From the Deltas of Botswana to the Board of Women’s Funding Network
October 3, 2016
Jane Sloane, Director, Women’s Empowerment Program, Asia Foundation, reflects on her time on the Women’s Funding Network Board.
“My own awakening to the power of women’s funds occurred during the time of the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.
Only I wasn’t at the conference, I was on a study tour with a group of environmentalists in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, having just finished directing the 6th International Feminist Book Fair. On this particular day, I was getting out of a canoe on the river bank when I looked back and watched two women paddling toward our camp. As they came closer, I stared. There was Gloria Steinem with, I think, Ann Roberts, one of the daughters of the late Nelson Rockefeller, paddling down the river.
I can’t remember now if I was told this or imagined it: they were visiting women along the river, hearing their stories and what these women needed to support their work. At any rate, what sticks in my mind is the vivid image of two women getting into a canoe and going on their own listening tour to find the women creating change. This was women working to get funds into the hands of women on the basis that trusting women to know what’s needed in a community is the best way to drive sustainable change.
Fast forward to 2007 when I became executive director of International Women’s Development Agency in Australia, working to support women’s organizations in Asia and the Pacific. It was here that I had my first contact with the Women’s Funding Network and the powerful experience of attending my first Women’s Funding Network conference as a member. To be connected to a global network of women raising funds and influencing the direction of funds in support of women’s human rights was tremendously exciting. To have a global forum to share our own work and to explore expanding and adapting it to other contexts spoke to the phenomenal potential of the network.
Two years later, our organization joined the momentum that was Women Moving Millions—catalyzed by Swanee and Helen LaKelly Hunt in conversation with Chris Grumm and incubated at Women’s Funding Network. It was an electric moment to be in the room at the 2009 Women’s Funding Network conference when the announcement was made that we’d collectively exceeded the target set by raising $182 million. Seeing woman after woman step up on to the stage to announce her own commitment of $1 million, or more, was a moment in time where we claimed our collective power as a network.
Those conferences wrought their own kind of magic. In 2012, Janet Sape from Papua New Guinea was given a Women’s Funding Network LEAD Award (Leadership in Equity and Diversity) for her sustained vision to create a Pacific Women’s Microbank. It was the footage of Janet receiving this award being beamed back to Papua New Guinea that helped her secure the banking license from the Prime Minister that was needed to create this women’s bank. With the opening of that bank, women no longer need their husband’s signature to open their own account in a country where 83% of women experience some form of domestic violence. Today, thousands of women have their own bank account and have the opportunity to earn funds to break free of this cycle of violence. That is the power of the Women’s Funding Network in supporting organizations to get funds into the hands of women and giving women leaders a global platform for their vision and work.
With that kind of success there’s huge potential for women’s funds to collectively organize to exponentially shift power and resources with our buying and investing power in the time ahead.
There’s never been a more important time to have the Women’s Funding Network as an active force for rewriting history and achieving gender equality. We now have a new female Prime Minister in the United Kingdom—someone who stepped up to a new level of leadership with the BREXIT decision when other leaders stepped down or stepped aside. And we may soon have the first female President of the United States—someone who has been a consistent and outspoken champion for women’s human rights and women’s leadership.
Women’s leadership and participation in decision-making is critical given what we’re witnessing in the world. This includes the devastating conditions that women and their families are experiencing in refugee camps and settlements in the Middle East and in Europe and increased gender-based violence. We are seeing the rise of religious fundamentalism and the erosion of our sexual and reproductive rights. And we’re experiencing growing inequality with the escalating impact of climate change and food, water, and land insecurity while the rapid increase in pandemics further destabilize communities and countries. This is where the solutions forged by Women’s Funding Network members to address such issues need the attention and funding to scale and adapt.
Having recently returned from a women’s transitional justice gathering in Belfast, and learning of the rising rate of domestic violence years after the peace agreement was signed in Ireland, I am reminded that our work doesn’t stop when peace is won. How we deal with violence on the streets and in our homes requires constant vigilance and sustained advocacy and action.
The issues of race and identity, and how they are impacting lives in the United States and other countries will define our future for decades to come. And that’s why Women’s Funding Network is so important. It’s vital to get more funds to women’s groups and initiatives that benefit women and girls and to influence the wider funding flows that have such an impact on women’s lives and potential.
I want to thank my colleagues on the Women’s Funding Network Board for the privilege of serving with them. With Women’s Funding Network I found my tribe. Each Board meeting, I joined a group of some of the smartest and most committed women I know. I felt connected, respected, and cherished. This is a Board and staff that lives and breathes its values. I learnt so much from every Board Member and we made great things possible as a result of our commitment and teamwork. Board Chair, Roslyn Dawson Thompson is someone who stepped up to lead the Board with grace, determination, and tremendous vision. Cynthia Nimmo is a stunning leader and it has been such a pleasure to work with her and every member of her talented team.
I may be stepping off the Board of the Women’s Funding Network; however, I’ll always be out there speaking to the power of the network. It has my heart.”
Jane Sloane completed six years of service as a Women’s Funding Network Board Member in September 2016. She recently received a Distinguished Alumni Award for Humanitarian Action by the University of Adelaide in Australia and after four years as Vice President of Programs with Global Fund for Women, in September 2016, Jane commenced a new role as Director, Women’s Empowerment Program at The Asia Foundation. In this San Francisco-based role, Jane manages a team in Washington and liaises with the Foundation’s 18 offices in Asia.
Read Jane’s blog janeintheworld.com or her book Citizen Jane: Transformative Citizenship in a Globalized World.