Sharon Avery: When women succeed, we all win

On October 16-18, we sponsored the gender stream at the 2018SAvery Philanthropic Foundations of Canada Conference. We hosted a pre-conference workshop on “Connecting Philanthropy and Community with a Gender Focus,” a plenary session on “Philanthropy’s Work Empowering Women and Girls,” and a follow-up session with the Coady Institute titled, “Creating Forces for Change: Leveraging Philanthropy to Support Women.” During the conference, several clear themes emerged, and I had a few “aha” moments. But there was one powerful message in particular, a message that encapsulated the entire experience so beautifully and bravely, that I keep going back to again and again.
During the Coady workshop, the facilitators played a video of Kate McInturff’s speech from the 2018 Federal budget committee consultations. Kate, a Senior Researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, was a tireless women’s rights and non-profit sector advocate. She used data and her own research to fight for policies that supported women. At the time of her speech, Kate was also in her third year of cancer treatments. She implored the audience:

I don’t know how many more budgets I have to look forward to and I know this isn’t the Make A Wish committee, but if I can convince you to take one action, to make one change that has the power to change lives, and indeed to save lives – while I still have energy to harass you – it is this: invest in women’s organizations.

Tragically, not long after she gave this speech, Kate passed away from cancer. And though Kate’s appeal may sound like common sense, women’s organizations remain grossly underfunded.
Katja Iverson of Women Deliver built on this sentiment in her keynote. She listed data point after data point, as Kate did in her speech, about how investments with a gender lens improve the lives of everyone. Roberta Jamieson of Indspire and Paulette Senior of Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF) expressed similar ideas, respectively urging the crowd to invest in Indigenous women and reminding them “not take a feminist Prime Minister for granted” when there is so much work yet to do.
These women are, of course, right. There are still glaring disparities for women across race, immigration status, ethnicity, class, education, gender identity, not to mention a desperate need for affordable childcare. Yet, when women have a strong voice in their homes and decision making power over money, the health and well-being of whole family improves. When women are in elected office, income inequality decreases and policy is more inclusive. And peace lasts longer when women are included in peace talks.
In short, when women succeed, we all will win. But as these powerful women shared over and over, there is much work to be done, and the work requires all of us.
This begins with our own personal relationships with giving. In our pre-conference workshop, we focused on values, reaching as far back as childhood. We asked participants to reflect on what it was like the first time they held a coin, and what messages about money they received as children. Women shared anecdotes with the group about how their parents gave them advice that differed from the advice given to their brothers, simply because of their gender. They observed how even now, charity is often seen as women’s work, while men do the ‘serious’ work with money.
While we shared, we also dreamed. We talked about justice, integrity, relationships, and what we owe to each other. These values underpin the motivation of giving, regardless of gender.
At Toronto Foundation, we know women and girls are vital to our city’s health, and we reflect this belief in everything that we do. In our latest Good to Give guide, we highlight some of the Toronto organizations doing life-changing work to support and empower women and girls. In the spring of 2019, we will announce a new collective impact project to encourage more women in philanthropy and improve the conditions for vulnerable women and girls in Toronto.
The collaborations catalyzed at the conference and in our daily work have given renewed energy to our mission at Toronto Foundation. As we heard at the conference, there is still a long way to go. But luckily, we’re all in this together.
In solidarity,
Sharon Avery
President & CEO
Toronto Foundation