Emotional involvement is empowering

Female philanthropy is an emerging trend which is gathering pace as more women of worth give their time, energy and commitment – as well as hard cash – to those in need, writes Peter Archer

Giving is often shaped by the experiences and driven by the values of the giver. This, of course, can be true of both men and women. But with women, involvement may reach a deeper, more emotional level.

According to Tanja Jegger of Stonehage Philanthropy: “Women are typically quite emotionally attached to the causes they engage in, with time and expertise being just as important as financial support.”

Philanthropist and female entrepreneur Leigh Blake says women tend to get involved in issues that affect them most. “Essentially women hold the keys to compassionate living because they are just built to be more nurturing,” she says.

“I think women are more likely to roll up their sleeves and do whatever needs to be done on the micro level, being compelled to help directly. Men have a tendency to focus on the macro level and not to get too involved in the personal side of the work.”

Philanthropist Alisa Swidler says she is drawn towards going where the need is greatest: “helping the underdog, the cause without the celebre, the vast populations who suffer the injustice of access to basic health systems, whose children die from preventable diseases”.

Women may be more likely to fund more difficult causes helping individuals on the edge of society

“My greatest weakness is that I assume everyone has seen what I’ve seen and experienced what I’ve experienced, which is almost never the case,” she says. “A corollary to that weakness is the assumption that people are, by nature, lateral thinkers and are therefore connecting the dots as they go along. Unfortunately, it is rare that the dots are connected at all.”

Renu Mehta, philanthropist and founder of the Fortune Forum, says: “Traditionally, women are more triggered by emotion and men are more analytical. But the line is blurring, especially with the emergence of the philanthropy ‘power couple’, such as Bill and Melinda Gates, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and Chris and Jamie Cooper-Hohn, where we are seeing a cross-fertilisation of perspectives.”

In large-scale philanthropy, particularly, the gender diversity of men and women working together may result in a more balanced and complementary approach.

Philanthropist Dame Stephanie Shirley observes that women seem less interested than men in the “fripperies” of recognition. “Women perhaps focus more on ‘how can I make the most difference?’” she says.

But giving can also be empowering and more wealthy women are recognising they can exert influence in areas and with issues that matter to them.

They may wish to become involved locally, solving problems and building infrastructure closer to home as well as in developing countries.

Women may be more likely to fund more difficult causes helping individuals on the edge of society. Vivienne Hayes, of the Women’s Resource Centre, speculates: “It could be that the struggles for recognition and equal rights that women have faced in their own careers and families fuel their engagement with causes and communities on the margins,” she says.

Philanthropist Sigrid Rausing observes: “The main gender difference is that men have access to considerably more capital than do women overall. But also, I believe, that women – like the poor – are rather more generous with what they have.”

Writer J.K. Rowling explains her involvement in philanthropy. “I think you have a moral responsibility, when you’ve been given far more than you need, to do wise things with it and give intelligently,” she says. Ms Rowling, once a hard-up single parent, established the Volant Charitable Trust, which uses its multi-million-pound annual budget to combat poverty and social inequality.

CASE STUDY

For the sake of children around the world

Alissa Fishbane’s mission is to improve the health and education of children in disease-ridden regions of the world.

She heads up one of the most cost-effective responses to a serious global challenge affecting more than 600 million school-age children in the world’s poorest countries.

The children are at risk of chronic and widespread parasitic worm infections that can harm their health and development, and limit their school attendance.

Ms Fishbane is managing director of Deworm the World (DtW), a global non-profit initiative of Innovations for Poverty Action, and co-ordinates more than 50 government, technical and funding partners.

The success of the project is based on administering drug treatment to children in schools, thereby using existing school systems and networks.

Rigorous studies have found that regular treatment can reduce school absenteeism by 25 per cent and, over the long term, lead to 20 per cent higher wages and 12 per cent more hours worked as these children become adults.

At less than 32 pence per child each year, school-based mass deworming is one of the best investments in children’s health and education, and has so far reached more than 40 million children in 27 countries.

DtW is currently supporting programmes in Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, and Delhi, Rajasthan and Bihar states in India, the latter being the largest school-based deworming programme in the world – 17 million children were dewormed in three months.

Ms Fishbane says: “If you add up all the school days gained by treating 3.7 million more kids for parasitic worm infections, the funds generously provided will contribute to increased health, higher quality of life and over 250,000 extra years of education this year alone for the children of Bihar.”