Daughter of a Texan oil tycoon, Helen LaKelly Hunt is a great American philanthropist. She created with her sister Swanee Hunt Women Moving Millions, a campaign that aims to change the traditional paradigms of philanthopy by pushing high net worth women to give specifically to women and girls' funds, at the million dollar level. She tells Youphil about the genesis of this adventure and of a success worth 181 million dollars.
Youphil: How did you get into the Women Moving Millions adventure?
H.H.: I’ve been inspired by women’s foundations, a network of women’s funds that are in 30 different countries. When I got involved in the field of philanthropy 25 years ago through these funds, men were in charge of the dollars and the funding wasn’t getting to women and girls. These women’s foundations began to bring women together and invite them to pull their financial clout to support women and girls’ funding. I saw that not only did the grants make a difference as money was allocated to help women, but I also noticed that the donors were empowered and their lives were transformed, as they wrote checks for women and girls.
Youphil: In what ways?
H.H: Many high net worth women are marginalized in their own families because there are barriers set up to forbid women having access to money. So there was a passion that donors would feel because as they began to lift up the voice of marginalized women, they were lifting up their voices as well.
Youphil: You often say that you learnt about your own wealth by seeing your ranking on Forbes’ list.
H.H: My sister and I both looked at it and we thought: 'wow !' When I was engaged, my father called my fiancé into his study and had a long talk with him. When he came out I asked: 'what did dad talk to you about?' My fiancé said: 'He told me about your financial situation and how your finances are structured.' My dad had never talked to me about it! No one meant ill, but were I came from, in Dallas, Texas, there was just that assumption that men handle money and women don’t have to worry their pretty heads with it. I knew that wasn’t the healthiest paradigm and that we could improve it.
Youphil: Was there a trigger for Women Moving Millions?
H.H: While raising money for the women’s foundations, I noticed that a lot of women and men who cared about women would fund their symphony $100.000, or the museum $500.000 and fund their women’s organizations $10.000. But a few women began to change that paradigm. One of them was in Amsterdam and founded Mama cash for example.
I was also doing research on the suffrage movement in the U.S. and I learnt that, at that time, wealthy women who knew about suffrage and had philanthropic money were funding their husband’s alma maters, religious institutions where they had no voice, colleges for boys and the ballet but not the suffrage movement. Only working class and poor women were funding it.
Why was that?
H.H: I don’t know! Two men actually stepped up, but the women were still funding their husband’s alma maters. So I heard about these women funding women at a million dollar level and I thouht this was a new consciousness and we needed to mark it. So we created Women Moving Millions to flip the paradigm and say: 'make sure we fund women’s organizations big and bold; your biggest checks go to women and girls and what is left over can go to the symphony'.
Youphil: What is so special about having women helping women?
H.H: It's the fact that every woman in that chain of women helping women all around the world will be stronger when working together. The idea is that the sum is sometimes greater than anyone of its parts.
How did your family react?
H.H: I think my family wasn’t used to this and wasn’t quite sure what would come of it. But they are now happy and proud. The reason is that now, we are hearing this message from men, from the World Bank, the UN, and even Wall Street. Goldman Sachs started the 10.000 women initiative for funding women around the world. So this idea is taking flight: If you want to do large philanthropy to help solve the problems of poverty or education, get the money in the hands of the women and everybody will benefit from it. It will have this well-known 'multiplying effect'.
Is it a good thing to have funds that go by genre?
H.H: We love men to be part of Women Moving Millions. We’ve had many men fund very big.
Youphil: Would you say that you are a feminist?
H.H: Oh sure.
Youphil: Is there such a thing as feminist philanthropy?
H.H: Yes. For me, it’s philanthropy that makes sure that everybody in the world has his or her voice heard and that everyone can walk safely.
Youphil: What came first: Philanthropism or Feminism?
H.H: I don’t think there was an order. My preferred term for myself is I am a donor activist. I really don’t like the term philanthropist.
Youphil: Why not?
H.H: Because I think it has an old fashion top down feel to it, like somebody is sitting way up high and is giving money down. The way I know how to fund is working side by side with people. I learnt so much from grantees and disenfranchised I worked with about where to put the money. So I am a donor activist and I happen to be a woman. And women have great things to say. We are not just about writing checks. We are also lifting up the voices and the values of women.
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