Guest blog by Vanessa Evans
If I am being totally candid, philanthropy wasn’t a word I fully understood until four years ago. Even now, I’m still learning.
When I was 21 years old, my mum and I made the decision to create our own family foundation. At the time I was fairly ambivalent towards this new venture because, other than making donations, I wasn’t entirely sure what else my role as Co-Director of a foundation really entailed.
That same year, just after I’d graduated from university in 2016, rather grudgingly on my behalf, we attended our first Women Moving Millions annual summit in San Francisco. I will always remember how full my mind felt that first day. I called myself a feminist for the first time during that summit, heard incredible stories, listened to creative ideas and suddenly became acutely aware of the importance of this fight for gender equality.
I was fortunate enough to sit next to one of the panelists, Jess Tomlin, for dinner one evening, and I learned a little bit more about her work at The MATCH International Women’s Fund. We decided to continue our conversation over a run the next morning. I wasn’t really a runner, but our conversation inspired me to learn more. On the run, Jess invited me to Kenya with a small group of women, who were long-time supporters of The MATCH Fund, to visit and meet some of their grantee partners. And really, that trip to Kenya and meeting all of these amazing women changed my outlook on life and set me on a path towards a deeper learning of what philanthropy is, what philanthropy can look like, and why it is paramount to invest in women and girls.
I was reminded in Kenya of how powerful and vulnerable it can be to see yourself in other people’s stories and how much some of the women I met inspired me to want to ensure their voices were heard and lifted; I even returned to Kenya to try my hand at documentary filmmaking. We all have a reason or a story that keeps us motivated in the work that we do. Remembering how I felt listening to some of the stories I heard from women in Kenya and working alongside my mum on the foundation are two of mine.
My mum and I are very close, she is a widow and I’m an only child. It’s been the two of us from the very beginning. Our trusting relationship has had a strong influence on the foundation and the relationships I already have and want to continue having with grantees. At the end of the day, this work is and always will mean more to me than writing a cheque. I care so much about the people who work tirelessly and bravely to make this world a better place by ensuring women’s and girls’ voices are being heard, seen, and elevated. I want to be a donor who cultivates a trusting relationship with grantees; it would make me so upset if anyone ever felt like they couldn’t tell me how they were doing, or what they need because of a lack of trust.
The strong partnership I have with the Equality Fund both as an individual philanthropist and with my foundation, is due to a number of reasons. I trust the leadership, the team, and the vision that they have built, and I believe wholeheartedly that they have created something that is epic and worth investing in. So, I did. I had an ah-ha moment last October and wanted to elevate my support for them, as an individual, in a rather substantial way. I felt so comfortable and excited to be doing so because of that reciprocal trust, and I felt even more motivated to do so knowing that my contribution may encourage others to do the same within their own means.
The Equality Fund’s model calls for collaboration between investors, philanthropists, activists, and others, and I think we all share this need for unity, collaboration, and trust. This is especially important now as, due to COVID-19, we are depending on each other more than ever before. This virus is affecting us all, yes, but it is important to note that it is blatantly affecting women disproportionately. Funding women now is essential, and trusting women who are on the front lines is critical.
I have learned and experienced how money can be used for good. Making this world a better place requires gender equality, and those working toward it are tremendously underfunded.
So, as I continue to walk—and occasionally run—down this path of learning, I will continue to choose to invest in women, the Equality Fund, and other women’s organizations for the greatest impact and for a future that brings equality for women and girls.
Vanessa Evans is a member of Women Moving Millions. She has run two marathons (in New York and Hawaii) while crowdfunding for The MATCH Fund and the Equality Fund. Find her on Twitter @VnssaEvns.