Mona Sinha | New York, NY
What is the most impactful investment you have made thus far through your gender lens philanthropic giving? Why did this gift resonate with you in particular?
I often reflect on this line in Mary Oliver’s poem where she asks, “Tell me, what is your plan to do with your wild and precious life?” How many of us have a plan for our lives? I am not sure that I did, perhaps decisions made in the moment led to a plan for life, but I had not mapped out my life as a conscious thought process. Instead, I walked along the winding path that paved the way forward.
That certainly is different now and I owe some of the shaping of my plan to being a member of Women Moving Millions. When I first joined, I felt like I did not belong – I was not openly welcomed by everyone and certainly stood out as a visual anomaly given the makeup of the membership. It made me reflect on those who live on the margins and feel like that every day of their lives. That became the bedrock of my gender lens philanthropy. I invest in women and girls (the largest group of marginalized populations), I invest in dreamers, I invest in transgender rights and in creators.
My theory of change is to unlock possibility for changemakers who create gender equality rooted in justice.
The gifts that came along with this purpose have been many – an investment in young women “dreamers” during the Trump era which gave them the courage to come out of hiding and stand up for their rights, an investment in “What the Constitution Means to me” guided by Jana Shea, which led to being the Board Chair of the ERA Coalition Fund for Women’s Equality, and a large ”life, soul and money” investment in Disclosure, a film by Sam Feder on trans misrepresentation in the media which championed authentic representation in Hollywood and shook the industry. Today, as Global Executive Director of Equality Now, I invest in rightsizing the world’s legal systems so women can be free of discrimination and harassment and have equal rights in the law around the world. That is foundational to a gender equal world and starts, as it did for me, in the family.
I certainly have invested a large part of the last decade in building and shaping Women Moving Millions’ extraordinary community of gender lens philanthropists, both as a Board member and Board Chair. It has been truly joyful. Moving from the margins to the center has been an amazingly rewarding journey for me and I hope to unlock that path for every woman and girl I believe in.
What is your process for identifying and supporting grantee partners who are aligned with your values and who you believe will move the needle on advancing gender equality?
I look for communities and leaders (or future leaders) who are marginalized and who can make systemic changes with unconditional support. As many of us, I am approached by many potential grantee partners daily. I have a simple structural framework that I follow:
- What is the system that has discriminated you (or a community) from achieving your (their) mission and how will you (they) change that?
- What is the legal or policy framework for change, if any?
- What is the narrative and normative shift that will happen as a result?
- How will doing this work make you feel?
Since I practice trust-based philanthropy, I am fully engaged to help my grantees where and when they need me without burdensome reports and presentations.
What does it mean to you to be part of a community that shares your values and vision for a gender equal world? How do you apply the idea of community to your broader work?
My community at Women Moving Millions both challenges me to be better and brings me so much joy. It is a unique, heartfelt, and strong sisterhood that is irreplaceable in my life. As another member said to me “We found our tribe!” I use an inclusive and intentional ideology in building community. Community is about leveraging connections, strategizing together, and expanding impact beyond the first individual. It is understanding the power that each one of us have, what we can do together and how we meet the urgency of our times. The support and closeness that the WMM community offers is a wonderful model to share with other communities and spaces that I engage with.
What opportunities do you see for impact in the wider philanthropic landscape and what advice would you give to others considering a bold investment in women and girls?
There are tremendous opportunities for the wider philanthropic landscape of funders, advisors, and connectors to scale up because the need is so gigantic. Gender lens philanthropy is miniscule at just 2% of all philanthropic giving. WMM members, in particular, are poised to take a much larger share of the market and grow the size of the overall giving pie exponentially. We must be bold. The systems we are challenging have deep roots which need some serious investment to uproot. Only then can we create more just structures that allow half the world’s population to thrive. I would encourage others to act in abundance and realize that they can de-risk a potentially huge opportunity to right size resourcing gender equality.
I follow three simple principles for Impact: Listen, Learn, and Leverage.
- Listen to the women at the grassroots who are experiencing the issue you want to solve because often the lived experience offers up the best solutions.
- Learn from the successes or failures of interventions that have already been made, and from funders who have been in the space before you. Learn from research, from partners and from the community, think with an abundance mindset and be creative.
- Leverage not just resources but also connections, your experience and deep knowledge. Engage personally as an advisor or a mentor and bring others along with you.
Unlocking bold investment in women and girls is critical to rightsizing gender equality. You can start small and grow as you learn. It is truly joyful and I have loved my own journey.