TFN in discussion with Julie Reilly, CEO of the Australian Women Donors Network, on the topic of Gender-wise philanthropy

TFN will host a ‘Women & Girls’ giving event in Sydney this Wednesday, May 20, in collaboration with CommBank’s Women in Focus and the Australian Women Donors Network. We will hear from four impressive organisations and learn more about their plans for social action supporting women and girls. This week, TFN spoke to Julie Reilly, CEO of the Australian Women Donors Network, on the topic of Gender-wise philanthropy and why it makes sense to focus on social change for, and by, women and girls.

Why ‘Women & Girls’? Why not stronger communities and equal opportunity for all, regardless of gender?
Snap! Stronger communities and equal opportunity for all – regardless of gender – is just what we want! However, we know that despite significant advances, women and girls around the world continue to be over-represented in poverty and disadvantage while remaining under-represented in positions of power and influence. If we are to continue to grow and prosper, socially and economically, that has to change.

What do you think are the greatest barriers facing women and girls (either in terms of social enterprise – or generally) in Australia today?
In many developing nations, the barriers to gender equality for women are enormous, with exclusion from (or inadequate access to) political systems, education and reproductive health, alongside forced marriage, sexual violence, and still, in 2015, female child infanticide. In developed economies like ours, women fare much better but still face particular barriers including a disproportionate burden of caring and domestic duties, a significant gender pay gap (which has recently widened) and alarming levels of domestic violence. For a growing number of older women who lacked access to work and superannuation in the past, rates of poverty and homelessness are dramatically on the rise. There is now increasing recognition that traditionally male dominated power structures are making it difficult for women to advance to senior roles in corporate and public life. So removing these barriers and investing in women and girls both locally and globally is necessary and a smart strategy.

TFN’s ‘Women & Girls’ event on May 20 presents the opportunity for giving – and the example of giving. You have spoken in the past about the importance of good leadership in philanthropy – as the point on the horizon for others to follow and to help us imagine and strive for what might be beyond our current view. How are Australian women initiating – by example and by direction – Gender-wise philanthropy?
We have some outstanding women leaders in philanthropy, many of whom have been directly involved in the establishment and growth of the Australian Women Donors Network over the past five years – among them founders Eve Mahlab AO and Jill Reichstein OAM, Carol Schwartz AM and Mary Crooks AO. We also have some great leadership being shown at an institutional level with major foundations such as Melbourne’s Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation making women and girls a clear focus in their strategy, policies and practices. Other inspiring examples are younger women like Catriona Wallace and Amanda Miller, who are leading new philanthropic initiatives like Kids in Philanthropy and developing the next generation of philanthropists who are aware of gender issues. One of the most exciting developments is the growth of giving circles emerging around the country led by wonderful women – in Melbourne (Melbourne Women’s Fund), Brisbane (Women for Change) and Perth (100 Women)

What areas/ actions can we improve?
There is plenty of room for improvement. While we are seeing some really inspiring developments, recent statistics suggest that overall giving by Australians has decreased.

Speaking with Generosity Magazine earlier this year, you highlighted inspirational stories as one of the ways we can ‘inspire and celebrate Gender-wise philanthropy’. What role do collective – and public – giving platforms like TFN have to play in developing more widespread habits of philanthropy in this country?
I absolutely love collective giving initiatives – especially TFN – and applaud Lisa Cotton and her team for the impressive results achieved in such a short time. This collective giving movement is really gaining momentum. It’s a recognition of the potential for people to come together to increase the impact of their investment and this is set to grow further through digital technology. Good Pitch2 is another example of how to galvanise philanthropy and community influence around documentary films for social change – last year’s inaugural Good Pitch event at the Sydney Opera House was one of the most exciting events the sector has seen.

Is the idea of philanthropy as an individual sport, best pursued in private and discreetly, no longer applicable?
I think there is still room for a private approach to giving as long as we also have those who are willing to publicly lead by example and share their learnings in philanthropy so everyone benefits. There are real dividends that come from sharing information to minimize duplication and maximize collective input. But the energy and satisfaction that comes from being part of a group working to propel a fledgling charity forward can be exhilarating. It is a social connection that both women and men enjoy. Betty Amsden AO is a fine example of someone who has recently decided to do and say more publicly in order to encourage others to step up and give. I’d love to see high net wealth Australians more out and proud about their giving to encourage others to see this as a natural and expected thing to do with wealth.

A recent study conducted in Britain contends that men give competitively – they will tend to give more when they observe other men giving generously. What motivates women to give? How do their giving habits tend to differ from their male peers?
While the desire to improve society is part of our shared humanity, women tend to enjoy the social connection and learning that comes from ‘engaged philanthropy’ as opposed to just writing a cheque. They are more likely to want to be involved in some way. US research indicates that while men may give larger amounts, women give more often and donate a larger proportion of their income. Sixty-four percent of all charitable gifts are made by women (Huffington Post, June 2014). Boomer and older women are more likely to give and also give more than their male counterparts (Indiana University). Fifty-two percent of women came into their marriages with assets equal to or larger than their partners (US Trust). Women intuitively understand the need to invest in women and girls – our challenge is to convince more men of the business case.

How can the men become (and remain) involved in gender-wise philanthropy? And should they? In matters of gender inequality or social action which addresses issues for women, is it appropriate for the men to take a step back and allow women to take the lead?
Despite the name that might suggest otherwise, we have a significant number of men in our Network who are giving through a gender lens and advocating for this Gender-wise approach. They recognize that investing in women has a multiplier effect because of the pivotal role women play in families, communities and in growing economies. They also recognize that women are great leaders of social change so as the lynchpin for families, and as change agents, giving to women and girls is smart economics. Philanthropist of the Year (2014), Allan English is a strong proponent of giving to women and girls and others like him are coming on board. Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick has demonstrated the power of engaging men as champions for change for women and girls and I would encourage a similar model in philanthropy as part of growing Gender-wise philanthropy.

We hear a lot about the third wave of feminism – a movement that has been emphatic in promoting new levels of inclusiveness and pluralism beyond what has gone before. Are women doing enough for themselves, both locally and internationally, to embrace a truly global sisterhood?
There are some wonderful examples of women helping women both here and around the world. Australia’s International Women’s Development Agency (iwda) is leading great work in our region and there are numerous women-focused international organisations that Australians support – but while the need is so great, it’s hard to say we are doing enough. I would certainly like to see and celebrate more high profile businesswomen, and professional women’s networks, being active in giving to women and girls …and promoting it widely. Audette Exel AO does fabulous work through a gender lens with the Adara Foundation and others, such as Naomi Milgrom AO and Susan Alberti AO, for example, make significant philanthropic gifts in medical research that specifically support women scientists. But often women are less visible in major grants. When we hear about the generosity of Andrew Forrest, we don’t always see Nicola’s name writ as large (though her husband has described her as an ‘unsung hero’) – yet her contribution has been considerable. Part of our ambition is to influence media to focus on the philanthropic achievements of women as well as those of men. There is so much more for all of us to do – the TFN event for Women & Girls provides a wonderful opportunity for established funders and those keen to get involved. I can’t wait!


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