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A New Approach to Gender-Lens Grantmaking

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This post is a re-release of an article that originally appeared in the Stanford Social Innovation Review but was adapted to appear in the Spring 2017 edition of a journal called “Impact India” sponsored by The Bridgespan Group, Dasra, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Omidyar Network. We are grateful to be part of this “gender-lens” movement that has been changing the face of social innovation, global development, philanthropy, and investing.

India provides particularly fertile ground for the gender-lens movement, which is beginning to fund culturally tailored efforts to transform underlying beliefs that systematically disempower females.

Philanthropists and for-profit investors are increasingly using a gender lens to screen opportunities for funding social change as awareness of the need continues to grow. Funders now take it for granted that empowering women is a linchpin of global advancement. Yet report cards marking the 20th anniversary of the passage of the landmark Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995—a blueprint created by 189 governments for advancing women’s rights in 12 areas—show that progress toward gender equality has been painfully slow.

The most shocking indicator revealed that global rates of genderbased violence—which the World Health Organization estimates affects about one in three women—have remained unchanged over the past 20 years despite billions of dollars in private and public investment to combat it. Gender-based violence is just one indicator, but it is both a proxy for stalled progress on multiple fronts and testimony to one of the most stubborn obstacles to bettering women’s lives: the persistence of both conscious and subconscious beliefs and norms that sanction an imbalance of power between men and women and foster conditions that inflame violence. Read More

An Ongoing Forum and an Invitation for Contributions and Dialogue: What Practical Relevance Does the “Imago Dei” Have for the Advance of Human Rights, Peace, and Global Development in the 21st century?

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An ongoing forum for friends and partners to share how they see this ancient theological doctrine playing out in their own work of enlisting faith to mend and restore the “imago dei” where it is threatened and vulnerable in our world

All too often religion has been force used to divide, exclude, rank order, and to build walls where our world could really use some good bridges. For very valid and good reaons, many find their inspiration for working for a more just, humane world outside of a religious creed or context. For those who remain in a faith tradition and are engaged in any way in the work of global development, how can we mine these traditions for that which is unitive and liberating for humankind – all of us – and inspires us to get out of our comfortable religious silos and roll up our sleeves to work with others to tackle shared problems which undermine our collective wellbeing as human beings?

To kick off this series, we have invited two theologians, Dr.’s Richards Middleton and Elizabeth Gerhardt to expound on their understanding of this ancient tenent of the “imago dei” and what implications it has in our world today.

– Dr. Richard Middleton, Professor of Biblical Worldview and Exegesis, Northeastern Seminary and Roberts Wesleyan College, and Author of The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1

– Dr. Elizabeth Gerhardt, Professor of Theology and Social Ethics, Northeastern Seminary and Roberts Wesleyan College, and Author of The Cross and Gendercide: A Theological Response to Global Violence Against Women and Girls.

Our Topic:

“b’tzelem Elohim”
These two words appear in the first chapter of the Bible, pregnant with meaning, and arguably are two of the most important words in the entire Bible. The notion of human beings made in the “image of God” (Hebrew: צֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים, translit. tzelem Elohim; Latin: Imago Dei) is a foundational but untapped tenet in all Abrahamic faith traditions.

The “imago Dei” first appears in the opening chapter of Genesis in a beautiful poetic account of how the world came into being with an original goodness and wholeness. “And God said ‘Let us create humankind in our image after our likeness…’” (Genesis 1:26).

Strikingly, this stamp of God is portrayed as a relational plurality – an “us” that is reflected in a “they”: “So God created humans in their own image, in the image of God God created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).

While most identified with Jewish spirituality, there is evidence that the “imago dei” language also appeared in ancient Mesopotamian and Near Eastern cultures where kings and rulers were cast as images of particular deities to vest their authority with a Godlike sanction and power.

The Hebrew root of the Latin imago (צלם tselem) is derived from the words “to carve” or “to cut out,” and suggests a mysterious “shadow” or “phantom,” a facsimilie or representation of the original. Interestingly, throughout the Bible the word tselem is often translated as “idol” and ties us back to the ancient world where idols pervaded culture and religion. Given that the ancient Hebrews so strongly condemned idolatry (“Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above…” Deuteronomy 5:8) it is fascinating that the word tselem appears in the creation account in Genesis with a positive connotation describing human beings in the image and likeness of “Elohim” (God).

Given all of the evils we human beings have inflicted on one another and on our world, this indeed is a daring assertion!

This meta-theme of human beings as sons and daughters who possess a shared dignity, creative capacity and authority (“dominion”) and a sacred quality which resembles our Creator extends throughout the scriptures, Old Testament to New. All of the Abrahamic faith traditions draw from this basic theological premise, and it has a timeless and universal quality that extends beyond the walls of faith.

Sadly though, all of these faith traditions have lost touch with this foundational tenet and time and again throughout history have succumbed to cultural and ideological influences which have in various ways cast humankind as a “Great Chain of Being” with only those at the top seen to be possessing a Godlikeness to rule over others. So many groups – enslaved peoples, ethnic and racial minorities, and women – have been deemed at one point or another by our religious traditions to be morally, intellectually, and spiritually inferior and thus less reflecting of the image of God and meant for subjugtation and submission not the shared dominion we all were created for as image-bearers of God.

The oppressive realities of our world today demonstrate vividly that we have yet to fully claim and live into the spiritual, ethical, relational, and humanitarian implications of what it means to be created b’tzelem Elohim—in the image of God.

To assert our common God-likeness is indeed a daring and mysterious endeavor which theologians, philosophers, and ethicists have written tomes on and debated for millennia. It’s ancient meaning is hard for us to fully grasp today but in a world where religion has all too often been used to sanction unjust hierachies, ethnic warfare and genocide, and injustices of all stripes, it is our hope that we can reclaim it’s meaning to more fully enlist faith in the work of justice, equality, and shared human rights for all. The imago Dei is a spiritual jewel within the treasury of faith, an untapped gift to humankind, which reminds us that in our truest expression we are all linked as human beings, not rank ordered.

We chose the name “Imago Dei Fund” to inspire us and remind us of this shared dignity and cre-ative capacity we all possess as human beings which makes us more alike than we are not alike and gives us common cause to work across dividing lines on shared problems which plague our planet and create needless alienation and Read More

Final Report of Phase III of the Gender Parity in Evangelical Organizations Research Released

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We are proud to announce the release of the final report of phase III of the Gender Parity in Evangelical Organizations Research project written by lead researchers Janel Curry, Gordon College, and Amy Reynolds, Wheaton College. Thank you to all of the organizations who participated in the study and to all who helped make it happen. Read More

Silencio: A FREE Resource for Your Soul

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Check out a free online soul care resource called Silencio put out out monthly by Leadership Transformation, Inc. This issue is focused on the “Seasons of the Soul”… For those who live in winter climates and for all who feel particular darkness this season, Diana Bennett, Spiritual Formation Associate at LTI writes:

“Winter is a time of dormancy in anticipation of a new awakening. As with the other seasons, winter has its positive and negative nuances. Winter can be a delightful season, resting from the rigors of fall. The ground is resting, and so are we. If we are in a bleak winter, God seems faraway. We might feel despondent or unproductive. It might be a time of the dark night of the soul.”

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I Am Jane Doe – Opening on February 10

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I Am Jane Doe chronicles the epic battle that several American mothers are waging on behalf of their middle-school daughters, victims of sex-trafficking on Backpage.com, the adult classifieds section that for years was part of the Village Voice.

I Am Jane Doe is a gut-wrenching human story and fresh look at a social and legal issue that affects every community in America. Read More

Wholeness of Life in Lwala & Beyond: The Faith & “Philanthropos” Back Story Behind the Founding Of A Kenyan NGO

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In our first blog post, we described our mission of “philanthropos” (love of humankind) and how this has drawn us into an incredible web of inspiring people and organizations working around the world to restore wholeness to our world.  One such partner is Lwala Community Alliance in Kenya, a rural health clinic started by two Kenyan brothers who came to the US for college (Dartmouth) and medical school (Vanderbilt).

While they were at Dartmouth, both their parents died of AIDS. In their grief, an idea surfaced to honor their parents lives and do something for their community. The story of how their dream became a reality is what Craig Parker shares in this post and is a great inspiration as we start a new year. It’s a story of how friendship, faith, and “philanthropos” can make incredible things happen in our world!

The Proposal

In Western Kenya, about five miles from a paved road, there is a rural village called Lwala. It is named for the red soil found throughout the region, which turns the area to mud during the rainy season.

In January 2005, I sat across from my two friends from Lwala in a café in Hanover, New Hampshire. A large blueprint covered the table between us, as they presented their appeal to me for financial help. I listened politely, but couldn’t imagine being able to do anything to help.

My friends, Milton and Fred Ochieng’ asked me to assist them with a clinic they proposed to build in their village.

Fred and Milton at age 4 and 5

Milton, Craig and Fred at Dartmouth

As a Christian campus minister with the Navigators at Dartmouth College, I was a friend of Fred who had been a member of our student fellowship for four years. We had traveled together on several spring break service trips, he had been to my home countless times, and he began to call me, “Paps”. We grieved with him when he lost his mother and his father to AIDS during his junior and senior years, and helped to cover his airfares to return to their funerals.

Although I didn’t know Milton as well, he and Fred played soccer with my son, Garrett.

Milton and Fred have improbable stories of how they came to Dartmouth College from a rural village in Western Kenya. They had done well on their 8th grade national school exams and were admitted to one of the most prestigious schools in Kenya. From there they both won scholarships to Dartmouth. It was like winning the lottery. Their success was so celebrated that, in 2000, when the people of Lwala heard that Milton was going to go to college in the US, they sold chickens and cows to purchase a one-way airfare for him and said, “Don’t forget us.”

The clinic Milton and Fred proposed to me on that winter day in 2005 was to be a tribute to their parents, who were teachers, passionate about education. Their father, Erastus Ochieng’ challenged them to do something about the non-existent health care in their village. Erastus had even begun plans for a clinic, including putting in place a local committee to organize it. After he died, Milton and Fred wanted to honor their father’s dream by fulfilling his plan.

Fred with his parents, Erastus and Margaret Ochieng’

The challenges they described to me were daunting. Lwala had no running water or electricity and limited transportation. There were only a few vehicles among a wider population of 30,000 scattered within a three-hour walking radius. The closest medical facilities were accessible by foot, bicycle, or motorcycle. It could take several hours to get to a clinic or hospital.

When Milton and Fred were boys, a good friend of their family was in the throes of childbirth, having a complicated delivery. Needing medical attention in her duress, her family placed her in a wheelbarrow and tried to transport her up the long dirt road. She died en route. Milton and Fred vividly remember the grief around her body the next morning. Experiences like this one drove their desire to see change.

As we finished our coffee, I asked them the cost.

“$30,000—$35,000,” was Milton’s reply.

A first-year medical student at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Milton had worked out the plans for the clinic as part of a medical emphasis project required for one of his classes.

“Who is going to build it and who is going to channel the money?” I asked.

Those details were still a little fuzzy.

We wrapped up our conversation and I wished them well. Milton returned to Nashville and Fred to his Dartmouth classes. I moved on to other things.

New Hope

A month or so later, in early 2005, I was helping to lead an annual Navigators conference where we decided to take an offering for an AIDS peer education program for university students in Nairobi.

Shortly before the conference, I emailed my friend. “Fred, I need a real, live Kenyan to speak at the conference.” His AIDS story would dramatically portray the need and work of ICL.

Fred was in the midst of preparing for medical school exams. Time was tight, but he emailed back, “Hee, hee, a real live Kenyan – OK, I will come.”

I was delighted.

As I drove to the conference, I thought about Milton and Fred’s proposal. It occurred to me that this could be a great opportunity to help fund their clinic. On the spur of the moment, I called my supervisor. “Doug, how about we divide the Kenya portion of the offering project between ICL and Milton and Fred’s clinic idea.” Although it was risky, Doug agreed to my suggestion.

After we took the offering we were stunned to discover that, from a group of mostly college students, a donor had enclosed a check for $20,000.

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“Never, never be afraid to do what's right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society's punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.