, the extraordinary growth in women’s wealth, professional skills, confidence and financial decision-making has been rewriting rules about money and power. Women control a staggering 48% of estates worth more than $5 million and will soon direct 60% of the nation’s wealth. In addition, women have become comfortable with their rights of ownership, in business, in power, in leadership. This tilt toward women-directed wealth is propelling women’s involvement in philanthropy.

With deepening experience and resources, women are increasingly choosing a larger, more strategic stage. Women want their money to be working for change. They’re exploring different philanthropic structures, such as impact investing. They’re defining focus and figuring out what they can give that won’t deplete their longer-term growth or potential assets.

Paralleling women’s focus on philanthropy is the unprecedented rise of women-owned businesses, which are growing twice as fast as all other privately held companies in the country. A whopping 68% of women owners volunteer at least once a month, often in leadership roles. Nine out of ten women business owners (92%) contribute money to charities, compared to 88% of male owners and roughly 70% of U.S. households. Such changes have also led foundations and nonprofit institutions to launch woman-oriented fundraising efforts and to recruit women for their boards and staff.

From Maine to Miami to Malibu, women of all ages, colors and stations are developing giving plans and, typically, also contributing hands-on help. Their charitable work has come a long way from baking cakes and organizing church picnics. It’s all about funding social change.

Unlike the spontaneous impulse toward charity, the work of philanthropy does require some homework, but it is also consistently joyful and empowering. Go ahead. Take the leap. Give a little. There’s no doubt that, in return, you will get a lot.


Sunday, August 1st, 2010

Several years ago, Socially Responsible Investing maven Peter D. Kinder, then president at KLD Research & Analytics (KLD) in Boston, and currently Strategic Advisor to ESG Analytics, wrote a white paper called “Values and Money.”

His stated goal was to trace the history of SRI and to provide some real definitions, context and metrics about investing with a socially or environmentally conscious agenda. He wrote:

SRI emerged in the 1960s from two intertwined, but distinct motivations.

First, it sprang from a desire to change the way corporations interacted with and affected society. This impulse found expression largely through shareholder activism in support of political efforts. The first shareholder action (1967) focused on Eastman Kodak’s minority hiring practices.

Second, it arose from a desire among investors to have their investments be consistent with their ethics. The Pax World Fund (1969) allowed investors to avoid military stocks at the time of Viet Nam.

I think we’re now seeing a third factor surfaciing: Consumers, investors, shareholders are more and more willing to vote with their dollars and to hold corporate boards accountable, just as donors are holding nonprofits accountable. Google and Bill Gates and all the social venture capital partners out there now are backing for-profit companies that seek to do good by doing well because they believe it’s a smarter model for social transformation. And while there are pros and cons to such widespread adoption of for-profit social giving, it certainly does do away with the constant need to fundraise and therefore keeps the focus on the mission. (I’ll look at some of the cons in another blog.)

As a result, boards and CEOs at big, global and established corporations will find themselves hard-pressed to ignore the profile, the purpose and, best of all, the sustainable profits that flow from such socially conscious enterprises. In order to continue to build their companies and attract shareholders and preserve both the planet and their future, they will ultimately be bound to follow the SRI model. They will need to match their operations to socially conscious values. And we, the shareholders and consumers, will win.

Or, as Ivan Seidenberg, chairman and CEO of Verizon, puts it in a just-released report about the coming society challenges from the Committee Encouraging Effective Philanthropy (which boasts Paul Newman as a founder): “Our belief is that corporate philanthropy expands the business. If you do the right thing over time, you expand the capabilities of your customer base, business, and society.”


Saturday, July 10th, 2010

Amid all the current third sector challenges, including how to fundraise in this climate, how to sustain programs, how to maintain the endowment, staff shortages, how to measure and demonstrate impact, how to advance diversity, how to grow the mission, and so on—amid all these concerns and more—I foresee a much bigger crisis coming down the pike.

That’s how nonprofit organizations’ money is invested. Why? Because scarcely any nonprofit invests in a way that’s aligned with its mission. Understandably, most organizations outsource investment management to a financial services pro.

The nonprofit financial officer or executive director then oversees that management. Yet we know from the Madoff horrors that such oversight can often be very lax indeed. Few organizations engage in day-to-day investment choices. More to the point, even fewer require its hired investment management firm to make choices based on the organization’s values or mission or programs.

So what? Well, that means, for instance, that a nonprofit dedicated to helping kids might be making the money for such terrific programs from companies that profit from child labor. Not a pretty picture, is it?

In the age of transparency and accountability for the third sector, this rarely mentioned and frequent disconnect—that’s the polite word, of course—is turning into the elephant in the nonprofit conference room.

We need to open the doors and let the air in. We need to leverage the billions of dollars of nonprofit investment power to effect change with our money not just our muscle in the field.

Next installment: “SRI” or socially responsible investments and ESG or environmental, social and governance investments and how they work for change.


Sunday, April 18th, 2010

“We need to stop separating investment decisions from philanthropic giving,” writes Alexander Friedman, in an opinion piece in the “Financial Times.”

Huzzah! At last! Someone has actually named the bridge that should have been built long ago.

Friedman, who recently stepped down as CFO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and who also was an investment banker at Lazard, clearly is a serious radical — a lot more of a freethinker than many social activists I’ve met.

Can you imagine a greater giving game-changer than having major donors and foundations commit a percentage of their endowments and investment choices to organizations and businesses that support social change? Vote with your dollars, I say. Few foundations, large or small, are making that decision. But it’s definitely where we need to go.

“The world’s problems cannot be solved either by unfettered markets or by limited pools of philanthropic dollars,” advises Friedman. Clearly, these two adversarial factions need to figure out that they need each other. They must find absolutely new ways to align, combine and partner.

Bill Gates walked away from the idea of the so-called “ethical investing” movement by announcing last January that his foundation would focus on grant making, not on the social impact of its investments. Yet the Gates Foundation –under Friedman’s leadership? — earmarked 1% of its endowment for investment instruments like bond guarantees, securing donor aid and equity funds in developing countries. Maybe it just needs a bit more time.

Other philanthropic consultancies, foundations and for-profit businesses are trying similar experiments and efforts. Goldman Sachs — not the most popular company these days – nevertheless has launched the 10,000 Women and 10,000 Small Business Initiatives. Google Dot Org is trying something similar, by investing small venture capital amounts in for-profit startups trying to do social good. JPMorgan’s social sector finance group is bringing financial skills and funding to nonprofits.

We need more of these first-mover, change-the-model partnerships.

We’ll never get anywhere significant in building social change if we keep divorcing real moneymaking venues from philanthropy


Sunday, January 10th, 2010

Increasingly, the survival and safety of women around the world are motivating American women to deepen their involvement. The result tends to be more focus, and more active engagement.

Diana von Furstenberg fits that bill. In addition to being chief executive of her global fashion business, the veteran designer is also a mother, the wife of media mogul Barry Diller, a founder of the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation and president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

So it’s the more compelling that within weeks of attending a lunch a few years back to hear about Vital Voices Global Partnership, von Furstenberg decided to join its board. “Vital Voices resonates the most for me because it embraces all the things I believe in and stand for,” von Furstenberg told me. “That’s why I want to be more involved.”

Set up in 1997 by then First Lady Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright after the two attended the UN Conference on Women in Beijing, Vital Voices supports women community leaders worldwide. The group has rallied support from women across the political spectrum, including actress Sally Field, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and Texas Republican senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Besides marketing expertise, von Furstenberg has contributed space in her boutiques for performances of Seven, the donated work of seven women playwrights. The collaborative play dramatizes the lives of seven women supported by Vital Voices who are fighting the odds and the cultures in places like Russia, where one exposed domestic abuse; Pakistan, where a young girl who was gang-raped brought her attackers to justice; and Afghanistan, where a midwife defied the Taliban. “I thought if we illuminated their lives this way onstage, it might help to call attention to them,” says playwright Carol Mack, who initiated the project and wrote a portrait of Inez McCormack, a Protestant Irish trade unionist.

Similarly, Jewelle Bickford shifted the significant resources she contributes, notably as board member of Randolph Macon College and the Trisha Brown Dance Company, after a wrenching trip to Rwanda. Bickford, who was a senior advisor at Rothschild Group investment banking firm when she visited Rwanda and currently is a philanthropy consultant at GenSpring, returned to New York and got involved with Women for Women International, which aids women who are victims of war.

“It changes your life,” Bickford said to me. “Nothing has affected me like this. We can no longer tolerate what happens to women in developing countries.”

Bickford has joined the Women for Women board and is shedding her other charitable commitments. “One woman can make a difference,” she says.


Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

A just-released report from Ernst & Young and the World Economic Forum, entitled “Groundbreakers: Using the strength of women to rebuild the world economy,” offers yet deeper confirmation of the chorus that now includes Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women program, the UN, the World Bank and dozens of microfinance initiatives around the world.

Says the report: “Now is the time in history to realize and harness the powerful and positive effect that women’s empowerment and leadership can have on the global economy.”

In 2008, the WEF evaluated the gender gap in 130 countries by measuring gender equality in such arenas as health, education, economic engagement and political participation. The findings? Woeful.

“No country in the world has achieved gender equality,” according to the WEF’s Global Gender Gap Report 2008. The four highest ranking countries — Norway, Finland, Sweden and Iceland — have closed a little over 80% of their gender gaps, while the lowest ranking country — Yemen — has bridged roughly 47%.

The results of such “disempowerment,” as the report dubs it — I’d use something a lot stronger — emphasizes the irrefutable dollars and sense argument. The numbers are compelling. When women gain economic and political rights, any and every nation fares better, and, therefore so does the global economy. For instance, in its 2007 annual review, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific Countries found that the limits on job opportunities for women costs the region between US$42 billion and US$46 billion a year in GDP growth.

And if you think developed countries offer a different perspective, well, think again. “The gender gap is particularly stark in Europe,” says the report. As of 2006, the European Commission found that women account for more than half (55%) of all university graduates, yet their rate of employment was 21% lower than that of men. What’s more, the average wage gap between women and men ran as high as 15%.

In the US, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, while women made up more than a third of all managers in 2006, less than a third of the top 1,500 US firms reported even a single woman among their senior executives. Fewer than 6% had more than one, and fewer than 3% had a women CEO.

Despite that absence of women leaders, dozens of in-field and well-documented studies, including some from McKinsey, prove that when women join corporate boards and executive teams, companies increase profits and management efficiencies.

So what’s required to move the needle? Cultural and political shifts, and no easy fixes.

Harvard University psychology professor Mahzarin Banaji, who works on issues of prejudice and intelligence, points out in the WEF report that standard IQ tests scan only for certain kinds of intelligence. She thinks women’s particular talents and potential are overlooked. “It is clear that intelligence comes in myriad forms, not one,” she says. “Perhaps because men were the creators of intelligence tests, the measures of intelligence were naturally more in tune with what they had themselves achieved and valued.”

Late-breaking research further shows that when groups work on complicated challenges, diverse teams usually perform better than homogeneous ones. Perhaps, says Banaji, standard tests don’t yet measure some forms of talent.

Businesses can profit from such tangible research. And nations ought to be doing the same. We need to rethink the thinking on gender. We need to reconstitute laws, cultural biases, political conventions. I know. I know. It’s a lot and it’s daunting. But let’s begin. Then, not only will the needle start moving but also the economy will turn up.

And who can really argue against that?