You and the organization you lead, the Women's Funding Network, are working with UNIFEM to draw attention to World Poverty Day on October 17. What's the genesis of your passion about the gender dimension of poverty?
I'm a preacher's kid, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor from a long ling of clergy. As a child I was exposed, through my father's work in the parish, to the harsh realities of poverty and the injustice of systems that allow some to flourish and have access to all the wealth and opportunity of our country, while others struggle to meet their basic daily needs. It was this justice question that informed my decision to serve in the non-profit community as an adult. In this search for justice, I was fortunate to encounter numerous women leaders who had both experienced poverty and violence and turned that experience into a lifelong commitment to finding and implementing solution for the building of safe and healthy communities.
In my travels around the world, I have met women who embrace the same commitment and approach. Last year I visited Tewa, a Women's Funding Network member fund in Nepal, on the 10th anniversary of their founding and heard a story that to me symbolizes the power women have to unite and overcome obstacles.
In Nepal, women often have limited access to property, except in the case of their dowries -- represented by the gold bangles on their arms. When TEWA was first started in 1996, the organizers realized that fundraising would be a challenge. To jump start their campaign, they decided to share those gold symbols in a very real way, by offering their gold bangles as the first gifts to the women's foundation.
To me that's a powerful example of women's willingness to share their personal wealth, large or small, for their children, their sisters, their communities and for a better world.
What are women's funds and what are they doing to address poverty?
An overwhelming majority of women and children worldwide are affected by poverty. And traditional aid is not doing much about it - only 0.6 percent of all development money goes to programs that specifically address the needs of women and girls, according to the Office of International Development Assistance. That's only a half cent per capita for half the world's population.
There needs to be much more money dedicated to addressing women and girls living in poverty. This problem needs significant resources and it is unacceptable to expect women's organizations to do this "on the cheap." That is where women's funds come into the picture.
Women's funds are foundations, or funds within foundations -- now numbered 124 in the U.S. and around the world -- that raise money and grant it to grassroots and national organizations around the world that are strategically situated to affect social change. These organizations are community partners and they are able to use the money to invest in women who then go out and influence the broader community with new knowledge and practices. When a community reaches a solution to a problem, these organizations are poised to spread that information far and wide.
Over 80 percent of women's funds' grants go to women and girls with little to no income. Women's groups have been addressing poverty for years, so we have the networks in place to make lasting change.
What can the reader of this do, right now, to take a stand against poverty?
The Women's Funding Network is partnering with UNIFEM to take a stand against poverty on World Poverty Day. Wherever you are on October 17th, you can go to Womenfightpoverty.org and register yourself as standing against gender inequality and poverty. The Guinness Book of Records will take a tally of all the people who visited in those 24 hours and we're hoping to beat last year's record of 23.5 million for the most people standing at any one time. You can also visit Wfnet.org to find a women's fund you can support all year round.
I understand your philosophy is to go beyond thinking of women as victims of poverty, and to see women as "assets." What do you mean by that?
Traditional philanthropy typically is vertical -- decision makers decide what to do to help women. Women's funds realize women at the grass roots know exactly what they need to lift their communities out of poverty. Our member funds' participation in the Katrina relief and rebuilding effort is a perfect example of this. The Women's Foundation for a Greater Memphis -- one of our member funds -- understood what women survivors of the storm, many of whom were heads of households, needed most and they were able to respond most effectively. Women who live in poverty should be treated as partners and given sufficient funding so they can carry out solutions that are appropriate for them and the communities they live in.