Philanthropy Reimagined with Women Leaders: Five Things We Learned
We recently hosted the fifth installment in WomenLift Health’s Speaker Series: “Gender & Power: Philanthropy Reimagined with Women Leaders,” featuring Connie Collingsworth, Chief Operating Officer for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Latanya Mapp Frett, President and CEO of The Global Fund for Women. We discussed how COVID-19, like many other health issues, may appear to be unrelated to gender, but plays out along gender and racial lines in profound ways. It is a reminder that funding for health must take a gender and racial lens. For COVID-19 specifically, we addressed this critical opportunity for funders to reassess and reimagine their funding choices including who makes the funding decisions, and who they fund, what they fund, and how they package their funding to explicitly look at gender and race across program areas. Here are five things we heard – and learned – during this thought-provoking discussion:
  1. Check your ‘Solutions Privilege’ and Invite a More Diverse Group to the Table
Frett shared the notion of ‘solutions privilege’: believing you already know the solution to a problem and need only tell grantees what to do. In fact, the root cause of the problem and the most impactful solution may actually live outside your limited view. According to Frett, this is why the decision-making table must include diversity and represent the community with “lived-experiences” to “open your view to the solutions you are holding yourself accountable for.” Collingsworth agrees, “We have to give people who don’t look like the ‘standard white male’ opportunities to sit at the decision-making table, to ask questions, and challenge decisions. That’s when we’ll see a change.”
  1. Intentionally Design for Women and Measure the Impact
Collingsworth shared important advice about applying a gender lens to solutions: “If you just think about the ‘normal customer’ as the man, women’s special needs are not recognized, and they are left behind. You may lift the field, but women aren’t getting the lift you need to reduce the gap.” She stressed the critical importance of measurement: “measure what you are trying to achieve, and collect the data to ensure you are reaching these goals” and equally importantly, to identify when your solution is not working and you need to pivot. COVID has become a great example “showing that there are different impacts depending on which sectors get the disease. Those kinds of things were never measured before. In some countries they still aren’t being measured, which gives you no ground to address those differences.”
  1. Trust Community-Led Approaches
Frett underscored that philanthropists, “must fund organizations that lead the change they seek.” We must let the organization “dictate what the programming is, as opposed to creating it in the global North and then asking them to conform to it.” According to Frett, “It sounds simple, but it’s just not that easy.…a community-led approach is one that recognizes intersectionality and tailors needs to the community.” Frett also expressed that a funder-grantee relationship must be based on trust: “When you look at a partnership, you have to start that relationship with trust. You cannot come from a colonialist, racist, sexist, frame… You have to think about marrying effective monitoring with flexible funding…even if you have a plan, you have to support an organization’s resilience and agility when things happen in their communities that they need to address.”
  1. Look Within and Make Changes Internally, and in How and Who you Fund
Collingsworth shared the ways the Gates Foundation is changing its internal structure and processes, including creating a much more diverse leadership team. She said, “The tone starts at the top. Those people have a lot of power…with respect to pay, promotions, policies and whole strategies and approaches.” Collingsworth also shared that one of the challenges is not just internal, but in thinking about who is funded: “When you have the power and leverage of money as a funder, question organizations about who is on their board, who is their leadership who makes up their teams and who is getting credit for the work being done.”
  1. Embrace Intersectionality and Multi-Issue Movements
Frett emphasized the importance of embracing and amplifying multi-issue movements – from the intersectionality of racial inequity with health issues and, for example, its impact on reproductive justice. She said, “You have to look at the complete story – the full circumstances in which communities, particularly marginalized communities are living within, to get to a solution that’s going to work. She stressed that failing to pay attention to intersectionality “creates silos and actually weakens movements.” Listen to or view the entire conversation here.