Global Fund for Women: Challenging the Traditional Model of Philanthropy

Stanford University
Course Lectures
  • Kavita Ramdas, President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women, defines entrepreneurship by looking to the roots of the French language. She found two words: "entre" and "prendre" that suggest the act of immersion into something that also takes hold of you.

  • Kavita Ramdas, President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women talks about the organization as a classic Silicon Valley story taking birth in a kitchen in 1987. The organization provides seed and strengthening capital for social entrepreneurs who are working for change.

  • Early investors in Global Fund for Women were Bill Hewlett, David Packard, Esther and Walter Hewlett, says Ramdas. These were people who understood that you could take a risk on a small organization getting started in a kitchen, the Global Fund for Women, she explains.

  • One of the premises of the way the Global Fund for Women thought about distributing capital to social entrepreneurs was that there already existed a network of people who knew where critical things were happening on the ground, says Ramdas.

  • Ramdas reveals that she was attracted to the work of the Global Fund because women were doing things to both change their own circumstances, and also to transform what existed in their own communities. She was amazed that there was an organization that was willing to put the resources directly into the hands of women.

  • The Global Fund for Women was not started by wealthy women. It was started by three working women who were deeply committed, passionately immersed, in a notion that you could promote social change by investing in women. It does not require a lot of money to invest in philanthropy for social change.

  • Women's Issues
    Kavita Ramdas

    Entrepreneurs don't just pick one issue to work on. Ramdas addresses the fact that there is no singularity in women's issues. Issues related to women are across all segments. She quotes the same by giving examples of HIV AIDS, war and economic development.

  • In social entrepreneurship, many issues are blended and need to be addressed together. Ramdas shares two examples of social entrepreneurs very close to her heart. She talks about entrepreneurship being the willingness to work and assume risks at the same time for implementing changes in the society.

  • Kavita Ramdas, President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women stresses that the United States is presently in a secure position and stable than most other parts of the world. She believes that it is right time to build the true spirit of entrepreneurship. She stresses that civilizations from other countries are all a part of the global community.

  • Ramdas answers the questions, "How to approach womens' rights in other countries, without seeming an activist?"; "What are the universalities of human rights?" GFW has found that women in their respective countries are extremely good judges of what issues are most important, what risks are involved, and the best ways to address these problems without creating direct confrontation or conflict. They often fund groups of women, rather than individuals. Women's issues that are the most controversial around the world include: lesbian rights, reproductive health, abortion rights.

  • Ramdas's father was in the military, and her mother was a social activist. The family was a middle-class Indian family, yet privileged to be in such a position.As a result of her upbringing, Ramdas has a combination of seeking structure/order and an urge to constantly question authority. The family moved often, and she developed a strong sense of what it meant to be a global citizen.

  • Kavita Ramdas, President and CEO of The Global Fund for Women (GFW) understands the importance of sustainability for its grantees because it must also be a sustainable organization. GFW helps grantees by discussing up front ways for strengthening and expanding funding in local communities. She stresses that sustainability is not to be confused with creating a profit-making venture. GFW also perceives that funding should continue over longer periods of time and groups should be encouraged to diversify funding base, build more capacity, engage with others in the community.

  • The Global Fund for Women believes there is room for a different kind of philanthropy to exist in other parts of the world. In most parts, there is a huge division between those who have and those who do not have. Those with wealth do not tend to see investment in development as part of their responsibility. Ramdas notes that this is thinking that must change.

  • Global Fund for Women CEO Kavita Ramdas talks about financial contributions for the greater good both locally and internationally - and that here in the US we give a very small percentage of our income to remedy the world's concerns. Ramdas cites the gap that exists between how much people think our government should be giving to global relief - 15-20 percent of our national income - but that less than 1% actually makes its way outside the United States.

  • How do philanthropies measure success? The Global Fund for Women makes general support grants, not project support grants. This is a huge issue in philanthropy, because general support grants are much harder to measure.

  • The Global Fund for Women (GFW) is overwhelmed with requests for grants-3,000 every year, in many languages, says Ramdas. International advisors give feedback on priorities for social areas in their communities. GFW also have a basic set of criteria - is it a group of women instead of an individual, do they have a clear articulation of how they will challenge women's positions within that society? GFW doesn't give a grant until they have an endorsement from the ground, she says.

  • Ramdas considered work in grass roots versus at the philanthropic level. One of the things that pushed her to reflect on that decision, was where she could best use her skills and how they would lead to the best results.