Highlights of the past decade

At our recent 2020 Gender-wise Event we fondly farewelled the Australian Women Donors Network and introduced Australians Investing in Women.
Our warm thanks to Philanthropy Australia Co-Chair, Amanda Miller, a former staff and Board member of Women Donors, who stepped in for our Deputy Chair and Co-Founder, Jill Reichstein, at the event to share the highlights of the past decade. 


It’s my pleasure as a former staff member and Board Director to be invited to share with you the story of the Australian Women Donors Network and to celebrate its impact over the last decade.

For some, who’ve been with Women Donors along the way it will be a reminder…for others, an introduction and potted history of the work that has led to this next strategic step the Network is taking today in its evolution.

The story starts around 2009. There were a number of leading women in philanthropy who felt strongly about supporting women, and striving for gender justice, by funding women’s organisations and projects.

So when Eve Mahlab, suggested to Jill Reichstein that they do something to encourage and support more women to get involved in giving… they hatched a plan.

They knew there was a huge need – and across the world momentum was building with the establishment of groups like the U.S based Women Moving Millions, who teamed up with the Women’s Funding Network in the U.S to launch a global movement to grow bolder giving with a gender lens.

Eve and Jill pulled together a small ‘ginger group’ that met to discuss how they could grow a focus on women in philanthropy and it quickly mushroomed – shortly afterwards they formally established the Australian Women Donors Network with the help of Arnold Bloch Liebler and appointed the inaugural part-time CEO.

Over the following ten years, the Network has achieved a lot with a little, and I’m proud to have played a part in their story.

· With a mission to inform, inspire and enable greater investment in women and girls, the Australian Women Donors Network has systematically made the business case for gender-based giving.

They commissioned the first research that mapped Australia’s philanthropic investment in women and girls and established a website to act as a central information hub on gender issues, including an online project showcase to help connect funders to impactful projects that would support women whether in homelessness, the arts, education, disaster recovery, mental health and so on…

They brought leading philanthropists to Australia starting with Tracy Gary, the author of Giving while Living, and have since staged annual gender-wise events presenting global thought leaders to share their knowledge and inspiration with the Australian philanthropic sector about what can be achieved when you invest in women and girls.

International guest speakers have included the founder of Women Moving Millions, Helen La Kelly Hunt along with the Women’s Funding Network founder, Christine Grumm, and the brilliant documentary film maker, Abigail Disney, whose visit at the time firmly established the Network on the Australian philanthropic landscape.

The message they shared had a universal thread. Investing in women has a multiplier effect across society. Women’s talents, skills and abilities help nations, industries, communities and families thrive and grow – and philanthropy has a role to play in removing barriers that keep women from reaching their full potential.

Founding board member Mary Crooks created and conducted a series of Gender Lens workshops and the Network then built on this approach exploring the concept of unconscious bias in decision making.

During my time working with Women Donors there was rising interest in collective giving – we understood that many women outside of formal philanthropy also wanted to help women and could best do so by pooling their funds, so we staged a national tour with Colleen Willoughby, the Mother of Giving Circles in the U.S., to help grow the collective giving movement in Australia.

Colleen’s visit helped to seed new giving circles around the country including the Melbourne Women’s Fund, Women for Change in Brisbane, and later Women Kind in Sydney…as well as strengthening existing giving circles like 100 Women in Perth and Impact 100 groups.

The Melbourne Women’s Fund now has more than 130 members and has granted over seven hundred thousand dollars, propelling numerous charities along their path to impact, and taking others from strength to strength. It’s also a vital training ground for emerging philanthropists.

It was always clear of course that growing women’s giving alone was not enough – and the second strand of the strategy involved working with trusts and foundations across the philanthropic sector to foster a gender lens approach.

Throughout the years the Network has consulted with leaders in the sector and produced practical resources in response to their needs, including:
the Guide to Gender-wise Philanthropy,
the Toolkit for Gender-wise Grant-makers,
Guidelines for Grant-seekers and
numerous fact sheets to help funders understand and address areas of gender inequality where they want to make a difference.

They also developed Board Presentations and Gender-wise Workshops to encourage the all levels of the philanthropic sector to incorporate a gender lens across their formal processes.

The Network continued to present high profile speakers inviting philanthropic fathers and daughters to hear from the father of Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai about how men can help ensure a more gender equal world, and last year worked with Tarana Burke, the Founder of the #metoo movement, to explore philanthropy’s role in supporting global grassroots movements for gender equality.

In addition, they have partnered with Philanthropy Australia to introduce a Gender-Wise Philanthropy Award and just last week presented the fifth such award to the Brian and Virginia Mc Namee Foundation for its support of Victorian based WIRE and the Purse Project which helps women affected by family violence to gain control of their finances. The fact that this project influenced the Royal Commission into Family Violence and has since been picked up by government shows the power of philanthropy to drive real change.

Also in partnership with Philanthropy Australia the Network established a Women and Girls Funders Group to deep dive into key issues for women, such sex and gender in medical research, mental health for women across the life cycle and to engage with gender equality experts including our Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins who is with us on the call today.

The Network has worked to embed gender lens questions in grants management software like Smarty-grants, taught philanthropy students at Swinburne’s Centre for Social Impact, and established information sessions for women’s non-profit leaders to help them navigate the funding landscape.

Behind the scenes the CEO has worked to help refine taxonomies and improve measurement and gender data in the philanthropic and charitable sector, connecting, collaborating and tirelessly advocating for a focus on women and girls at philanthropic roundtables, gatherings and discussions.

Over the years it’s been pleasing to see the growing number of philanthropists who have joined Women Moving Millions or have separately significant funding for women and girls, and I’m happy to say that includes not only an leading group of women but a number of men – experienced and award winning philanthropists like Paul Wheelton and Ian Darling.

I want to come back to why this work matters.

Around the world women face discrimination and violence – and are held back in so many ways – limiting their wellbeing, that of their family and community, and the peace, security and prosperity of their nation.

Here in Australia, despite significant progress, women and girls continue to face challenges and barriers to equality. When it comes to safety, economic security and political representation – Australian women and girls are not yet equal.

Last summer’s bushfires and the current COVID-19 pandemic have further exacerbated these inequalities.

As I see it the increased awareness and media focus on gendered impacts have amplified the need for a gender lens on philanthropic responses and made the important work of supporting gender lens funding more important than ever.

Today we celebrate and thank those early adopters of the gender lens like Catherine Brown at Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation and Caitriona Fay at Perpetual whose intelligent leadership has placed gender equity at the centre of grant-making – and leading businesswomen like Jo Horgan of Mecca who has backed Women Donors from the early days and grown her own company’s giving to generously support the education of girls locally and globally, ….and founding board member Carol Schwartz who last week was recognised as the 2020 Leading Philanthropist and celebrated for bringing her skills, resources and influence to advance gender equality.

Over the years the Women Donors Network has benefitted from the service of a wonderful range of Board Directors, staff and volunteers and we acknowledge and thank them all and, in particular, former Chair and ongoing supporter and champion for women and girls, Deanne Weir, and of course, the wonderful current Chair Sam Mostyn who we’ll hear from shortly.

Thank you for allowing me to share, on behalf of Jill, some of the highlights from this first important chapter – it’s been a delight for me to play a part in this story of impact.

It’s heartening to see that what began as a small but mighty group of women has steadily grown in influence and impact to be such an important part of the Ausgtralian philanthropic sector – and today the Network will take a significant step to ensure it is well positioned to do even more.

Thanks to each and every donor and supporter that has walked alongside the Network and supported its first important decade – and to every funder who has started to ask the question….How will this initiative impact women and girls?!

I’ll hand back now to Julie to reveal the new brand – and to introduce the brilliant speakers for today.


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