Women Delivered!

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“Change starts with every single one of us.”

Earlier this summer, my home city Vancouver welcomed the world to the fifth Women Deliver conference. If you’re not familiar with Women Deliver, it began as a convening for medical professionals and policy advocates in reproductive rights of women and girls, more than ten years ago. The conference has since grown to include youth voices; technology and change; the future of work; and innovative philanthropy. Speakers included global “big deal” figures Melinda Gates, Angelique Kidjo and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In my capacity as an information and non-profit professional committed to personal growth, I entered the convention centre not knowing exactly what to expect from the endless sessions or vast number of delegates (about 8,000 people to be more exact). I was sure though that each energetic soul on site intended to share and grow power; work towards progress; and create change, all to advance gender equality in positive ways.

Reflecting on all that I heard and learned from the world’s foremost feminist thought leaders, this experience has enhanced and altered my perspective on philanthropy. “Breaking the current charitable model” resonates still, months later.

We are finally living in a nation and world that takes the rights and well-being of women and girls seriously. How? By funding them. Period. Money – lots of it – was announced at Women Deliver to advance gender equality initiatives around the world which have been chronically under-funded until now. The new Canadian-led Equality Fund, comprised of $400M, is designed and funded by feminists in government, the private sector, international NGOs and community foundations. Championed by Canadian Jess Tomlin and others, the Fund will go a long way to deliver better outcomes for women and girls here at home and around the world in unprecedented ways.

“Money is a very specific type of power, and we believe that one of the most powerful things we can do is move significant money into the hands of women leaders driving change in their communities. Canada and the world can do more to shift power in this way,” said Theo Sowa, CEO of The African Women’s Development Fund, in a press release.  

In one of the most memorable sessions, Maame Akua Kyerewaa-Marfo, also of the African Women’s Development Fund, spoke eloquently from a beneficiary’s perspective, challenging traditional “hand out” ways of giving by the donor down to the beneficiary. Rather, Maame advocated for more “collective thinking” and participation in grant-making and philanthropy.

“We want to hold hands. Giving is more circular now,” Maame noted. She also talked about increasing the depth and impact of our efforts, by funding the art, beauty and romance of life, not just survival areas like business, law and medicine.

She instantly won me over when she proclaimed, “Women are the original philanthropists!”

Maame’s comments led me to wonder about the role of WGCI and giving circles in advancing gender equality. Already well-versed in collective participation, how can we help?  My hope is that members and advocates of the giving circle movement in North America and beyond will take a seat at the table. We need to be at the next Women Deliver conference! Beneficiaries are calling on our collective power to help create change and ensure continual progress.

What makes a conference truly meaningful? All the amazingly diverse, intelligent, values-driven and warm personalities I met through the course of the week. Many had wonderful words of wisdom, but youth leader and advocate Natasha Mwansa, 18, captivated hearts and minds early, with one powerful statement, during the opening plenary:

“Nothing about us, for us, without us, or it won’t work for us.”

Watch Women Deliver’s conference highlights: HERE

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