Any conscious human can be a philanthropist, defined as “a person who seeks to promote the welfare of others.” In my experience, some of the most generous people have been those with virtually nothing. The mushrooming selection of ‘causes’ challenge those with “a little something to give” to find one that resonates with their personal ethos of social responsibility.
The most effective helping organization tend to be firmly rooted in a community. These small organizations, usually with limited cash, create some of the most effective ways to serve people in need. Their budgets, duly planned and carefully calculated, often remain wish lists, forcing continual decisions about what can’t be done.
Philanthro-humanitarian finance is a sprawling realm of big institutions rubbing bellies with other big institutions. In this complex transnational web, egregious amounts of money sometimes go missing, clever accounting hides waste and losses, sexual harassment allegation rise and fall, and still The Club – long-established foundations, government institutions, and international aid organizations – The Club churns along.
One of the best insights into this phenomenon came from a black woman philanthropist: If after 20 years, you [an international humanitarian organization] are still here [in a developing country], I have to wonder what you’ve accomplished.
These long-term ‘occupations’ suggest that many humanitarian INGOs have not equipped locals to run their own show. No question it’s a tricky calculus. Knowledge transfers are always received through cultural filters. Assessing the long-term impact of training one woman to earn income that elevates her life requires a capacity to monitor her progress over time. Expectations of impact presuppose that data technology is available, training have occurred, and the system is being utilized effectively. These necessary costs are seldom considered.
The language accompanying some new grant opportunities appears to be rooted in thorough unfamiliarity with realities on the ground in favor of making ‘impact investors’ comfortable. To wit: “Catalytic capital seeks to address capital gaps, i.e., investment opportunities that mainstream commercial investment markets fail to reach, partially or fully, because they do not fit the risk-return profile or other conventional investment norms and expectations that such markets require.”
Increasingly, foundations accept proposals ‘by invitation only.’ I’m guessing they have search mechanisms to determine ‘whom to invite’ but firewalls usually prevent direct contact that might encourage an invitation.
Online proposals often contain tediously repetitive questions, evidently created and formatted by gremlins, and require days to complete. It’s rare to find a grant exceeding $50,000, or to receive a rejection that does not cite ‘hundreds of applicants.’
Melinda Gates, ever refining her message, has said: “The agenda of our lifetime is making sure that women can take their full power in society.” In response, one Black woman CEO responded: “…then why do funders and major donors still not see that we are worthy of sustained, significant investment?” I’m sayin’!
I had believed Women’s Centers International (WCI) would (and still may) draw the interest of major funders. That would indeed spare the accustomed bootstrapping to achieve baby steps forward. So far in my extensive outreach, stonewalling has been a usual response. For an old woman in a hurry, that’s pitifully suboptimal. Hence, WCI’s trickle-up approach.
In 2022, WCI’s network grew organically from international connections sustained over many years. We’re nurturing the development and/or operation of six Women’s Centers (see map; does not include Oakland Women’s Center USA), serving war-displaced women, widows, survivors of violence, young single moms and of course, their children – because as the moms go, so go the children.
WCI helps local organizations build their capacity to assist the women of their community. We advise, send what funding we can, and trust their commitment to produce the best outcomes. With an investment of $50,000 – $75,000, one Center in a not-wealthy country can build and thrive for a year. Costs increase by a factor of three for Centers in wealthier countries. In all cases, a modest annual commitment of capital produces extraordinary impact. Imagine a fully funded global network!
I’ve long envisioned WCI as a foundation, investing only in Women’s Center start-ups and operating costs. I believe this to be a legacy-defining channel for achieving women’s equality.
This is my open call to movers and shakers – join us.