Women: Living Philanthropy

Paternalistic politics needs to sit up and take notice. Women now control more than half the private wealth in the U.S. Their voices cannot be ignored because of it. One of the areas in which women's impact is being felt in particular is philanthropy, a fortunate fact for our global future.

As we are reminded by philanthropist Angelica Berrie in her book, "Passion for Giving," co-written with philanthropist Peter J. Klein, at a time when transformative philanthropy is becoming over-industrialized with business-like practices, metrics and new-fangled buzz words like "scaling impact" and "mission-related investing," we need to remember that philanthropy is and must remain a human and humane endeavor from the heart. Berrie digs deep: First and foremost as a philanthropist, one must know oneself, because the most fruitful giving comes from our own passions. This holds true for every one of us who wants to give, no matter what our faiths ask of us, and no matter how big our bank account.

The world of charity (secular and non-secular) is filled with complex processes and rules, complicated even more by the many compelling stories and people coming at all of us seeking help and emphasizing how important their projects are (and indeed many of them are). Giving money effectively is quite complicated it turns out. So it's especially true, in these tough economic times when all of us need to reach a bit deeper into our hearts and wallets that we concern ourselves not just with giving, but giving well.

And women do give well -- and often: Studies cited in "Passion for Giving" indicate that, in addition to controlling some 60 percent of U.S. wealth, women donate a greater percentage of it than their male counterparts. Men describe their giving as practical; women describe it as an obligation.

I've known Angelica Berrie for more than 20 years. I have seen her grow into a leader within the philanthropic community who is reflective and unafraid to move away from charity trends.

In the area in which I work -- inter-religious dialogue -- she has brought about genuinely pioneering results. For example, she's funded a unique, immersive interfaith program for future Catholic leadership, called the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue, at a Pontifical University in Rome. This program reaches not just into students' minds (both men and women,) but also their hearts. Catholic students, who may never have met a Jew or Muslim otherwise, attend mosque and share Shabbat dinners. And here I am, "a rabbi at the Vatican," directing this academic program that helps provide these leaders with the skills they need to address interreligious issues and conflict back home. It's innovative and impactful: We've got students from 17 different countries dedicating their hearts and lives to interfaith work around the globe.

This is just one of thousands of examples where the world of philanthropy is greatly enhanced for women becoming a growing influence in it. Giving is especially transformational when women in philanthropy create economic empowerment for women with less. In a world where women do two thirds of the work and receive 10 percent of the world's salaries, the ripple effect of women investing in women advances education, health and nutrition; reduces maternal and infant mortality; sustains economic and social development; increases GNP and civic participation.

Women will inherit 70 percent of the $41 trillion in the inter-generational wealth transfer expected over the next 40 years. That enormous potential philanthropic capital will propel women to the forefront of transformational giving. That gives me hope. The woman-to-woman effect just may be a key to our global future. We should all be thankful that its time appears to have come, and that female philanthropists are hitting the top of their game.