Vanessa Evans | 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?
Whilst I attended WMM’s Philanthropic Leadership Program, I had a bit of an a-ha moment where I realized my philanthropy doesn’t always have to be tied to my family foundation; I am, in my own respect, an investor in gender lens philanthropy and wanted to act on this realization.
As I reflected on our grant recipients, there was one particular organization whose co-founders have played an enduring and pivotal role in solidifying my commitment to gender lens philanthropy. I made a one million dollar commitment to the Equality Fund and I couldn’t have felt more empowered and confident in my decision to do so.
In the years leading up to this investment, Jess Tomlin and Jess Houssian (Co-Founders of the Equality Fund) have been mentors to me. I was 22 years old and fresh into this world of philanthropy when Jess Tomlin invited me to Kenya, a trip that truly changed my life. They have both demonstrated that philanthropy is much more than writing a check. It is about connecting with people, building trust, and ultimately forming genuine friendships to help each other take on daunting challenges and do so with people we genuinely cherish. I heard Ruby Johnson at the NextGen Summit talk about “feminist friendship as a method” and I wholeheartedly endorse this idea; it is exactly how I approached this investment to the Equality Fund and how I plan on approaching investments to come.
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?
Expanding upon Ruby Johnson’s insight into “feminist friendship as a method,” I want to share how I personally approach my relationships with grant recipients. In the realm of philanthropy, it’s safe to say that the journey can be isolating for both the givers and the recipients. Whether you’re actively working on the cause or providing the essential funding, we’re all part of the same team, striving towards a shared goal.
As a funder and donor, I hold a deep conviction that it’s my responsibility to place unwavering trust in the organizations and individuals working tirelessly for their chosen causes. At the end of the day, it’s the grant recipients who possess the most intimate understanding of the issues at hand and the communities affected. I place my confidence in their expertise, knowing that they are best equipped to determine where my grant can be deployed most effectively. This approach not only fosters collaboration and friendship but also reinforces the idea that we’re in this together, working harmoniously to make a meaningful impact.
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?
Being a part of the WMM community that shares my values and vision for a gender-equal world is incredibly meaningful to me. It means having a network of like-minded individuals who are committed to the same ideals, and it fosters a sense of camaraderie and solidarity. Moreover, WMM provides a safe and open space for questions and discussions. It encourages us to challenge assumptions, learn from one another, and collectively explore innovative solutions. I implement the idea of community in my work by recognizing that we are all on the same team and all have the same goal in making this world a more equitable, sustainable and just place. We cannot and won’t succeed unless we work together.
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?
One key opportunity lies in strengthening collaborative communities of like-minded individuals who are passionate about empowering women and girls such as Women Moving Millions. My advice to those considering a bold investment in women and girls is to prioritize trust and as mentioned before, friendship. Trust the organizations and individuals who are deeply involved in the cause and who intimately understand the challenges and opportunities. Develop meaningful relationships/friendships within the philanthropic community to exchange ideas, learn, and grow together. Remember that your investment is not just a financial contribution but a commitment to building a better future for everyone, not just for those in need. I have made more bold commitments since my one to the Equality Fund and they are the best decisions I’ve ever made. Trust the impulse.
You co-hosted and generously underwrote WMM’s first-ever NextGen Summit last month. What opportunities do you see ahead for NextGen leadership and change within gender lens philanthropy and the larger gender equality movement?
I had never been in a room with so many people from my generation all aspiring for the same thing, I must say that I was really inspired and motivated. I think we as a generation are fed up with the pace of change, and although we are remarkably good at being in touch with what is going on in the world and organizing ourselves to make our voices heard, whether that be on social media or attending peaceful protests, we need to have more seats at the table. We need more impactful opportunities to challenge the status quo. By leveraging our strengths, we can engage in more inclusive and dynamic philanthropic practices. We can amplify underrepresented voices and champion initiatives that have the potential to create real impact.
Ultimately, I envision next-gen leadership playing a pivotal role in dismantling barriers and fostering a world where gender equality is not just an aspiration but an achievable reality. By harnessing the power of friendship, community and innovation, we have the potential to bring about positive and lasting change for women and girls around the world.