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The Future of Democracy is Gender Equality

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Early in my philanthropic journey, I was privileged to have found my way to Women Moving Millions (WMM), a membership organization for people/organizations bringing a gender-lens to philanthropy. After two years of not meeting in person, WMM held its Annual Summit this past April and the conference theme—The Future of Democracy is Gender Equality—couldn’t have been more relevant and timely everywhere in our world as we have watched freedom slide backwards and authoritarian, patriarchal forces on the rise. Enjoy this blog post by the WMM CEO Sarah Haacke Byrd. – Emily Nielsen Jones, Founding Partner & Trustee

Let’s be bold in action.

That’s a wrap! What an incredible week of learning, inspiration, and transformation. Together with some of the leading experts and advocates working to advance gender and racial equality, we explored new ideas, perspectives, and solutions to realize gender equality.

This year’s Summit theme, The Future of Democracy is Gender Equality, was a call to attention to one of the greatest threats to gender equality; the weakening and unraveling of democracy. We cannot realize a gender equal world when democracy isn’t strong –and we can’t have strong democracies without equality.

Now is the time to acknowledge that gender equality and democracy are linked and that wherever women’s rights are under threat and retreat, so too is democracy. Building stronger democracies will depend on our ability to unlock greater giving on critical issues affecting women’s rights.

It will require the bold action of philanthropy to ensure women’s rights are treated not as a parallel or complementary strategy but instead placed at the center of national and global approaches to build a more equitable democracy. Indeed, women’s rights and participation are integral to the very integrity of democracy. As USAID Administrator Samatha Power stated: “if you want peace in this world, trust women to deliver it.”

For fifteen years, Women Moving Millions has modeled the transformative potential of a community of women coming together to do just that – to leverage their combined expertise, influence, and resources to advance gender equality. What unites us is our shared vision of a gender equal world – a world that is just, at peace, and flourishing. What drives us is our belief that as long as less than 2% of philanthropic giving goes toward organizations advancing gender equality, that world will remain out of reach.

From climate solutions to designing more inclusive economies, ensuring greater representation in the culture sector, bolstering women’s reproductive health and rights, and restoring peace and security, women are architecting solutions to the most significant challenges confronting democracy. Meanwhile, philanthropy has more resources and tools than ever before. And communities like Women Moving Millions are positioned to lead the way.

So let’s be ambitious. Let’s be bold in action and harness our collective power as a force for change. The next chapter, written on democracy’s triumph, will be written by women.

We cannot confront the growing assaults on democracy and gender equality without investing in the leadership, power, and influence of women at scale. Philanthropy must step up and finance the priorities on which the future of democracy depends. The future of democracy is gender equality.

“We cannot confront paternalistic, regressive assaults on gender equality and democracy without investing in women’s leadership, power, and influence. We must advocate for bold approaches to philanthropy and greater investment in our greatest agents of change: women.” – CEO @Sarah Haacke Byrd at #WMMSummit22. The Women Moving Millions community has bold plans for the future. #WMMSummit22

Spring Update: Growth & Change

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At the Imago Dei Fund, we believe in continuously learning, growing, and changing, especially in response to new needs we hear from our grantee partners, peer funders, and the field at large. In this spirit, while continuing to support new and current partners in 2022, we are also taking some time to get ready to embark on a new strategic planning process to shape our direction and priorities for the next three years. Our team is also spending this year learning about how to fund those working on climate change mitigation and on supporting immigrants, refugees, and other displaced people. We look forward to sharing any updates later this year. Many of you in our network have been integral to helping us learn and for that we are deeply grateful.

As we grow up as an organization, we are so excited to be working with three new (or new-ish!) team members:

Marie-Rose Romaine Murphy has been working with IDF as Project Director of The Girl Child Long Walk to Freedom project since spring 2020. The project, which started as a pilot reading journey, has grown in the past year to include a global fellowship program and virtual community with membership from around the world, and is an integral part of IDF’s work to advance universal human rights, gender balance, justice and spiritual holism. “It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to work with Emily, Domnic, and our team on supporting the development of The Girl Child Long Walk Project,” said Marie-Rose. “Globally, we are facing challenging times and seeing too many societies (including the U.S) take leaps backward when it comes to gender equality. As The Girls Child operates in the intersectional space of faith, gender equality and community-led development, we seek to work with faith-inspired community leaders to identify gaps in services and support the solutions they develop to meet these gaps and support the structural and sustainable change that our communities (and our world!) need.” Read more →

Leah Questad joined our team in January 2022 as Project Manager. Among many other projects, she is working with Founding Partners, Ross and Emily Jones, on launching “Project Multiplier,” an effort to build additional funder support for our grantee partners. Prior to IDF, Leah’s work has been in fundraising and development, and as a mentor and client service relationship manager for a multi-family office and trust company. “I am so excited to join the IDF team to further support the amazing work IDF and our grantee partners are doing both locally and globally,” said Leah.

Andrew Jones, our newest team member, joined IDF at the beginning of May as Impact Partner. Andrew’s role will be focused on operations, measurement and evaluation, and grantmaking strategy. He brings three decades of experience in international development and human rights, organizational change, and strategic and operational planning, and most recently served as VP of Global Education Programs at Impact(Ed). He previously served in various capacities for a range of organizations globally, including CARE, Oxfam, Save the Children, UNICEF, and International Justice Mission. As the brother of Founding Partner Ross Jones, Andrew has been a longtime informal thought partner to IDF. Said Andrew, “I’ve long admired IDF from afar and am thrilled to join the leadership team at this moment in time, with an outstanding staff and an array of grantee partners doing such inspiring work in Boston and around the world.”

Finally, in January we welcomed our tiniest new team member, Operations and Finance Associate Becca Riegel‘s son, Liam! Congratulations, Becca!

All We Can Save – Team Reflections

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Earlier this year, the IDF team collectively read and discussed All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, a collection of essays by women leading the climate movement, edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson. Here we share some of our personal thoughts, learnings, and reflections.

I like data. Data is important to measure issues and quantify problems. But more than data, the storyteller in me likes stories that remind us of our humanity  and how it’s affected by the challenges that we face. This book puts human/women’s faces on the climate change crisis…. As I kept thinking about it, I thought about (see photo) the leader of a women’s group in Haiti called Fanm Vanyan (which means Courageous Women). Her group grows citrus trees that have been dying because of increasing droughts. They spend hours at night trying to get water from a defective pump. She can tell us about the climate crisis though she doesn’t know the term. We, in the aid sector, have been building and we are still building fields around concepts brimming with ever growing terminology (climate change/crisis, social protection, localization, decolonization)… Sometimes, I just want to scale down the scaffolding and say: “Please, come. Let’s just meet and serve communities.” – Marie-Rose Romain Murphy, Project Director, The Girl Child & Her Long Walk to Freedom

In an age when temperatures are rising, climate-anxiety is filling the space on therapists’ couches, and we are bombarded by eco-disasters across the globe it is hard to find a sense of hope. More than a collection of essays, All We Can Save became a grounding experience for me to move out of a place of feeling hopeless, helpless, and powerless. Instead, seeing a common thread through the individual stories, I found a deep sense of community-driven change; helping me see that my role is part of a larger collective. All We Can Save has me shifting to a perspective of how to engage within a community to further the sacred work already in progress – and to see the climate crisis as an opportunity of communal spiritual practice. – Leah Questad, Project Manager

A dominant and recurring theme throughout the collection of essays and poems in All We Can Save is that of community. Building an inclusive community, one that centers marginalized communities, communities of color, and Indigenous peoples, is what we need to effectively address the climate crisis at hand. As Johnson and Wilkinson observe in the final essay of the book, “From the foundation of science and community . . . [k]now that we already have most of the solutions we need – from regenerative farming to renewable energy to restored ecosystems to redesigned mobility, materials, and structures . . . we just need to get to it.” We all have a role we can play if we’re willing to be part of a collective and collaborative solution. – Jen Oakley, Program Partner

We have been given the wonderful gift of this planet and it is difficult to see how we are continuing to destroy it. As it has been said many times over the years at my church, “it is very easy to ruin something and it can be done quickly, but it takes tremendous time and effort to build something.” (based on Matthew 7:13-14, the narrow and wide gates) All We Can Save is a powerful anthology that brings together many perspectives and voices about the topic of climate change. There is a glimmer of hope reading about the grassroots efforts of many women who are engaging in the effort to save this planet and to be challenged to think how decisions in daily life impact the health of the planet. What am I using or purchasing today? What can I do today to be part of this collective force to make a difference in the race to save this wonderful gift? – Sonya van der Meer, Project Coordinator, The Girl Child & Her Long Walk to Freedom

Following the release of the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, the United Nations’ Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the world is “sleepwalking to climate catastrophe.” For me, All We Can Save was another wake-up call, and perhaps more importantly an invitation to action, from women and girls across the globe. It lifted up the power that each of us holds to make change and offers insight into different pathways to engage with the climate movement. Taken together the stories and essays deepened my understanding of the frontline impacts that are happening now, while highlighting the extraordinary work that women and girls are doing to save what still can be saved. It helped me to see that while the issues are incredibly complex, if we listen to people working in frontline communities for climate justice, we will discover ways of moving forward and find reasons for hope. I believe that we need these stories to help shift the narrative around climate change and move us to action that is rooted in our shared love of the earth and our fellow human beings as well as in an understanding that while there is no one correct way to engage, there is urgency for each of us to act. – Sheila Leddy, Program Partner

I really enjoyed the breadth of voices this book brought forward on what has to be one of our most pressing existential risks as a species and planet. I especially appreciated reflecting on both community centered solutions and indigenous wisdom, Read More

It Takes a Network: The Global Learning Community

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Early on in my own philanthropic learning curve, I had the opportunity to travel to Cambodia and meet Helen Sworn and colleagues at Chab Dai, a network of local organizations working together to combat the scourge of human trafficking. Looking back, I can see how learning from and seeing in action the power of the “network effect” has shaped my own lens on social change and how we approach our work at the Imago Dei Fund. It is our pleasure to host this blog post sharing Chab Dai’s approach to cultivating an intentional ecosystem to combat the deeply entrenched global scourge of human trafficking and their pivot to taking this work global. As I read this, I am reminded of how small our world is, particularly as we are emerging out of this global pandemic, and how collective action can take each of our humble efforts and make them part of something larger than ourselves. – Emily Nielsen Jones, Founding Partner & Trustee

“None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.” – Mother Teresa

The Global Learning Community (GLC), started by Chab Dai in 2012, was modelled on years of experience in building a coordinated and informed response to trafficking in and through the Cambodia coalition which has been operating since 2005. The GLC project continued to grow with an increasingly global focus and worked to provide support and services to grassroots organisations with a passion for professional and meaningful interventions and programmes in Asia, Africa and North America. With intentional relational growth, members cultivated a space for honest and safe conversations around the challenges, successes and growing pains of the movement. GLC members valued the opportunities to dig deep into how to build stronger programmes, organisational capacity, create monitoring and evaluation frameworks and work for equitable and ethical research.

Helen Sworn

The movement is truly building the movement. Almost 200 members from 42 countries are working together – devoting time and energy, outside their already busy work, to strengthen and foster a comprehensive, connected and competent anti-trafficking and modern slavery movement.

There have been many changes in the past two years that have led to this. The first few months of the pandemic brought global lockdowns and travel restrictions that appeared to grind the world to a halt. As the systematic fault lines of inequalities and vulnerabilities were deepened, victims of trafficking and vulnerable migrants were left with few options when considering migration or returning home.

Sharon Jacques

These mounting challenges called for further collaboration on a global level in an attempt to meet the complex challenges of disrupting human trafficking.

In 2020, an evaluation collected the experiences and thoughts of GLC members with the specific aim of understanding how the GLC could meet their needs, strengthen network and coalition building and generally, to determine what was needed to meaningfully help and connect grassroots anti-trafficking organisations.

The findings of the evaluation provided key insights into the priorities of the community, which were focused around:

  • a desire to work more closely together to improve systems and practises
  • elevate the collective voice of grassroots anti-trafficking organisations
  • push for rigorous research and monitoring, evaluation and learning

The evaluation highlighted community members’ interest in:

  • building stronger connections with fellow members
  • co-working on projects that would be accessible and beneficial to the broader grassroots anti-trafficking community.

Drawing from the findings of the evaluation and the rich process of taking a sabbatical, we began to work with the community to transition the GLC from a Chab Dai project to a cooperative community project.

Dr. Leah Edwards

This process began with open and dynamic conversations around the vision, mission and core values of the project, further clarifying a project focus on supporting, inspiring and growing one another as the anti-trafficking and modern slavery movement.

A year on from the GLC in its new form, the community has grown to include 192 members from 42 countries. The community has enthusiastically participated in shaping and leading more than half the monthly learning call topics and discussions and contributed subject matter expertise and collaboration to topical calls. GLC members have led Coffee Corner Calls on diverse topics ranging from the intersection of child begging and human trafficking, monitoring and evaluation, decolonising language, the LGBTQ+ community and the need for improved funding structures in the movement.

Beyond the interactive learning conversations, GLC members have connected and begun work on collaborative research and advocacy projects and assisted one another on cross border anti-trafficking cases and the reintegration of survivors of trafficking.

While international insecurity remains, the global grassroots anti-trafficking sector continues to advance leading practices and cultivate an honest community of practice and change.

A full summary of the GLC’s activities can be found in the 2021 Annual Report.

Helen Sworn, Sharon Jacques, and Dr Leah Edwards comprise the GLC Secretariat.

The Devastating Impact of Decriminalizing the Sex Trade

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The Imago Dei Fund is committed to advancing human rights, human dignity, and gender balance. Through our work and partnerships, we seek to mend a broken world where girls and women are too often devalued, oppressed, and denied basic human agency. We also believe that solutions lie in centering the voices of women and girls to direct and drive change. Our partner World Without Exploitation embodies this approach, as you’ll read in WorldWE National Director Lauren Hersh’s story below. ~ Katinka Hakuta, Grants Manager

Lauren Hersh

Bea was 15-years-old when she was first sold in the sex trade. For two years, Bea was passed between pimps and bought by more sex buyers than she could possibly count. I learned about Bea by accident. As a New York City prosecutor, I had been investigating a Brooklyn-based brothel and someone mentioned that there was a “girl being sold out of a neighborhood apartment.”

For weeks, detectives watched the location. Expensive vehicles lined the street. Throughout the day, they observed men going in and out of a brownstone. They witnessed young women exiting the location late at night. Neighbors confirmed the open secret– that the location was a known brothel and was run by a pimp.

Because pimping and sex buying were illegal, we were able to seek a search warrant. When police entered the location, they found a badly beaten Bea and clear signs of sex trafficking.

That was a decade ago.

But in the last few years, instead of paving the way toward progress, we’ve seen society take several steps backward.

Across the country, a well-funded movement to decriminalize the sex trade in its entirety has gained momentum. Proponents of these proposals seek to provide a free pass to sex buyers and make pimps legitimate business owners. In New York, New Hampshire, Vermont and Louisiana, legislation has been introduced to make pimping, sex buying, and brothel owning lawful. Right now in Oregon, there is a pending ballot initiative introduced by an uber-wealthy, self-admitted sex buyer to make the sex trade completely legal. If any of these dangerous measures were to pass, brothels, like the one we investigated in Brooklyn, would be businesses like any other, and search warrants would be nearly impossible to obtain.

If you are outraged, you are not alone. Sex trade survivors, anti-trafficking organizations, and child rights agencies all across America are joining forces and unequivocally opposing these dangerous proposals. Collectively, we are urging lawmakers to examine the devastating harms that plague the sex trade and the drastic racial, gender, and economic disparity between the buyers and those bought.

In jurisdictions throughout the country, research is shining a light on the inherent inequality in the sex trade. Both Seattle and Washington, DC, amassed data that demonstrate that women of color, children, and LGBTQ+ youth are disproportionately overrepresented in the sex trade and that their buyers tend to be men–many of whom are white–with privilege and disposable income. In countries where the sex trade is legal, the demand for commercial sex expands and the void is quickly filled by those in society with the least choices. Where there is a legal sex trade, violent crime flourishes nearby.

But a common-sense, survivor-supported solution exists. Known as “The Equality Model,” this solution seeks to hold accountable exploiters–pimps, sex buyers and brothel owners–for the damage they cause. However, this approach also provides exit services, not criminal penalties, for those sold in the sex trade. With survivors at the helm, World Without Exploitation and our two hundred partners are working to bring this human rights model to communities across America. With the support of the Imago Dei Fund, we are meeting with lawmakers, educating leaders, and inspiring the public to join our movement.

A legal sex trade can never be safe, no matter what protections are put in place. It is time to prevent trauma and reduce harm, not create systems that embolden exploitation. For Bea and so many others, it’s time to reject full decriminalization and make The Equality Model a reality.

Lauren Hersh is the National Director of World Without Exploitation and an internationally recognized lawyer, activist, educator and writer working to combat violence against women and girls in schools, online and in the legal arena.

Photos credit: World Without Exploitation

Remembering Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

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When people think of the work of “Truth and Reconciliation” we tend to think of the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the work of healing racial oppression and pain. We are pleased to share this piece honoring his legacy written by leaders of a global movement applying the same principles the Archbishop lived by and taught to the historic and global pain/struggles across the divide of gender. – Emily Nielsen Jones

My dear Brothers and Sisters, we are ONE human family. . . We can be human only together. ~
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

We pray for the peace of the soul of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who passed away on the day after Christmas. Our sincere and deepest condolences and prayers go to Leah Tutu, Rev. Mpho Tutu van Furth, and the whole Tutu family, as well as our many South African friends, and all those around the world who love him so dearly.

Through our friends and colleagues Dr. Dorothea Hendricks and Rev. Mpho Tutu van Furth, we had the immense privilege and joy of meeting with Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu several times and receiving his blessing and endorsement for our Gender Equity and Reconciliation International (GERI) program, and for our Dawn of Interspirituality program.

“We are inaugurating and announcing this collaboration with an outstanding group [Gender Equity and Reconciliation International] that has done wonders in helping to recover the humanity of women,” said Archbishop Tutu.

Cynthia Brix (center) and Will Keepin (right) share a laugh with Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

The GERI program was inspired by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, led by Archbishop Tutu. The entire human family lives under the tyranny of a veritable ‘gender apartheid’ — a structural oppression that afflicts women and men and people of all gender identities, irrespective of sexual orientation. “We have undermined our humanity by the treatment that we have meted out to women,” said Archbishop Tutu, “just as much as racists undermine their humanity by treating others as less than human.”

“Gender Reconciliation is the logical next step for our country,” said Rev. Mpho Tutu van Furth, former Executive Director of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, and daughter of the Tutus. The GERI program applies principles of truth and reconciliation to transform gender injustice, cultivate equal rights and mutual respect, and foster healing and mutual reverence between the genders by bringing men and women together in safe places to discuss gender and sexuality and to share their own stories. “The work of racial reconciliation will never be complete without the work of gender reconciliation,” she said.

The blessings of Archbishop and Rev. Mpho Tutu van Furth help keep the flame of reconciliation and transformation ablaze within our hearts. “We are made for loving,” says Tutu, affectionately called the Arch. “If we don’t love, we will be like plants without water.”

“My dear Brothers and Sisters, we are ONE human family,” said the Arch in his blessing for our Dawn of Interspirituality conferences, convened to bridge the major religions. “As we approach the transcendent One, we all find Home.”

The Arch was deeply committed to interfaith harmony and collaboration across the world religions, as beautifully exemplified by his close personal and spiritual friendship with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Their wonderful dialogues, their book on Joy, and their lively playfulness and deep spiritual resonance at the intersection of Buddhism and Christianity is such a unique blessing to the world, and a remarkable symbolic brotherhood between the Buddha and the Christ. As the Arch proclaimed in the startling title of one his books, God is not a Christian. “All of God’s children and their different faiths help us to realize the immensity of God. No faith contains the whole truth about God. All of us belong to God.”

The Arch concluded his blessing with this prayer: “The God that I worship—which you worship in different kinds of ways — is smiling upon you,” and upon all who endeavor in earnest to unite the human family as one.

We have been so grateful and inspired to serve as supporters of the Girl Child project and advisors on the patriarchy explainer video created by Imago Dei Fund (IDF), which is such a unique and groundbreaking project. Imagine bringing astounding clarity and cross-cultural awakening to thousands of years of patriarchal oppression across the entire human race—in just four minutes! This video does just that, and it not only lays bare the painful origins and legacy of patriarchy, but also points the way forward toward a new and brighter future for the female half of humanity. We are also deeply inspired to collaborate with IDF’s visionary commitment to contemplative spirituality, which creates an urgently needed inter-religious platform and praxis for reconciling the world’s great spiritual traditions, shedding their patriarchal and narrow sectarian dogmas of the past — and as the Arch called for — celebrating the unique contribution that the major spiritual traditions make to the shared quest for and realization of the oneness and unity of the entire human family.

May we always remember the remarkable life and legacy of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Few people in history have served humanity so profoundly and courageously as the Arch has done. He didn’t just speak spiritual truth to worldly power, he lived it. The Arch was instrumental in freeing an entire nation from one of the most tyrannical governments in modern history. And he didn’t stop there; he then led one of the most remarkable processes of reconciliation and forgiveness ever carried out on a national scale between the perpetrators and victims of the systematic violence of Apartheid.

How did one man accomplish so much? What was the Arch’s secret? It wasn’t actually him who did all these things; it was a higher divine power that worked through him. And we, too, are called onto this same path. There is no greater way to honor and celebrate the life of Archbishop Tutu, than for us, Read More

“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.